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With the widely available Internet access, downloading patches from the developer's web site or through automated software updates became often available to the end-users.
Starting with Apple's Mac OS 9 and Microsoft's Windows ME, PC operating systems gained the ability to get automatic software updates via the Internet.
Cautious users, particularly system administrators, tend to put off applying patches until they can verify the stability of the fixes. In the cases of large patches or of significant changes, distributors often limit availability of patches to qualified developers as a beta test.
Applying patches to firmware poses special challenges, as it often involves the provisioning of totally new firmware images, rather than applying only the differences from the previous version.
Bulky patches or patches that significantly change a program may circulate as "service packs" or as "software updates".
Small in-memory patches could be manually applied with the system debug utility, such as CP/M's DDT or MS-DOS's DEBUG debuggers.
Programmers working in interpreted BASIC often used the POKE command to temporarily alter the functionality of a system service routine.
Patches can also circulate in the form of source code modifications.
In this case, the patches usually consist of textual differences between two source code files, called "diffs".