Why and How Java Developers Break APIs

Preprint English OPEN
Brito, Aline ; Xavier, Laerte ; Hora, Andre ; Valente, Marco Tulio (2018)

Modern software development depends on APIs to reuse code and increase productivity. As most software systems, these libraries and frameworks also evolve, which may break existing clients. However, the main reasons to introduce breaking changes in APIs are unclear. Therefore, in this paper, we report the results of an almost 4-month long field study with the developers of 400 popular Java libraries and frameworks. We configured an infrastructure to observe all changes in these libraries and to detect breaking changes shortly after their introduction in the code. After identifying breaking changes, we asked the developers to explain the reasons behind their decision to change the APIs. During the study, we identified 59 breaking changes, confirmed by the developers of 19 projects. By analyzing the developers' answers, we report that breaking changes are mostly motivated by the need to implement new features, by the desire to make the APIs simpler and with fewer elements, and to improve maintainability. We conclude by providing suggestions to language designers, tool builders, software engineering researchers and API developers.
  • References (45)
    45 references, page 1 of 5

    [1] S. Moser and O. Nierstrasz, “The effect of object-oriented frameworks on developer productivity,” Computer, vol. 29, no. 9, pp. 45-51, 1996.

    [2] D. Konstantopoulos, J. Marien, M. Pinkerton, and E. Braude, “Best principles in the design of shared software,” in 33rd International Computer Software and Applications Conference (COMPSAC), pp. 287- 292, 2009.

    [3] S. Raemaekers, A. van Deursen, and J. Visser, “Measuring software library stability through historical version analysis,” in 28th International Conference on Software Maintenance (ICSM), pp. 378-387, 2012.

    [4] M. Reddy, API Design for C++. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2011.

    [5] W. Wu, Y.-G. Gueheneuc, G. Antoniol, and M. Kim, “AURA: a hybrid approach to identify framework evolution,” in 32nd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), pp. 325-334, 2010.

    [6] R. Robbes, M. Lungu, and D. Ro¨thlisberger, “How do developers react to API deprecation? the case of a Smalltalk ecosystem,” in 20th International Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (FSE), pp. 56:1-56:11, 2012.

    [7] T. McDonnell, B. Ray, and M. Kim, “An empirical study of API stability and adoption in the Android ecosystem,” in 29th International Conference on Software Maintenance (ICSM), pp. 70-79, 2013.

    [8] C. Bogart, C. Ka¨stner, J. Herbsleb, and F. Thung, “How to break an API: cost negotiation and community values in three software ecosystems,” in 24th International Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (FSE), pp. 109-120, 2016.

    [9] L. Xavier, A. Brito, A. Hora, and M. T. Valente, “Historical and impact analysis of API breaking changes: A large scale study,” in 24th International Conference on Software Analysis, Evolution and Reengineering (SANER), pp. 138-147, 2017.

    [10] E. M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press, 5th ed., 2003.

  • Metrics
    No metrics available
Share - Bookmark