Delta Updates

Sparkle supports “delta updates” for your application: when possible, users can download only the bits that have changed. These updates can be much smaller to download and faster to install.

For each new version you release, you can provide a list of .delta files in addition to the “full” archive of the version. Each .delta contains the information necessary to upgrade from a single older version.

If the user is running a version of the app for which you haven’t provided a .delta, or if the patch doesn’t apply cleanly, they’ll use the non-delta “full” update.

Automated generation

The ./bin/generate_appcast tool that comes with Sparkle automatically generates and signs delta updates.

Manual generation

To generate a .delta, you use the BinaryDelta tool included with Sparkle like this:

BinaryDelta create --version=$FORMAT_VERSION path/to/old/ path/to/new/

Please see the compatibility section below on what $FORMAT_VERSION to use.

To verify that your generated patch applies correctly:

BinaryDelta apply path/to/old/ path/to/patched/

Sign each .delta file and add an enclosure to your appcast’s <item> in <sparkle:deltas> for each .delta file:

   <title>Version 2.0 </title>
   <description>foo bar baz</description>
   <pubDate>Wed, 09 Jan 2006 19:20:11 +0000</pubDate>
   <enclosure url=""
              sparkle:edSignature="..." />
       <enclosure url=""
                  sparkle:edSignature="..." />
       <enclosure url=""
                  sparkle:deltaFromSparkleLocales="en,ca,fr,hr,hu" />

Sparkle 2.3 introduces two optional attributes for testing if a delta update can be applied before downloading a delta update. These are the sparkle:deltaFromSparkleExecutableSize and sparkle:deltaFromSparkleLocales attributes. The sparkle:deltaFromSparkleExecutableSize attribute refers to the file size in bytes of Sparkle.framework/Versions/B/Sparkle from the older application. The deltaFromSparkleLocales refers to a comma-delimited partial list of .lproj locale directory names (minus the path extension) in Sparkle.framework/Versions/B/Resources/ from the old application. These attributes help Sparkle detect cases where a user strips your application’s localizations or architecture slices. In these cases, Sparkle can skip attempting to download and apply a delta update.


When you create a delta update between two versions of your application, you must ensure you are using a delta format version that your older application knows how to patch. Below is a table describing the requirements for each binary delta version.

Delta Format Supports Changes
3 Sparkle 2.1 More efficient custom delta container format, lzma compression + other compression options, file rename heuristic tracking.
2 Sparkle 1.10 Improved and changed hash function for reducing collisions.
1 Sparkle 1.5 Added initial binary delta format using libxar and bzip2 compression. Tracking of insertions, deletions, and binary file diffs using bsdiff.

Note if you are using generate_appcast, picking the delta version to use is automatically handled. If you are using BinaryDelta create though, you will need to pass the appropriate delta version via the --version argument.

Older delta format versions will eventually be phased out. Please do not create new patches using an older version than necessary. Always use the latest tools when creating delta patches because they may contain minor bug fixes that don’t require a major format change.

In any case where a binary delta update fails to install, Sparkle falls back to downloading and installing the regular full update. Sparkle verifies a checksum to ensure the resulting application has been patched successfully.

Tips for Improving Download Size & Performance

We recommend reading Apple’s article on reducing the download size for iOS app updates, which is applicable here too. To reword:

  • Do not make unnecessary modifications to files. Compare the contents of the prior and new versions of your app and verify that you’ve only changed what you expect within your app bundle. Running BinaryDelta --verbose will show a diff of what has changed.
  • Content that you expect to change in an update should be stored in separate files from content that you don’t expect to change. This reduces the size of the delta update and increases its install speed.
  • Avoid renaming files or folders. The version 3 delta format however has “cloning” heuristics for tracking when unchanged files move to a new location, files that have been modified and have the same filename move to another directory, and when a framework version in *.framework/Versions/ has changed.

Metadata Specification

Binary delta updates do not support and will reject the following metadata:

  • Access control lists (ACLs) in either the old or new application.
  • Extended attributes containing code signing information in either the old or new application. This can be resolved by properly structuring your application such that data and code are placed in the correct directories per Placing Content in a Bundle guide. Only mach-o binaries or bundles containing them should embed code signing information.
  • Creating or applying diffs on file systems which do not preserve regular permission modes like FAT are not supported. Sparkle 2.2 and later performs a permission validation test before downloading delta updates. Sparkle’s executable must have file permissions 0755.

Binary delta updates will pass but ignore or warn about the following metadata:

  • Extended attributes changes on files are not preserved and are just ignored.
  • File permissions on symbolic links that are not 0755 are ignored, and 0755 will always be used instead. A warning will be issued. Some filesystems, e.g. Linux ones, do not support file permissions on symbolic links.
  • Irregular file permissions on files that are not 0755 or 0644 will be respected, but a warning may be issued (from Sparkle 2.1 onwards).
  • Custom icons users set using a resource fork (e.g. using Finder’s Get Info window) are ignored/preserved when applying patches, but prohibited when creating patches (from Sparkle 2.2 onwards).

Binary delta updates do support the following meta changes:

  • File permission changes.
  • File type (regular, symbolic link, directory) changes.
  • File case (from foo -> FOO) changes.
  • HFS+ or file system level compression in the version 3 format. If files from the old bundle are detected to be using this type of compression, then we apply HFS+ compression onto the new app in its entirety via ditto --hfsCompression (i.e, we don’t track this compression on a per file basis).