To react, or not to react: Patterns of reaction to API deprecation

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Abstract

Application Programming Interfaces (API) provide reusable functionality to aid developers in the development process. The features provided by these APIs might change over time as the API evolves. To allow API consumers to peacefully transition from older obsolete features to new features, API producers make use of the deprecation mechanism that allows them to indicate to the consumer that a feature should no longer be used. The Java language designers noticed that no one was taking these deprecation warnings seriously and continued using outdated features. Due to this, they decided to change the implementation of this feature in Java 9. We question as to what extent this issue exists and whether the Java language designers have a case. We start by identifying the various ways in which an API consumer can react to deprecation. Following this we benchmark the frequency of the reaction patterns by creating a dataset consisting of data mined from 50 API consumers totalling 297,254 GitHub based projects and 1,322,612,567 type-checked method invocations. We see that predominantly consumers do not react to deprecation and we try to explain this behavior by surveying API consumers and by analyzing if the API’s deprecation policy has an impact on the consumers’ decision to react.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3824-3870
Number of pages47
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Volume24
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • API usage
  • Application programming interface
  • Deprecation
  • Java

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