The performance of a large scale biometric system may deteriorate over time as new individuals are continually enrolled. To maintain an acceptable level of performance, the classifier has to be re-trained offline in batch mode using both existing and new data. The process of re-training can be computationally expensive and time consuming. This paper presents a new biometric classifier update algorithm that incrementally re-trains the classifier using online learning and progressively establishes a decision hyperplane for improved classification. The proposed algorithm incorporates soft labels and granular computing in the formulation of a 2ν-Online Granular Soft Support Vector Machine (SVM) to re-train the classifier using only the new data. Granular computing makes it adaptive to local and global variations in data distribution, while soft labels provide resilience to noise. Each time data is acquired, new support vectors that are linearly independent are added and existing support vectors that do not improve the classifier performance are removed. This constrains the size of the support vectors and significantly reduces the training time without compromising the classification accuracy. The efficacy of the proposed online learning strategy is validated in a near infrared face verification application involving different covariates. The results obtained on a heterogeneous near infrared face database of 328 subjects show that in all experiments using different feature extraction and classification algorithms the proposed online 2ν-Granular Soft Support Vector Machine learning approach is 2-3 times faster while achieving a high level of accuracy similar to offline training using all data. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.