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Oracle's Saab on Faster Java SE Release Cadence

Last week, Mark Reinhold, chief architect of Oracle's Java Platform Group, proposed a new, time-based release schedule for the Java SE Platform and the JDK that would provide a feature release every six months, update releases every quarter, and a long-term support release every three years. He also outlined some changes his team at Oracle plans to implement around OpenJDK. (Details here.)

After the annoucement I had a chance to talk with Georges Saab, vice president of development for Oracle's Java Platform Group and chairperson of the OpenJDK governing board, about what Reinhold proposed and what it means for the Java community.

"No one should be too surprised by this," Saab told me. "We've been talking with lots of people about a new release cadence and how that might work -- folks in the Java ecosystem, members of the [Executive Committee of the Java Community Process], people in the OpenJDK community, and just lots of developers. Many of the things we've been doing in Java SE 9 have actually laid the ground work for this change. We feel the time is right for the Java ecosystem to make this work."

Developers now expect their platforms to evolve quickly, Saab said, at a pace that keeps up with rapidly changing industry trends and gives them timely access to new tools and innovation. That expectation would be tough for Oracle and the JCP to meet without an acceleration of Java's release cadence.

"If you're only releasing a new major version every other year," he said, "you simply can't adapt as rapidly as you need to today. In Java 9, for example, we had close to 100 features that were done and ready to ship a year or longer before [the platform] would be ready. We simply didn't have a vehicle to put those features into the hands of developers. The proposed changes in the release cadence are intended to make sure all the great marbles aren't backed up behind basketballs."

For context, keep in mind that Java SE 6 was released in 2006, Java SE 7 in 2011, Java SE 8 in 2014, and Java SE 9 this month.

In his blog post, Reinhold backed off an earlier suggestion that the community adopt a release train model along the lines of the annual Eclipse Release Train, with a feature release every two years. Saab agreed that the model won't work, but he likes the analogy.

"Think of it this way," he said, "you're heading home after a long day at work to catch your train and you're running late. If it's an hour and 20 minutes until the next train, you're going to kill yourself running down the stairs to get there before the doors close. But if another train is coming in three minutes, you'll walk, hold onto the handrail, and get there without killing yourself. More frequent Java SE releases means developers are going to be more likely to wait if a feature isn't ready, rather than feeling they have to jam it in because it'll be a year before they get another chance."

Oracle is currently applying this thinking to Project Valhalla, the OpenJDK project that aims to improve Java's typing system and make the language more efficient at handling situations requiring identity-less types. "We're looking at ways we might be able to break down the project into smaller pieces that can come in successively over the course of several smaller releases," Saab explained. "It has been suggested that we could do the data classes first, and then pattern matching could come in as a second step."

If a faster release cadence is implemented for the Java Platform and the JDK, does that mean we won't see big changes in the future?

"Oh, big things are still coming," Saab said. "They'll just be coming in smaller pieces."

Posted by John K. Waters on September 11, 2017