e4 is here

28. June, 2012

Unless you live under a rock or you’re not using Eclipse, you can’t possibly have missed it: Eclipse Juno (or 4.2)

If you’re unsure what happened to 3.8 or 4.0 and 4.1, here is the story in a nutshell: A small team of Eclipse developers was concerned about the state of the platform (platform is the part of Eclipse that knows what a plug-in is, how to find, install and load them and arrange them in a neat way called “perspective”). When the platform was developed 2004, it was based on VisualAge. Don’t ask. Like all “visual” tools, it had … issues. Many of them were hardcoded into the platform. For example, there are many singletons in there. Many. Testing the platform is either a nightmare or slow or both.

The e4 team decided that something needed to be done. Only, it was risky. And it would take a long time. Which meant that the PMCs probably wouldn’t approve.

Therefore, they came up with a cunning plan: Develop a new platform (e4) alongside the official Eclipse releases. e4 would get a “compatibility layer” that would allow to run the old junk (like the JDT) but it would also allow to write plug-ins in a new, clean, understandable way. For example, in 3.x, you can use this code to get the current selection:

ISelection selection = getSite().getWorkbenchWindow().getSelectionService().getSelection();
Object item = ((IStructuredSelection)selection).getFirstElement();

The same code looks a bit different in e4:

void setSelection(@Optional @Named(IServiceConstants.ACTIVE_SELECTION) Contact contact) {

e4 will call this method every time the user selects an instance of Contact in the UI.

The whitepaper gives some more details. Lars Vogel wrote a pretty long Eclipse 4 RCP tutorial.

After two years, e4 was deemed stable enough to make it the default release.

Conclusion: e4 doesn’t get rid of all the problems (p2, OSGi and SWT are still there) but it’s a huge step forward.

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