Updating Java: Key Benefits and Considerations
According to the 2021 Java Developer Productivity Report, 69% of developers are still using Java 8 — and the majority have not updated since Java 8 was released in 2014. The release of Java 17, the newest Java LTS version, brings to light questions on the value of updating.
Is it worth the investment to move to Java 17? Or is a jump from Java 8 to Java 17 too big a hurdle? In this blog, we’ll examine the key benefits to upgrading, along with considerations for your team to discuss.
- Upgrading Java: Key Benefits
- Upgrading Java: Key Considerations
- Final Thoughts
Updating Java: Key Benefits
As with any technology, upgrading means changes. New features, security patches, removal of outdated features, and added support are baked into Java LTS releases and thus should be a top-of-mind consideration for anyone who has not updated since Java 8 or later.
Users on Java 7 or earlier are missing out on these OpenJDK improvements, including:
- JEP 354: Switch Expressions — Introduced under JEP 325 and refined under JEP 354, switch expressions are an application of the classic Java switch statement in expression form, allowing developers to yield values.
- JEP 360: Sealed Classes — Sealed classes help to make superclasses accessible while limiting unintended extensibility.
- JEP 378: Text Blocks — Text blocks avoid the need for most escape sequences by automatically formatting the string in a predictable way.
- JEP 396: Records — Record classes provide a clearer way to write immutable data aggregate classes in Java. They simplify this by eliminating much of the boilerplate code otherwise associated with these kinds of classes.
In the Java 17 release alone, there are two incubator modules and one preview language feature, which will likely become fixtures in Java 18 or higher as they are tested by the community
Security and Updates
New features notwithstanding, staying on an older version of Java may lead to security vulnerability further down the road. Non-LTS releases are only supported for six months post-general availability and do not see any more public updates after that. Each subsequent SE release includes major security patches, but as you can deduce, this would require updating every six months for each new release.
An upfront investment could yield ongoing benefits for your team. By upgrading to an LTS version that has a guaranteed shelf life of three years or more, your team won’t have to worry about updating every six months for security patches and updates.
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Updating Java: Key Considerations
If your team is considering updating Java versions, consider these four questions:
- Will it save development time?
- Will it reduce code maintenance?
- Will it improve runtime performance?
- Will it reduce safety and security risks?
To help you answer these questions thoroughly, we’ve rounded up a few important points to think about before making a decision.
Java LTS vs Non-LTS Release
If your team is, for example, on Java 11 and are considering a “step up” to Java 12, it may not be worth switching to a non-LTS version. Non-LTS releases may have one or two preview features worth checking out, but they are mainly bug fixes for previous releases, and are nothing you will not get in the next LTS version.
Overall, our recommendation is to upgrade to the latest LTS, if possible, so you are guaranteed vendor support for at least five years. Upgrading to a non-LTS version may result in some headaches six months down the road when your team needs support, and none is available.
A Java Learning Curve?
Costs and Resources
While upgrading to an LTS version provides your team with new features and enhanced support, there is an upfront investment in time and productivity. It does cost time and money to upgrade your Java application infrastructure — and the more applications you have running on Java, the more time it will take. In addition, any third-party applications you’re using will also need to support the new version.
Ultimately it is up to you and your team whether you want to stay on an older version of Java or update to a newer one.
With Java 17 now available, enterprise teams looking toward the future may be wise to invest in this LTS version. Java 17 includes important JEPs such as Sealed Classes, machOS/AArch64 Port, and Strongly Encapsulate JDK Internals. Outdated features such as Security Manager and Applet API have been depreciated, streamlining the language. Java 17 users will see support for at least the next five years — plenty of time to ramp up for the next LTS version.
Should I Upgrade My Java Version?
In most cases, yes. If your team is using Java 8 or earlier, you’re missing out on many new features and functionality, including JDK enhancement processes (JEP).
The change and innovation that has propelled Java forward is still going strong. Looking forward, Java is expected to remain a top language for enterprises. Those who upgrade earlier will gain an edge over those still reluctant to migrate as support on earlier Java versions becomes more limited. In the end, Java is a community language — and as long as developers use it and innovate on it, it will be worth following along.
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