As a Java developer, you’ve probably encountered the IDE crossing out a method (or a Class) you use in your Java code​​ . That’s a clear indication that it’s deprecated. In this article, we’ll discuss deprecated methods, explain why they’re marked as such, and share some effective strategies for managing them in our code.

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Deprecated Methods in Java: What are deprecated methods, and why do they matter?

What does it mean when a method is deprecated?

Many programming languages deprecate methods, functions, or features over time as they evolve and improve.

In Java, a deprecated method indicates that it is considered outdated, inefficient, or replaced by a newer alternative that is not necessarily compatible with the deprecated one.

What exactly does it mean? If those methods are bad, why do they put it in the library? Practically, deprecating a method in Java serves as a warning to developers that they should avoid using that method in their code and give them enough time to migrate. It doesn’t mean that it’s removed from the API or that it immediately stops working. Deprecated methods still function as intended in the current version of the API, but their use is discouraged because they are flagged to be removed in the near future.

Why a method might be deprecated?

  • The method has been replaced by a better alternative: Developers may introduce new methods that offer improved performance or functionality compared to older ones.
  • The method has been identified as unsafe: Some methods may pose security risks or cause unexpected behavior in certain scenarios, leading to their deprecation.
  • The method doesn’t adhere to modern coding standards: As coding practices evolve, older methods may not meet current guidelines or best practices.

In all the above scenarios, for the sake of backward compatibility, we make the older version deprecated.

Can we use methods when deprecated?

When using deprecated methods in Java, the compiler (if you use the -Xlint:deprecation param) or IDE may display a warning message indicating that the method is deprecated. It’s generally recommended that you refactor your code to use the suggested alternatives instead of relying on deprecated methods to ensure your code remains compatible with future updates.

As a general rule, it is highly recommended that you don’t use deprecated methods in new code.

Deprecating a method in our code-based

So far, we have been talking about deprecated methods in a library or framework that we are using in our code as a consumer. We can deprecate a method in our internal code base (not a library, for example, a backend service that serves REST API) to inform other developers in our team to not use the method anymore. In this kind of scenario, deprecating a method in our code base can help us to have time to refactor our code to remove the deprecated method and to provide alternatives to that and, at the same time, be aware of that deprecated method in our code base.

The Impact of Procrastinating Updates from Deprecated to New Methods

What happens if we put off updating our code to use the new method and cleaning up our project from deprecated things?

These are the consequences of continuing to use deprecated methods in our code base:

  • Maintenance challenges: If that deprecated method remove from the upcoming versions, it will be more difficult to maintain our code and upgrade our code base.
  • Security risks: By keeping deprecated methods in our code base, we are exposing our application to security risks, as we may use them in the wrong and unsecured ways.
  • Performance issues: One important reason for the deprecating method is that it can be slow and inefficient. By not replacing them with the new method, it can affect the performance of our application.
  • Old fashion and legacy code base: As I mentioned, some deprecations are because of evolving programming paradigms and library design. By continuing to use deprecated and out-of-date methods in our code base, our code base can become a legacy code base.

Strategies for keeping your codebase up to date

Keeping track of many projects’ code bases isn’t always the top priority on our to-do list. So, first things first, we need to find a quick and easy way to spot old-fashioned, non-compliant, and non-optimal methods. Then, we have to figure out the best ways to switch to newer versions. But we can’t change everything all at once, so we’re going to take it step by step with our upgrades, which makes things much easier.

Let’s dive into the ways we can take to make this type of refactoring easier:

  1. Documentation: Document deprecated methods alongside their replacements, ensuring clarity regarding all associated side effects.
  2. Prioritization: Prioritize deprecated methods based on factors such as frequency of use, criticality to the system, and potential risks associated with their usage. Focus on addressing high-impact deprecated methods first.
  3. Tooling: Utilize tools and scripts to automate the identification of deprecated methods in your codebase. Static code analysis tools and IDE plugins can help detect deprecated usage and suggest replacements.
  4. Refactoring Patterns: Familiarize yourself with common refactoring patterns and best practices.
  5. Incremental Changes: Break down refactoring tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. Instead of attempting to refactor the entire codebase in one go, tackle one deprecated method at a time or focus on refactoring specific modules or components.
  6. Testing: Develop comprehensive test suites to validate refactored code. Automated tests ensure that the behavior of the system remains consistent after replacing deprecated methods with newer alternatives.
  7. Iterative Improvement: Treat refactoring as an ongoing process rather than a one-time task. Continuously monitor and iterate on the codebase to address newly deprecated methods and improve code quality over time.

Enhancing Code Quality: Using Deprecated Method Detection for Improved System Maintainability

As a developer, delivering high-quality code is important. However, it’s equally crucial to implement control mechanisms throughout our improvement journey. This ensures that we have a second pair of eyes guiding us, helping to identify areas within our codebase that require upgrades or could benefit from the integration of alternative libraries.

By using such control practices, we not only enhance our system’s robustness but also simplify the process of maintaining and evolving our software. How can we add these controls to our working of way?

Static Code Analysis Tools: Use static code analysis tools such as SonarQube and Checkstyle to scan the codebase for deprecated methods. These tools can automatically detect deprecated usage and provide actionable insights to developers.

IDE Plugins: Integrate IDE plugins like IntelliJ IDEA’s Inspections or Eclipse’s Code Analysis tools, or Digma plugin which can highlight deprecated methods directly within the code editor. This real-time feedback helps developers identify and address deprecated usage as they write or modify code.

Continuous Integration (CI) Pipelines: Incorporate deprecated method detection checks into the CI pipeline using tools like Jenkins, Travis CI, or GitHub Actions. By running automated tests and analysis tools as part of the CI process, developers can catch deprecated usage early in the development lifecycle.

Code Review Practices: Implement code review practices that include a focus on deprecated method detection. During code reviews, team members can identify and flag deprecated usage, providing feedback to the author and suggesting alternative approaches or replacements.

How does Digma assist in identifying deprecated methods?

The Digma IDE plugin provides feedback on the development process for new changes, allowing developers to identify errors and receive feedback in the early stages. No changes to the code are needed to install and use Digma. It collects runtime analysis and provides insights about performance, errors, usage, bottlenecks, and query Issues.

Check this YouTube video to learn how to start using Digma.

Here we can see how Digma notifies us when one deprecated API is never reached:

Digma provides information about whether an API method has been reached, which can help in deciding whether to deprecate a method.

Additionally, if a method is deprecated, Digma can inform us whether it is still being accessed. This insight helps developers make smart choices about code maintenance and cleanup.

By identifying unused or rarely used methods, Digma facilitates the process of optimizing the codebase, removing deprecated or unnecessary code.

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Digma also offers additional insights into method usage. If you have a deprecated method and you’re curious about its usage within your codebase, Digma allows you to check the “Top Usage” to determine the frequency with which this method is used. This feature can be particularly useful for understanding the impact of deprecated methods on your code and deciding on appropriate actions moving forward.

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It is also possible to review the trace of the API calls from the “Action” button to understand the recent flow of the API interaction.

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Final Thoughts

Method deprecation is a robust process of removing old methods from a codebase by keeping backward compatibility. By combining this approach with tools and pipelines, we will have a responsive software development process that can quickly adapt to new requirements and changes.

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