Project Jigsaw: Late for the train: The Q&A
2012/08/24 08:52:12 -07:00

I recently proposed, to the Java community in general and to the SE 8 (JSR 337) Expert Group in particular, to defer Project Jigsaw from Java 8 to Java 9. I also proposed to aim explicitly for a regular two-year release cycle going forward. Herewith a summary of the key questions I’ve seen in reaction to these proposals, along with answers.

Making the decision

Q Has the Java SE 8 Expert Group decided whether to defer the addition of a module system and the modularization of the Platform to Java SE 9?

A No, it has not yet decided.

Q By when do you expect the EG to make this decision?

A In the next month or so.

Q How can I make sure my voice is heard?

A The EG will consider all relevant input from the wider community. If you have a prominent blog, column, or other communication channel then there’s a good chance that we’ve already seen your opinion. If not, you’re welcome to send it to the Java SE 8 Comments List, which is the EG’s official feedback channel.

Q What’s the overall tone of the feedback you’ve received?

A The feedback has been about evenly divided as to whether Java 8 should be delayed for Jigsaw, Jigsaw should be deferred to Java 9, or some other, usually less-realistic, option should be taken.

Project Jigsaw

Q Why is Project Jigsaw taking so long?

A Project Jigsaw started at Sun, way back in August 2008. Like many efforts during the final years of Sun, it was not well staffed. Jigsaw initially ran on a shoestring, with just a handful of mostly part-time engineers, so progress was slow. During the integration of Sun into Oracle all work on Jigsaw was halted for a time, but it was eventually resumed after a thorough consideration of the alternatives. Project Jigsaw was really only fully staffed about a year ago, around the time that Java 7 shipped. We’ve added a few more engineers to the team since then, but that can’t make up for the inadequate initial staffing and the time lost during the transition.

Q So it’s really just a matter of staffing limitations and corporate-integration distractions?

A Aside from these difficulties, the other main factor in the duration of the project is the sheer technical difficulty of modularizing the JDK.

Q Why is modularizing the JDK so hard?

A There are two main reasons. The first is that the JDK code base is deeply interconnected at both the API and the implementation levels, having been built over many years primarily in the style of a monolithic software system. We’ve spent considerable effort eliminating or at least simplifying as many API and implementation dependences as possible, so that both the Platform and its implementations can be presented as a coherent set of interdependent modules, but some particularly thorny cases remain.

Q What’s the second reason?

A We want to maintain as much compatibility with prior releases as possible, most especially for existing classpath-based applications but also, to the extent feasible, for applications composed of modules.

Q Is modularizing the JDK even necessary? Can’t you just put it in one big module?

A Modularizing the JDK, and more specifically modularizing the Java SE Platform, will enable standard yet flexible Java runtime configurations scaling from large servers down to small embedded devices. In the long term it will enable the convergence of Java SE with the higher-end Java ME Platforms.

Q Is Project Jigsaw just about modularizing the JDK?

A As originally conceived, Project Jigsaw was indeed focused primarily upon modularizing the JDK. The growing demand for a truly standard module system for the Java Platform, which could be used not just for the Platform itself but also for libraries and applications built on top of it, later motivated expanding the scope of the effort.

Q As a developer, why should I care about Project Jigsaw?

A The introduction of a modular Java Platform will, in the long term, fundamentally change the way that Java implementations, libraries, frameworks, tools, and applications are designed, built, and deployed.

Q How much progress has Project Jigsaw made?

A We’ve actually made a lot of progress. Much of the core functionality of the module system has been prototyped and works at both compile time and run time. We’ve extended the Java programming language with module declarations, worked out a structure for modular source trees and corresponding compiled-class trees, and implemented these features in javac. We’ve defined an efficient module-file format, extended the JVM to bootstrap a modular JRE, and designed and implemented a preliminary API. We’ve used the module system to make a good first cut at dividing the JDK and the Java SE API into a coherent set of modules. Among other things, we’re currently working to retrofit the java.util.ServiceLoader API to support modular services.

Q I want to help! How can I get involved?

A Check out the project page, read the draft requirements and design overview documents, download the latest prototype build, and play with it. You can tell us what you think, and follow the rest of our work in real time, on the jigsaw-dev list.

The Java Platform Module System JSR

Q What’s the relationship between Project Jigsaw and the eventual Java Platform Module System JSR?

A At a high level, Project Jigsaw has two phases. In the first phase we’re exploring an approach to modularity that’s markedly different from that of existing Java modularity solutions. We’ve assumed that we can change the Java programming language, the virtual machine, and the APIs. Doing so enables a design which can strongly enforce module boundaries in all program phases, from compilation to deployment to execution. That, in turn, leads to better usability, diagnosability, security, and performance. The ultimate goal of the first phase is produce a working prototype which can inform the work of the Module-System JSR EG.

Q What will happen in the second phase of Project Jigsaw?

A The second phase will produce the reference implementation of the specification created by the Module-System JSR EG. The EG might ultimately choose an entirely different approach than the one we’re exploring now. If and when that happens then Project Jigsaw will change course as necessary, but either way I think that the end result will be better for having been informed by our current work.

Maven & OSGi

Q Why not just use Maven?

A Maven is a software project management and comprehension tool. As such it can be seen as a kind of build-time module system but, by its nature, it does nothing to support modularity at run time.

Q Why not just adopt OSGi?

A OSGi is a rich dynamic component system which includes not just a module system but also a life-cycle model and a dynamic service registry. The latter two facilities are useful to some kinds of sophisticated applications, but I don’t think they’re of wide enough interest to be standardized as part of the Java SE Platform.

Q Okay, then why not just adopt the module layer of OSGi?

A The OSGi module layer is not operative at compile time; it only addresses modularity during packaging, deployment, and execution. As it stands, moreover, it’s useful for library and application modules but, since it’s built strictly on top of the Java SE Platform, it can’t be used to modularize the Platform itself.

Q If Maven addresses modularity at build time, and the OSGi module layer addresses modularity during deployment and at run time, then why not just use the two together, as many developers already do?

A The combination of Maven and OSGi is certainly very useful in practice today. These systems have, however, been built on top of the existing Java platform; they have not been able to change the platform itself. This means, among other things, that module boundaries are weakly enforced, if at all, which makes it difficult to diagnose configuration errors and impossible to run untrusted code securely. The prototype Jigsaw module system, by contrast, aims to define a platform-level solution which extends both the language and the JVM in order to enforce module boundaries strongly and uniformly in all program phases.

Q If the EG chooses an approach like the one currently being taken in the Jigsaw prototype, will Maven and OSGi be made obsolete?

A No, not at all! No matter what approach is taken, to ensure wide adoption it’s essential that the standard Java Platform Module System interact well with Maven. Applications that depend upon the sophisticated features of OSGi will no doubt continue to use OSGi, so it’s critical that implementations of OSGi be able to run on top of the Java module system and, if suitably modified, support OSGi bundles that depend upon Java modules. Ideas for how to do that are currently being explored in Project Penrose.

Java 8 & Java 9

Q Without Jigsaw, won’t Java 8 be a pretty boring release?

A No, far from it! It’s still slated to include the widely-anticipated Project Lambda (JSR 335), work on which has been going very well, along with the new Date/Time API (JSR 310), Type Annotations (JSR 308), and a set of smaller features already in progress.

Q Won’t deferring Jigsaw to Java 9 delay the eventual convergence of the higher-end Java ME Platforms with Java SE?

A It will slow that transition, but it will not stop it. To allow progress toward that convergence to be made with Java 8 I’ve suggested to the Java SE 8 EG that we consider specifying a small number of Profiles which would allow compact configurations of the SE Platform to be built and deployed.

Q If Jigsaw is deferred to Java 9, would the Oracle engineers currently working on it be reassigned to other Java 8 features and then return to working on Jigsaw again after Java 8 ships?

A No, these engineers would continue to work primarily on Jigsaw from now until Java 9 ships.

Q Why not drop Lambda and finish Jigsaw instead?

A Even if the engineers currently working on Lambda could instantly switch over to Jigsaw and immediately become productive—which of course they can’t—there are less than nine months remaining in the Java 8 schedule for work on major features. That’s just not enough time for the broad review, testing, and feedback which such a fundamental change to the Java Platform requires.

Q Why not ship the module system in Java 8, and then modularize the platform in Java 9?

A If we deliver a module system in one release but don’t use it to modularize the JDK until some later release then we run a big risk of getting something fundamentally wrong. If that happens then we’d have to fix it in the later release, and fixing fundamental design flaws after the fact almost always leads to a poor end result.

Q Why not ship Jigsaw in an 8.5 release, less than two years after 8? Or why not just ship a new release every year, rather than every other year?

A Many more developers work on the JDK today than a couple of years ago, both because Oracle has dramatically increased its own investment and because other organizations and individuals have joined the OpenJDK Community. Collectively we don’t, however, have the bandwidth required to ship and then provide long-term support for a big JDK release more frequently than about every other year.

Q What’s the feedback been on the two-year release-cycle proposal?

A For just about every comment that we should release more frequently, so that new features are available sooner, there’s been another asking for an even slower release cycle so that large teams of enterprise developers who ship mission-critical applications have a chance to migrate at a comfortable pace.