State of OpenJDK: Past, Present and Future with Oracle

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The Free and Open source Software Developers’ European Meeting (FOSDEM) is no longer the home of OpenJDK committers and other regular contributors. Traditionally the OpenJDK community used to meet at FOSDEM every February in Brussels, but since the OpenJDK team is now shipping a release every six months they agreed that it was time to meet more frequently.

To fill this need the team decided to hold a Committer’s workshop on the first two days of August at Oracle’s campus in Santa Clara, California, USA. Mark Reinhold, the Chief Architect of the Java Platform Group at Oracle was the conductor of the orchestra here. He shed some light on the recent developments to the OpenJDK ecosystem and shared some future plans in yesterday’s sessions.

OpenJDK’s new release model is a blessing in disguise

It’s probably old news for developers who have been tracking the Java release cycle for some time now, but nonetheless, it’s very important for how things are going to change for OpenJDK.

2018 marked a new dawn for the Java platform. After endless discussions in the community about the new release being a repeat telecast of the same old Java 9 movie—a historic feature driven update to the platform with no head or tail on the release date—Mark put all the rumors to bed. He suggested to replace this feature driven update to a strict, time-based model with a new feature release every six months, update releases every quarter, and a long-term support release every three years.


Image Source: OpenJDK Community Update

For example, JDK 10 which was a new feature release was made available in March this year. The next release in six months would be JDK 11, which automatically becomes a candidate for a Long term support which would last till 2021, i.e three years as mentioned above.

The biggest advantage of this release schedule is the simplified release process; takes off the pressure of adhering to strict deadlines from the developers. It also means that every feature would have to be completed before it makes the final cut, this way there are no multiple minor versions of the same release which confuses the users and developers alike.

To what extent will Oracle contribute to the OpenJDK community?

In the Committer’s workshop Mark Reinhold cleared some questions about Oracle’s contribution to the OpenJDK ecosystem. He mentioned that Oracle engineers would be leading and be contributing only to the current feature releases and first two updates on the quarterly release. The non-Oracle folks can have the opportunity of taking the ownership of long-term release projects.

This decision is taken mainly due to the fact that Oracle developers and engineers can focus on the future releases and their functionalities rather than working on support for long-term releases. An important clause which was discussed during this session was Oracle’s smooth transition of leadership whenever the engineers feel that they need to dial down their contribution to a particular release line they would hand over the leadership of that project with relative ease.

Oracle finally embraces the Open Source Culture

Now the biggest announcement that came in this workshop was Oracle open sourcing the elements of it proprietary JDK. Now before discussing this, it is important for us to understand what exactly is the difference between OpenJDK and Oracle’s proprietary JDK. Sun Microsystems, who originally created Java, announced in the JavaOne conference of 2006, that Java is going to be open sourced. OpenJDK was a result of a free implementation of the Standard Edition (SE) of the Java Platform.

When Oracle bought Sun in 2009, they created their own proprietary version of the JDK which catered to the enterprise users who valued stability; and unlike OpenJDK, it has releases planned every three years.

Now coming back to the point of open sourcing Oracle’s proprietary JDK, for a long time developers questioned Oracle’s intentions on how they plan to shape the future of Java, especially after their feud with Google over Android that began back in 2010. The open source community felt largely alienated from Oracle as they believed that Oracle was wrong in going after an open source friendly company like Google.

Fast forward to 2018 and in this day and age, companies are embracing more and more open source technologies. Oracle has finally decided to open source their JDK which includes elements like Java flight recorder, Java Mission Control, and ZGC which is Oracle’s very own garbage collector. There will still be an Oracle JDK for the purposes of offering commercial support, but it will have the same functionalities as OpenJDK.

Finally, Oracle is going to release all the builds for the current releases under the GPL license for developers who prefer non-commercial licensing. To know more about the different sessions that took place at the Committer’s Workshop you can visit their Official webpage.

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