Eclipse Plug-in Versioning

NOTE: This proposal has been implemented in Eclipse 3.2. Guidelines are found on the Version Numbering wiki page.

The Eclipse team currently changes their plug-in version numbers to match each major release of Eclipse (e.g., 2.1, 3.0). This is a convenient way of understanding the origin of plug-ins but does not capture the actual semantics of the changes that occurred. Here we outline the current use of version numbers and propose guidelines for using plug-in version numbering to better indicate levels of compatibility.

By Pascal Rapicault, Mike Wilson, John Arthorne, Jeff McAffer, IBM

Last Modified: December 20, 2005

Problem Definition

Current Eclipse practice calls for the teams to increment plug-in version numbers to match the upcoming release of Eclipse. For example, during the eclipse 3.1 development cycle, our plug-in version numbers went from 3.0.0 to 3.1.0, such that when we delivered Eclipse 3.1 all plug-ins (save a few third party ones) were versioned as 3.1.0. This is convenient because it allows people to look at the plug-in version number and immediately understand what version of Eclipse that plug-in is from.

This approach has several drawbacks:


The following proposal is twofold:

Guidelines on versioning plug-ins

This section contains a set of guidelines expressing how to evolve plug-in version numbers in a way that captures the nature of the changes that have been made.

Reminder: in eclipse, version numbers are composed of four (4) segments: 3 integers and a string respectively named major.minor.service.qualifier.

Each segment captures a different intent:

When to change the major segment

The major segment number should be increased when a plug-in changes in a non binary compatible way. When the major segment is changed the minor and service segments are reset to 0.
Example: From the version 2.2.7, an incompatible change would lead to 3.0.0.
By definition, such changes should not be made when working in a maintenance stream.

When to change the minor segment

The minor segment number should be incremented when a plug-in changes in an "externally visible" way. Examples of externally visible changes include binary compatible API changes, significant performance changes, major code rework, etc. Another way to know when this version number should be changed is by exclusion: it should indicate changes that are neither bug fixes (indicated by the service segment) nor breaking API changes (indicated by the major segment). When the minor segment is changed, the service segment is reset to 0.
Example: From the version 2.2.7, a minor change would lead to 2.3.0.
Such changes would not typically be made when working in a maintenance stream.

When to change the service segment

The service segment number should be changed to indicate that bug fixes have occurred in a plug-in.
What is new in this proposal is that in addition, incrementing the version number by one hundred (100) indicates the changes of developement stream. This increment must be done when the first bug fix is done in a new development stream. This practice makes it easy to manage one line of descent after a release and still guarantee that plug-ins coming in the next release will have a higher version number than ones from maintenance releases (thus enabling the usage of update manager from maintenance releases to the new releases).
Example: At the end of the development stream N, the version of the plug-in P is 2.4.8. When P receives its first bug fix in the development stream N+1 or higher, then the version should be changed to 2.4.108. If P version 2.4.8 needs to receive a bug fix in the maintenance stream started from N, then its version number will be 2.4.9.

Overall example

This example shows how the version of a plug-in reacts to changes (indicated in parenthesis) in the context of different development stream. Both the text and the diagram illustrate the same example.
First development stream
 - 1.0.0

Second development stream
 - 1.0.100 (indicates a bug fix)
 - 1.1.0 (a new API has been introduced)
 The plug-in ships as 1.1.0

Third development stream
 - 1.1.100 (indicates a bug fix)
 - 2.0.0 (indicates a breaking change)
 The plug-in ships as 2.0.0

Maintenance stream after 1.1.0
 - 1.1.1
 The plug-in ships as 1.1.1

When to change the qualifier segment

Because changing the version number of a plug-in on every commit can be burdensome to the development team, we recommend only applying the previous guidelines once per release cycle. However, since we want to enable the use of the update manager by the development teams, we will use the qualifier segment to indicate changes between builds.

Since Eclipse 3.1, PDE Build can automatically derive the value of the qualifier from the tag associated with the plug-in in the map file that has been fed as input to the build. This leaves the responsibility to the developer preparing the input for the build to tag their plug-ins with a value that is lexicographically higher than the previous one. To facilitate this, we recommend the usage of the date formatted as YearMonthDay or a number that you increment everytime.
Example: The map file for the plug-in P indicates v20050506, and P's version is 4.2.3. The resulting fully qualified version number would be 4.2.3.v20050506.
Deriving the qualifier from the build input offers the advantage that if the plug-in code has not changed, no new version will be created and therefore update manager won't download the plug-in again.

How to specify plug-in requirements

Plug-ins that require other plug-ins must qualify their requirements with a version range since the absence of a version range means that any version can satisfy the dependency. Given that all the changes between the version x.0.0 and the version x+1.0.0 excluded must be compatible (given the previous guidelines); the recommended range includes the minimal required version up-to but not including the next major release.
Example JFace 3.1.0 should probably express the following requirement on SWT: [3.1.0, 4.0.0).

Also, while setting values for prerequisites, watch for opportunities to widen the set of plug-ins against which a plug-in can work.
Example: A plug-in using basic functions from the job API, may express a dependency on runtime 3.0.0 ( [3.0.0, 4.0.0) ) instead of 3.1.0 ( [3.1.0, 4.0.0) ).

How to specify versions when plug-ins re-export other plug-ins

Plug-ins re-exporting other plug-ins tie themselves to the re-exported plug-ins, since they are making the re-exported plug-ins part of their API. Therefore, the version of such plug-ins must indicate the most significant type of change between all the plug-ins they re-export and the changes made locally.
Example: JFace 8.4.2 re-exports SWT 1.1.1 and Commands 2.2.2.
Case 1: if Commands increases its service segment to 2.2.3, JFace version does not need to change.
Case 2: if Commands increases its service segment to 2.2.3, and SWT its minor segment to 1.2.0, JFace version would be 8.5.0.
Case 3: if JFace makes incompatible changes, JFace would change to 9.0.0 covering changes from re-exported plug-ins.

How to version packages

Exported packages being used as service APIs must have a version number. The guidelines to evolve those version numbers are the same as for plug-ins. For plug-ins importing individual packages, you should follow the same guidelines as when requiring a plug-in to specify the version range of packages being imported.

Which version to use in javadoc tags

In the javadoc, @since tags are used to indicate the version of a plug-in in which a specific API has been added. Because javadoc describes API, only the first two segment of the plug-in version number should be used. This represents a change with the current practice where @since indicates the development stream. In addition to using the plug-in version, we recommend to prefix the version number by the plug-in id. This allows to track APIs moving from a plug-in to another (this can happen when a plug-in is split into multiple plug-ins but the package names are kept).
Example: In the 3.2 development stream, the API of the new plug-in org.eclipse.core.filesystem should be tagged as follows:
* This class is the main entry point for clients of the Eclipse file system API. This
* class has factory methods for obtaining instances of file systems and file
* stores, and provides constants for option values and error codes.
* This class is not intended to be instantiated or subclassed.
* @since org.eclipse.core.filesytem 1.0

Versioning features

Features are a grouping mechanism that supports reasoning in terms of sets of plug-ins. Therefore, features hide the plug-in boundaries of the plug-ins they contain and act as if their API was the set of all the APIs of all the consituting plug-ins. Because of this, features are akin to plug-ins re-exporting other plug-ins and should follow the same versioning guidelines.

To avoid the brittleness caused by version changes in required features, we recommend feature authors favor the expression of their dependencies at the plug-in level, rather than at the feature level. To be more precise, all the immediate plug-ins required by the plug-ins included in a feature should be listed as plug-in prerequisite of the feature. This approach has the benefit of isolating feature authors from changes that do not impact them.

 Case 1: Today the feature org.eclipse.gef is as follows:
    requires feature org.eclipse.platform	3.1.0
    contains plugins:
      org.eclipse.draw2d	3.1.0
      org.eclipse.gef		3.1.0
 Case 2: In the new model it should be:
     requires feature org.eclipse.platform	3.1.0
     contains plugins:
       org.eclipse.draw2d	3.1.0
       org.eclipse.gef		3.1.0  
     requires plugins:
       org.eclipse.core.runtime [3.1.0, 4.0.0)
       org.eclipse.ui.views     [3.1.0, 4.0.0)
       org.eclipse.ui.workbench [3.1.0, 4.0.0)
       org.eclipse.jface        [3.1.0, 4.0.0)
       org.eclipse.swt		[3.1.0, 4.0.0)

In case 1, if the version of the org.eclipse.platform feature changes to 4.0.0 (because org.eclipse.core.resources changes its major version number), org.eclipse.gef is required to deliver a new version of its features. In case 2, such changes are transparent to the author of gef.

"Warm fuzzy" feeling

When version numbers are evolving all at once, looking at the feature version is enough to understand which eclipse build is being run (1). However, this is no longer possible because versions evolve independently. To address this problem we are proposing the introduction of a so called "marketing" string that will be used to show a more "meaningful to the end user" number (for example the name of the "eclipse train", see bug #108146). It is important to note that no semantics can be attached to this string nor can it be used to express dependency among features.
Example: The version number of the platform feature could be 3.1.7.v20051010 allowing the precise capture of dependencies among features, and the marketing string could be still be 3.1 or even "Zebra".
(1) This has never been completly true as some plugins do not have matching numbers (e.g., lucene, tomcat, junit...), and no warmth is generated regarding additions or deletions of plugins or features.


If we decide to follow these new guidances, we can retrofit the 3.2 plug-ins with "correct" version numbers. Starting now avoids the situation where Eclipse 3.1 based plug-ins do not work on the released 3.2 because of resolution problems (rather than because of actual incompatibilities).

This effort needs to be coordinated inside each deliverable (one deliverable being SDK, or GEF, or EMF...) by a person that will be responsible for telling each plug-in owner when to change their version numbers.

Updating the plug-ins

  1. Wait until all the plug-ins you rely on have their correct version number.
  2. Set your version number correctly using the guidelines previously described, review your code change since the beginning of the 3.2 development cycle and decide if your version number should be 3.1.x+100 or 3.2.0. Be careful to not forget about the re-exported plug-ins.
  3. Suffix the version number of your plug-in by ".qualifier" (e.g.., 3.1.100.qualifier) to enable the qualifier generation by PDE Build
  4. Set your prerequisite correctly using the guidelines previously described.

Updating feature version number

  1. The feature version number can be modified once all the plug-ins included in the feature and all the features included in that feature have been modified. This is a manual step and could eventually be tooled (see bug #111543)
  2. The list of required plug-ins will be computed automatically based on the set of plug-ins included in the feature (see bug #111541).

Known limitations

One branch of descent

The solution proposed for changing the service segment after a release makes the management of multiple lines of descent hard to deal with (but not impossible -- to work around this, one may decide to increment the qualifier by more than 100 if they know that there will be multiple lines of descent). Having looked at how plug-ins evolve in the eclipse eco-systems we believe this restriction is not likely to cause problems for us.

Generation of qualifiers

For teams not using a map file-like mechanism, PDE build will generate a value derived from the date and time of day. Doing this is, however, not recommended since even plug-ins whose code has not been changed yet will be given a new qualifier causing update to unnecessarily download the binary.

For teams having a mechanism other than map files, the build can be provided with a file where the value of qualifier will be read.

Features semantics

These recommendations represent a shift in the way features are being used, and will require some adaptations in the syntax and in the code (see list below). In fact, this proposal acknowledges the fact that plug-ins are the only things that matter.

Here is an outline of the changes that would be required:

Note that these enhancements are not required to move forward with this proposal.