Python versions are numbered A.B.C or A.B. A is the major version number – it is only incremented for really major changes in the language. B is the minor version number, incremented for less earth-shattering changes. C is the micro-level – it is incremented for each bugfix release. See PEP 6 for more information about bugfix releases.
Not all releases are bugfix releases. In the run-up to a new major release, a series of development releases are made, denoted as alpha, beta, or release candidate. Alphas are early releases in which interfaces aren’t yet finalized; it’s not unexpected to see an interface change between two alpha releases. Betas are more stable, preserving existing interfaces but possibly adding new modules, and release candidates are frozen, making no changes except as needed to fix critical bugs.
Alpha, beta and release candidate versions have an additional suffix. The suffix for an alpha version is “aN” for some small number N, the suffix for a beta version is “bN” for some small number N, and the suffix for a release candidate version is “cN” for some small number N. In other words, all versions labeled 2.0aN precede the versions labeled 2.0bN, which precede versions labeled 2.0cN, and those precede 2.0.
You may also find version numbers with a “+” suffix, e.g. “2.2+”. These are unreleased versions, built directly from the CPython development repository. In practice, after a final minor release is made, the version is incremented to the next minor version, which becomes the “a0” version, e.g. “2.4a0”.
See also the documentation for sys.version, sys.hexversion, and sys.version_info.