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A recurring question about the Gentoo release process is: "Why roll out new releases frequently, if they are not intended to let users update software?" There are various reasons: When a release includes new incompatible features, or provides a set of core packages and settings that deeply modify the behavior of the system, we say that it provides a new profile.The way to update may vary significantly from release to release; it depends on how deep the modifications introduced in the new profile are.In the simplest case users only have to change the symlink, in the worst case they may have to recompile the entire system from scratch while doing a neat voodoo dance. The necessary instructions are explained further in this guide.
With the introduction of 2005.0, several architectures have decided to define additional profiles.
There are various reasons that a new profile may be created: the release of new versions of core packages (such as sys-apps/baselayout, sys-devel/gcc, or sys-libs/glibc) that are incompatible with previous versions, a change in the default USE flags or in the virtual mappings, or maybe a change in system-wide settings.
If a new Gentoo release does not include a new profile then just pretend that it never happened.
Ideally, users install software once and never bother with releases: just follow the instructions in A Portage introduction in the Gentoo handbook that explain how to keep the system up to date.
While that's the way things usually go, sometimes changes are made to the core system which require updates to be done manually.