Java 19: What’s New? Is It Time to Take the Plunge?

As an extensively embraced and versatile programming language, Java provides developers with the ability to produce top-quality and cross-platform applications. It is commonly used in the industry to generate and circulate mobile apps, games, digital content and enterprise software, as well as serving as the basis for various interconnected programs.

Java’s wide-ranging library functionalities make it an exceedingly potent platform for software development, empowering developers to create dynamic applications. The platform comes fully equipped with all the necessary tools for development, testing, optimization and deployment.

Since its initial release in 1995, Java has become a favoured programming language, with numerous revisions over the years. Its portability and versatility make it an ideal option for high-level, object-oriented programming, as it can be utilized on numerous operating systems.

With more than two decades of development, Java has established itself as one of the most popular programming languages worldwide. As per the TIOBE Index, it has been holding the third position, after C and Python, since October 2023.

Java 19 – New and Enhanced Features

September 20, 2023 saw the release of a new version of the Java SE Development Kit (JDK), which incorporated various enhancements, such as structured concurrency, record patterns, a preview of a foreign function and memory API, and compatibility with the open-source Linux/RISC-V instruction set architecture. However, this version is not a Long-Term Support (LTS) version.

One may raise the question: “What does non-LTS signify?” During the LTS phase, a particular software version receives an extended support period, inclusive of updates, bug fixes and performance enhancements. In case a user requires long-term support for their software, they may have a preference for the LTS version, despite it typically not being the most up-to-date edition.

Oracle regards the Long-Term Support (LTS) version of Java as the primary standard until the completion of its support life cycle. As of 2023, Java 17 happens to be the current LTS release, and it is expected to be retired in 2026.

Non-LTS releases are aimed at experimenting with new features and obtaining input from the community. For example, in Java 19, all the mentioned features are either currently in a preview phase or in an incubation stage, apart from the Linux/RISC-V functionality.

Functions in Incubator, Preview, and Experimental Stage

The terms “experimental”, “preview” and “incubator” are utilized by Oracle to denote the various phases of a Java release. It is crucial to become aware of this vocabulary, as these labels are assigned to functionalities which haven’t been fully integrated into Java.

Java Previews

Previously, JEP12 did not provide previews. According to OpenJDK, a preview functionality is characterized as “a recently declared and entirely implemented attribute of the Java language, Java Virtual Machine, or Java SE API that is designed to be provisional”. It has now been added in a recent JDK update, allowing programmers to provide feedback based on their actual usage.

Previewing can be compared to the final stages of beta testing. This feature has been extensively tested, hence, it can be relied upon. Oracle values the input from beta testers and early adopters before releasing the previewed feature for the public.

Normally, it is anticipated that a majority of preview functionalities will be completely implemented in a year’s time from their initial release, thus not much alterations should be expected during that duration.

Preview features are not activated by default as they are not a permanent aspect of the Java SE Platform. It is the duty of the developer to enable preview language attributes and APIs during both build and run time.

Alternative Java

Functionalities that are still in their early developmental stages are referred to as experimental. Despite undergoing tests, they may be deemed hazardous, deficient, or unsteady. Typically, a developer must set specific flags in order to use a feature labelled as experimental.

Preview functionalities can be up to 95% finished, while experimental features may only reach 25% attainment. During the launch of a new feature, early adopters and enthusiasts are requested to test it, offer feedback, detect any concerns, and begin investigating its potential.

It is crucial to remember that different vendors may opt to activate or deactivate specific experimental functionalities in their distributions, based on their own evaluations.

Java Incubator

JDK.incubator supplies developers with application programming interfaces (APIs) as modules. These APIs, referred to as ‘incubating features’, are in a vulnerable state and may have bugs. Gradually, as they undergo improvements over different versions of Java, they advance towards the ‘preview’ phase.

Creation of Java-Based Tasks

The emphasis of this presentation will mainly be on Java-based functionalities. A project is an amalgamation of efforts from a team aimed at delivering a particular item, such as a paper, a software application, or any other form of content.

A new Project can be proposed by any Participant. A Project will be launched as an OpenJDK Project if it receives backing from at least one Group Lead, whose Group will serve as the Project Sponsor, and is sanctioned by a consensus of the OpenJDK Members.

Some instances of famous works include:

The Upcoming Construction Project

Project Loom is striving to create lighter threads by transferring scheduling duties from the operating system to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). By enabling the JVM to handle all threads, we can anticipate a boost in performance.

Valhalla Mission

Project Valhalla is a Java effort that strives to enhance performance. This is accomplished by introducing Value Types, a novel data type that offers the advantages of object-oriented design, but with the accessibility of primitive types. This enables Value Types to be saved in a single array, with minimal overhead, and direct access to the fields within the array.

Panama Mission

Project Panama is a project that intends to simplify the integration of non-Java components, such as C libraries, into Java applications. Various associated projects have been tested as part of recent Java updates in their ‘incubator’ releases. These consist of the Foreign-Memory-Access API, Foreign-Linker API, Vector API, and Foreign-Function Interface API.

“Amber” Initiative

The Project Amber team has made considerable advancements in enriching the Java programming language with various intriguing new features. As described on their website, their goal is to “examine and develop minor, productivity-centric Java language enhancements that are approved as candidate JEPs.”

Our project is continually developing on current abilities such as the utilization of local variables designated by the ‘var’ keyword, the incorporation of data into records, and the comparison of patterns in matching. At present, we are concentrating on executing pattern matching for records and arrays, in addition to providing assistance for sealed classes in switches.

Upgrade to Java 19 and Enjoy Its Novel Features

Methodical Synchronization

In the computer science domain, simultaneous activity among different components of a program, algorithm, resource, or device is referred to as “concurrency”. Concurrency enables parallel execution of numerous processes, significantly increasing the efficiency of a program or system. Moreover, it can result in more efficient usage of hardware components such as CPUs, RAM, and storage space.

Due to this concurrent nature, several tasks executed in distinct threads can be viewed as a single task. The OpenJDK specifies the following objectives:

  • Enhance the readability, stability, and traceability of multithreaded code.
  • Advocate for a concurrent programming approach that can entirely eliminate issues stemming from the need for cancellation or restarting.

Project Loom incorporates functionality that streamlines the procedure of creating concurrent software. The inclusion of virtual threads, which do not use any designated CPU core, is now available. This may potentially enhance performance as a single thread can now leverage multiple CPU cores simultaneously.

Archiving Trends: A Glimpse

Nested Record Patterns and Type Patterns are a preliminary feature that provides a dependable, declarative, and modular method of data traversal and processing. For instance, the upcoming pattern matching capabilities in JDK 16, to be launched in March 2023, are founded on the technology established in JDK 15. It may become necessary to incorporate aspects such as Array Patterns and Vararg Patterns to Record Patterns in the future. The Java Development Kit (JDK) aims to allow progressively intricate data searches to be expressed using pattern matching, without requiring changes to the syntax of Type Patterns.

A Preview of the Memory and Foreign Function APIs

The Foreign Function and Memory API enables Java applications to access and use data and programs coded in languages other than Java. This application programming interface is highly efficient when calling foreign functions or retrieving data from foreign memory and is built with a secure design that avoids the vulnerabilities of the Java Native Interface (JNI). The foreign function and memory API was initially proposed in JDK 17 and JDK 18 with the objective of offering a streamlined implementation, optimal performance, wide applicability, and secure design.

A Preview of Virtual Threads

Lightweight threads, such as virtual threads, can simplify the creation, management and monitoring of highly efficient concurrent applications. The objectives that virtual threads seek to achieve are:

  • Enabling close-to-optimal hardware utilization for simple thread-per-request-style server applications
  • Simplifying the migration to virtual threads for pre-existing programs that currently use the java.lang Thread API with minimal disturbance.
  • Permitting the utilization of conventional JDK tools for debugging, profiling, and resolving issues related to virtual threads

Glimpsing Into Pattern Matching in Switch Expressions and Statements

The third preview introduces an enhancement in the pattern matching of switch expressions and statements. The use of ‘when’ clauses in switch blocks has replaced guarded patterns. During a pattern switch, the runtime semantics will now more closely resemble those of a traditional switch when the selector expression’s value is null.

The purpose of this scheme is to enhance the versatility of switch expressions and statements by enabling the use of patterns in case labels. It is also crucial to maintain compatibility and retain the same semantics for existing switch expressions and statements, while affording developers the choice to relax the traditional null-hostile character of switch as needed.

The ultimate objective is to enable pattern matching in all contexts where expressions are employed in Java. Moreover, Project Amber has already incorporated this feature.

The Vector Application Programming Interface Goes Through Its Fourth Incubation.

The Vector API empowers Java developers to construct advanced vector algorithms. Prior to JDK 18, the API was validated in JDK 16 and 17. The preview of the Foreign Function and Memory API elaborates on the proposed enhancements to the Vector API for JDK 19, which includes the capacity to effortlessly store and retrieve vectors from MemorySegments. Furthermore, JDK 19 will introduce two novel vector operations (compress and expand) and a vector mask compress operation.

The Compress Vector operation maps the lanes of a source vector to a destination vector in a specified order while the Expand Vector operation performs the reverse action. The use of Compress function may be advantageous during searches as it may aid in narrowing down the results. Moreover, the Vector API will comprise bitwise integral lane-wise operations like counting the number of ‘1’ bits, reversing the bit order, compressing and expanding bits, and so on.

The API was conceptualized with multiple goals, including brevity, platform neutrality, optimal runtime and compilation performance on x64 and AArch64, and the ability to gracefully deteriorate if a vector operation cannot be fully executed at runtime through a series of vector operations. The development of the vector API occurred under the ambit of Project Panama.

The Bridge Between RISC-V and Linux

Multiple language toolchains currently use the hardware instruction set that would be facilitated by the Linux/RISC-V port. This port would exclusively be compatible with the RV64GV variation of the RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA). This 64-bit ISA is apt for general use and includes vector instructions. The Java team can potentially opt to include RISC-V configuration support, in due course.

Prepping Up for Enhancements Ahead

Do you intend to experiment with Java version 19? In that case, there are a couple of things to keep in mind if you are looking to upgrade:

  1. Identify your prerequisites.

    Identifying the precise needs of your enterprise is vital to any successful upgrade. Formulate a prioritized rundown of the attributes and capabilities that are indispensable for the smooth operation of your organization. No feature from our list should be deemed essential unless it lacks something that you genuinely require.
  2. Obtain thorough knowledge:

    Once your needs have been determined, it is crucial to evaluate whether the new functionalities in Java 19 align with your prerequisites. Gathering suggestions from reliable sources, perusing online reviews, and connecting with other organizations in your industry can aid in making an informed decision. It is crucial to be mindful of any possible glitches or bugs, as some of these attributes are still being tested.
  3. Take Inventory and Establish Orderliness:

    An insufficient preparation for a software upgrade is a certain way to create disarray. To guarantee a smooth transition, it is imperative to create a plan that outlines the requisite steps and deadlines, and to ensure that all relevant parties are cognizant of their duties.
  4. Exercise Prudence in Financial Matters:

    Developing a rational budget is crucial while upgrading software. The financial consequences of choosing a short-term release must not be underestimated. To ensure that your developers derive maximum benefits from the update, they must first read and comprehend the instructions. Get ready for the impending wait.
  5. Dip Your Toes with a Trial Run:

    Commence by setting up a comprehensive testing environment. Utilize this period to acquaint your staff with the new features. Oracle is expected to release Java 20 in March 2023, along with a six-month support period.

Is Java 19 Already a Necessity?

Considering the impending release of Java 20, Java 19 is projected to have a brief shelf-life. It is therefore worth evaluating the merits of upgrading to the latest edition. While making this decision, it is advisable to consider your comfort level with frequent system updates. If this is not a challenge for you, leveraging the features that the newer editions provide would certainly be advantageous.

It is prudent to hold off on upgrading to the latest Java version until the subsequent Long Term Support (LTS) release becomes accessible. What are the gains of using Java 19 as opposed to an older version? It is worth noting that Java 19 has relatively fewer significant alterations compared to prior versions. This is to be expected given the limited runtime.

Frequent releases are often targeted at enthusiasts who yearn to explore the most recent features at the earliest. Nonetheless, these releases may introduce new problems and have a lower degree of reliability. As we have witnessed, many of the new attributes are still in the beta phase, hence this is normal.

Regrettably, businesses that rely on Java 17 cannot utilize the updates. While some of the modifications seem encouraging, there is no need to make changes if everything is functioning correctly. You can establish a sandbox and employ JDK to investigate its functions and initiate building with the features that have already been thoroughly examined. However, this should be done in anticipation of what is to arrive, rather than following the current trends.

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