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Breaking Changes

We take compatibility in .NET Framework and .NET Core extremely seriously.

Although .NET Core can be deployed app local, we are engineering it such that portable libraries can target it and still run on .NET Framework as well. This means that the behavior of .NET Framework can constrain the implementation of any overlapping APIs in .NET Core.

Below is a summary of some documentation we have internally about what kinds of things constitute breaking changes, how we categorize them, and how we decide what we're willing to take.

Note that these rules only apply to APIs that have shipped in a previous RTM release. New APIs still under development can be modified but we are still cautious not to disrupt the ecosystem unnecessarily when prerelease APIs change.

To help triage breaking changes, we classify them in to four buckets:

  1. Public Contract
  2. Reasonable Grey Area
  3. Unlikely Grey Area
  4. Clearly Non-Public

Bucket 1: Public Contract

Clear violation of public contract.

Examples:

  • Renaming or removing of a public type, member, or parameter
  • Changing the value of a public constant or enum member
  • Sealing a type that wasn't sealed
  • Making a virtual member abstract
  • Adding an interface to the set of base types of an interface
  • Removing a type or interface from the set of base types
  • Changing the return type of a member
  • ...or any other incompatible change to the shape of an API

Bucket 2: Reasonable Grey Area

Change of behavior that customers would have reasonably depended on.

Examples:

  • Throwing a new/different exception type in an existing common scenario
  • An exception is no longer thrown
  • A different behavior is observed after the change for an input
  • decreasing the range of accepted values within a given parameter
  • A new instance field is added to a type (impacts serialization)
  • Change in timing/order of events (even when not specified in docs)
  • Change in parsing of input and throwing new errors (even if parsing behavior is not specified in the docs)

These require judgment: how predictable, obvious, consistent was the behavior?

Bucket 3: Unlikely Grey Area

Change of behavior that customers could have depended on, but probably wouldn't.

Examples:

  • Correcting behavior in a subtle corner case

As with changes in bucket 2, these require judgment: what is reasonable and what's not?

Bucket 4: Clearly Non-Public

Changes to surface area or behavior that is clearly internal or non-breaking in theory, but breaks an app.

Examples:

  • Changes to internal API that break private reflection

It is impossible to evolve a code base without making such changes, so we don't require up-front approval for these, but we will sometimes have to go back and revisit such change if there's too much pain inflicted on the ecosystem through a popular app or library.

This bucket is painful for the machine-wide .NET Framework, but we do have much more latitude here in .NET Core.

What This Means for Contributors

  • All bucket 1, 2, and 3 breaking changes require talking to the repo owners first:
    • We generally don't accept change proposals that are in bucket #1.
    • We might accept change proposals that are in #2 and #3 after a risk-benefit analysis. See below for more details.
    • We usually accept changes that are in bucket #4
  • If you're not sure which bucket applies to a given change, contact us.

Risk-Benefit Analysis

For buckets #2 and #3 we apply a risk-benefit analysis. It doesn't matter if the old behavior is "wrong", we still need to think through the implications. This can result in one of the following outcomes:

  • Accepted with compat switch. Depending on the estimated customer impact, we may decide to add a compat switch that allows consumers to bring back the old behavior if necessary.

  • Accepted. In some minor cases, we may decide to accept the change if the benefit is large and the risk is super low or if the risk is moderate and a compat switch isn't viable.

  • Rejected. If the risk is too high and/or the improvement too minor, we may decide not to accept the change proposal at all. We can help identify alternatives such as introducing a new API and obsoleting the old one.