Abseil Breaking Change Policy Update

Abseil Breaking Change Policy Update

By Derek Mauro

Today we are announcing that Abseil is adopting the Google OSS Library Breaking Change Policy. What does this mean for Abseil users? Let’s take a look.

Abseil’s original compatibility policy made this statement:

We will always strive to not break API compatibility. If we feel that we must, we will provide a compiler-based refactoring tool to assist in the upgrade … any time we are making a change publicly we’re also doing the work to update the 250MLoC+ internal Google codebase — we very rarely do such refactoring that cannot be automated.

In the 6 years since Abseil has been available to the open source community, we have released only one tool, and we believe that there is a good chance that no one ever needed to use that tool.

There are a few reasons why we never really needed to make use of our policy of providing an automated update tool.

First, Abseil only ships production-ready APIs. While these APIs did evolve in their early life, APIs must be considered stable and have thousands of usages in Google’s internal codebase before they are eligible for inclusion in Abseil.

Second, as stated in the original policy, when we do change an API, we also have to update Google’s internal code base. While we do use automated tooling to do this, the fact that Google’s internal code base is so large constrains the types of changes that we can make.

The policy of releasing a tool for automated upgrades has not worked out in practice. Not only have we not made changes that would have made upgrading difficult without the use of a tool, but the policy of requiring releasing a tool has also made it harder for us to release fixes that are technically API breaks but that impact very few callsites.

Under the new policy, despite claiming the right to make breaking changes without shipping an automated upgrade tool, we still commit to making upgrading as easy as possible, and only making breaking changes when we believe they will provide benefit to our users. We will announce these changes prominently in our commit messages as well as in the release notes for LTS releases, and will provide guidance on how to resolve issues.

Please read our updated compatibility guidelines for more information about what users must (and must not) do to successfully update to newer versions of Abseil.

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