January 2008


Well, this year is trotting along quite nicely so far and there have already been some quite interesting developments. Plus it’ll soon be time for FOSDEM again! Probably the most major thing for me is the continued development of OpenJDK-related projects. After a discussion with Dalibor via IRC a couple of weeks ago, we launched a new project called BrandWeg. This is effectively the inverse of IcedTea; we take Classpath and try to patch its holes using OpenJDK as the plaster.

It’s notably different as a repository in that it contains no source code, only patches. Instead, the build downloads Classpath from CVS or a tarball, and then the requisite OpenJDK sources from either Mercurial or a tarball. At the moment, it just merges in the jaxws stack, as this is completely unimplemented in Classpath and separated in the OpenJDK. As such, it seems like it should be easy to add this in by merely putting the sources into external and linking it into the build system. Unfortunately, the code may be in different repositories but they are by no means orthogonal unfortunately. Trying to build with jaxws in there makes the build scream for mercy — among the errors, there are ones looking for a HTTP provider in com.sun (presumably tucked away in the main JDK sources) and some evil direct use of the com.sun.org.apache XML providers. So it’ll need a bit of patching before we have our first BrandWeg build.

I’ve also returned to a little work on IcePick, after doko has started trying to build native GCJ binaries from its output. Together, we found and patched a few bugs and I’ve finally implemented better wrappers for the tools. Notably, these don’t depend on the -Xbootclasspath option which I picked up from the Classpath tools but which doesn’t work with gcj, and they also handle the -J options. The wrapper is now a little bit of C code that is compiled with different defines depending on the required tool.

Feel free to check these and let me know what you think.

Finally, the last bit of news concerns OpenJDK again. Through the last year or so that we’ve been working with the new OpenJDK development, our main contact with Sun has been through Tom Marble. He’s proved to be a great guy to work with, always patient enough to listen to all our quibbles and our ongoing complaints and whines about the glacial progress of the OpenJDK community development. So, it’s with some sadness that we found out this week that he’ll be leaving Sun soon and heading off for pastures new. I hope he appreciates how much of an asset he has been to us GNU Classpath developers in our trips into the unknown world of the OpenJDK and I’d like to join with the rest of the Free Java community in thanking him for his tireless work and wishing him all the best in the future. Thanks Tom!

Well it’s now 2008 (unless you’re in the US of course) and traditionally a time to reflect upon the year just gone. Well, it’s certainly been one of movement and change in the GNU Classpath community, if also one of very little code hacking. Of course, the biggest event of the year was the release of the OpenJDK source code in May; about 95% of the JDK source code base was made available under the GPLv2, the rest both then and now being filled by binary blobs, which are slowly decreasing in number.

However, back in January 2007, we were still waiting for this to happen. As I recall, we’d just (gone through the generics merge, migrating the contents of the branch on to the main tree and over the Christmas period I added quite a lot of 1.6 code. Sun’s javac compiler was open-sourced however, as part of the November announcement, and we soon had support in GNU Classpath for building with it.

In February, GNU Classpath was again at FOSDEM and I finally attended after missing out on the last two years. It was good fun and notable for our collaboration both with the DevJam folks and the OpenJDK community (AKA Sun). Everything was very much still ifs and buts however, because I don’t think anyone knew what would really happen when the floodgates opened and the JDK was released. Of course, GNU Classpath will again be at FOSDEM this year, and apparently with even closer collaboration with OpenJDK — try and even spot a mention of GNU Classpath on those pages… Hopefully, I’ll be there again too.

The year only saw two Classpath releases, which is sort of representative of its ongoing decline I guess. 0.95 was released shortly after FOSDEM in April, a delayed and very necessary release which include the generics move and the other stuff I mention above. Getting a GNU Classpath release out the door has become more and more of a struggle over this year and, in a way, has become synonymous with a pregnant mother giving birth, as a team of developers stand round screaming ‘push’ until eventually the release emerges. Our release of 0.96 in October certainly felt like that to me anyway. On that note, congratulations to both Michael Koch and Roman Kennke who both (or should I say, their respective partners) had children this year.

May of course saw the release of the OpenJDK source code and the inevitable hordes jumping on and pulling it about took place with the same speed and haste we saw on the release of javac. This has eventually surfaced in the form of IcedTea from a number of GNU Classpath/RedHat folks, a build framework for the OpenJDK which, most importantly, serves it without the need for proprietary code (given that the current OpenJDK build has no real advantage over a proprietary JDK drop unless you want to tinker). This was produced by splicing in bits of GNU Classpath code. It’s a whole deal more easier to use than plain old OpenJDK but still not a walk in the park. This is especially true since Sun split up the build process and made parts of it depend on Ant

It’s quite sad to say, but OpenJDK is still not what we all hope it will be. Thankfully, live Mercurial repositories are now available as of December, but there are still too many walls, as I mentioned before. It’s like the JDK was something that popped out of a little black box, but now someone has taken the lid off the box so you can see the little worker ants running around inside and making it all happen. But there’s not yet anyway to get inside the box ourselves. New ants need to be able to join in the fun. We’ve already seen one of the goals I mentioned in August realised (the open repositories), and hopefully more will change in 2008. Sun’s innovation awards are both a realisation of this problem (common to both OpenJDK and many of its other open source projects, which still have a predominantly Sun ethos) and hopefully its saviour.

It smells a little like Google’s Summer of Code and indeed Tom Marble was asking myself and Mario about this on IRC. This year of course saw me tackling JikesRVM for GSoC, trying to implement the VM-level management extensions. A lot of this work was done, and following GSoC, I was made a member of the JikesRVM team. However, the patches still haven’t gone in to the mainline, due to a combination of the release process (some of these are likely to be destablising) and finding time myself to test the stuff on the main branch. This hasn’t been helped by a re-emerging problem with building JikesRVM using Classpath; this same problem plagued my initial month or so on the project when I discovered it seemed to rely on proprietary software to work…

So altogether it’s been an interesting year. Not only have I worked on both the old (continuing with GNU Classpath and also pushing out a release of GJDoc) and the new (launching the IcePick project to build the OpenJDK tools separately) over the last year, but I’ve also sadly seen the community enter something of a demise as people start to move on to other things, especially IcedTea and OpenJDK. What will 2008 hold? Maybe I’ll find myself working on OpenJDK too…