Monday, December 15, 2008

Project Jigsaw

As many of you know, there is a new phase in the history of Java modularity. A few weeks ago Alex Buckley contacted me for an urgent phone conference. Through the grapevines I already had picked up that a change was in the air, the exit of Stanley Ho (the poor JSR 277 spec lead) had also been a sign on the wall. Unfortunately, the phone conference was canceled while it was supposed to take place and I had to live in suspense for another two weeks. Last week, while I was in Stockholm chasing a room at 1 am because there was none booked, I finally spoke with Alex and Mark Reinhold. This week, at Devoxx I got the change to talk to Mark and Alex in person though I was severely handicapped by having lost my voice.

A bit of historic context for the uninitiated.

1998 Nov. The OSGi Alliance has since 1998 worked on the development of a formal standard for modularity in Java based on the Java class loader model. This standard works on all Java 2 VMs. The specifications are currently at release 4.2. It is very mature, respected, and adoption in the last few years is exponential.

2003 Oct. JSR 232 Mobile Operational Management, which was really OSGi R4 with mobile services was approved in the J2ME Executive Committee.

2005 Jun.
In spring 2005 Sun filed JSR 277 Java Module System. This JSR clearly covered the area that OSGi did so well and it was therefore not clear to may why this JSR did not start with OSGi. A discussion followed and the JSR was accepted by the JCP Executive Committee in June 2005, albeit several members remarked in their vote that OSGi should be taken into account. As a highly interested party I tried to get into this JSR, but I was denied because the expert group was full ... Unfortunately, the discussions were also closed to observers.

2005 Oct. JSR 232 (OSGi R4.0.1) published its EDR.

2006 Feb. In response, with the backing of the OSGi Alliance, IBM filed for JSR 291 Dynamic Component Support for JavaTM SE, led by Glyn Normington. This JSR focused on bringing OSGi into the JCP for Java 2 SE as was done earlier for the Jave 2 ME. Unfortunately, Java has split a number of years ago in two, more and more incompatible, branches. This JSR was run fully in the open.

2006 Apr. Sun decided to extract the language aspects of modularity into a separate JSR from 277. This became JSR 294, the intentions were declared in a short (and cryptic) personal blog of Gilad Bracha (the spec lead). At Java One in 2006 he explained that the deployment guys could not be trusted with the language. Point taken.

2006 Aug. JSR 232 went final and JSR 291 published its Early Draft Review (EDR).

2006 Oct. JSR 277 publishes its early draft. This draft was unfortunately quite bad and extensively discussed. For more information why it was not very good, read my blog for more information. Interestingly, Gilad Bracha, the spec lead for JSR 294 leaves Sun. Alex Buckley takes over as spec lead.

2007 Apr. A commendable decision is made to allow observers on the JSR 277 and 294 mailing lists. However, traffic is quite minimal.

2007 Aug. JSR 291 (OSGi 4.1) goes final.

2007 Nov. JSR 294 publishes their first Early Draft Review. This proposal was based on the original super packages concept and was, ehh, dreadfully complex. I analyzed their proposal in a blog.

2008 Jan. Glyn Normington (JSR 291 Spec lead) files a bug on JSR 277 to ask it to consider interoperability with OSGi. After visible and invisible pressure, Sun accepts this requirement and starts to take a deeper look.

2008 Apr. Stanley Ho publishes an OSGi interoperability model on the JSR 277 mailing list. Unfortunately, this model heavily relies on the second Early Draft of JSR 277 that has not been made public so far. This makes it very hard to judge.

2008 Mar. Alex Buckley posts a message on the 294 mailing list indicating that he had given up on the original superpackages concept, agreeing that it had gotten too complex. He proposed to introduce a new keyword "module". This significantly changed the whole 294 story and was applauded by me in a blog. The module keyword showed a lot of promise.

2008 Apr. JSr 294 is folded back into JSR 277 and Alex and Stanley will act together as spec lead.

2008 May. Stanley Ho proposes a model for versioning in JSR 277. This is met with a lot of resistance because it gratuitously differs significantly from the OSGi versioning scheme, as explained in my blog. Other blogs reacted rather violently to this proposal.

2008 Oct. Stanley Ho leaves Sun

2008 Dec. Mark Reinhold announces project Jigsaw, JSR 277 is put on hold, and JSR 294 is resurrected.

It is kind of interesting to see how other bloggers have taken the news of project Jigsaw. The blogers that like OSGi still show a lot of distrust of Sun's motives. And though they might be right, I think Sun genuinly wants to get modularity into Java 7 and has concluded that OSGi will play a role in Java 7, regardless of what they do. Since Alex Buckley took over some of the specification work in 277 and 294, there has been a real conversation going on and I feel trust was built. Where in the past I often disliked what Sun was doing, I never felt it was evil. Most of it could better be explained from their lack of knowledge of what OSGi really was and an understandable desire to keep things their way.

The difference today is that now some of the key people like Mark Reinhold and Alex Buckley have made an effort to talk to us. If things would turn out very differently from what I expect today, then it would be a personal issue. Something which it never was before. So I am actually quite positive now they promised to more actively participate in the OSGi Alliance to work on modularity.

That said, I obviously have my rather simple wish list for project Jigsaw of only three prioritized items:
  1. Requirements
  2. Requirements
  3. Requirements

This whole mess of the last three and a half years is caused by a process in the JCP that allows people to get started with solutions before they negotiated the requirements with the stakeholders. Requirements make everything in development go smoother because they scope the work and make it possible to explore different solution without falling back to the childish "mine is better." Requirements expose the different perspectives the stakeholder have and allow the negotiation to take place before any investment is made.

If Sun wants to do project Jigsaw really well, they should take the next few months to create an OSGi Request for Proposal (RFP). This is not a complex document with long list of common sense (and therefore useless) requirements numbered in a complex scheme. On the contrary, it is a story about how things are done today, establishes the span and scope, and elucidates the problem that needs to be solved.

An RFP establishes a common vocabulary and understanding in the problem domain. Developing such an RFP allows the expert group to understand the perspectives of others before anybody has made a commitment in a solution. This lack of commitment defuses any disagreements. Even better, once the project gets into the solution space, the group can explore alternatives that can be judged against the requirements instead of subjective opinions.

During one of our conversations Mark indicated that he liked simple solutions. It is hard to disagree with that statement. However, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. What is simple for one, can be simplistic for another. Without requirements, it is very hard to decide if a solution is simplistic or simple.

I do understand that the time frame is short, Java 7 is supposed to be out early 2010. However, if there is one lesson I learned the hard way then it is this: If it is not worth doing it right, it is not worth doing it at all. So Mark, Alex, I am more than willing to help doing it right this time!

Peter Kriens

P.S. This blog was first posted to the EclipseCon blog due to a combination of a heavy cold and a confusing GUI.

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