Upgrading and downgrading
How to Upgrade
If you are running an older version, shut it down. Wait until it has completely shut down (which might take a few minutes for older versions), then run the installer (on Windows) or just copy over /Applications/Bitcoin-Qt (on Mac) or bitcoind/bitcoin-qt (on Linux).
Because release 0.10.0 makes use of headers-first synchronization and parallel block download (see further), the block files and databases are not backwards-compatible with older versions of Bitcoin Core or other software:
Blocks will be stored on disk out of order (in the order they are received, really), which makes it incompatible with some tools or other programs. Reindexing using earlier versions will also not work anymore as a result of this.
The block index database will now hold headers for which no block is stored on disk, which earlier versions won’t support.
If you want to be able to downgrade smoothly, make a backup of your entire data directory. Without this your node will need start syncing (or importing from bootstrap.dat) anew afterwards. It is possible that the data from a completely synchronised 0.10 node may be usable in older versions as-is, but this is not supported and may break as soon as the older version attempts to reindex.
This does not affect wallet forward or backward compatibility.
Bitcoin Core now uses ‘headers-first synchronization’. This means that we first ask peers for block headers (a total of 27 megabytes, as of December 2014) and validate those. In a second stage, when the headers have been discovered, we download the blocks. However, as we already know about the whole chain in advance, the blocks can be downloaded in parallel from all available peers.
In practice, this means a much faster and more robust synchronization. On recent hardware with a decent network link, it can be as little as 3 hours for an initial full synchronization. You may notice a slower progress in the very first few minutes, when headers are still being fetched and verified, but it should gain speed afterwards.