Fuchsia API evolution guidelines

This section contains guidelines for Fuchsia contributors making changes to Fuchsia Platform APIs. Before you begin, you should be familiarized with the following concepts:

The lifecycle of a platform API

Fuchsia platform APIs should follow the lifecycle: Added → Deprecated → Removed → Deleted, as illustrated below:

This image shows the lifecycle of an API on the Fuchsia platform startingwith the version when the API was added, then deprecated, then removed, andfinally deprecated

The following sections explain how to manage this lifecycle as an API developer.

Adding FIDL APIs

Always annotate new FIDL APIs with an @available attribute. Unstable APIs should be added at the HEAD API level. Note that partners using the SDK cannot target the HEAD API level, by design.

For example:

library fuchsia.examples.docs;

Stable APIs should be added at the in-development API level. This means that starting at the current in-development API level, this API is available and will not change without the appropriate deprecation flows. For example:

// At the time of writing the in development level was 10.
library fuchsia.examples.docs;

When a FIDL library has more than one .fidl file, the library should include a separate overview.fidl file and the @available attribute should be written in that file along with a documentation comment describing the library. See the FIDL style guide for more information.

Every API in the partner SDK category is opted into static compatibility testing in CI/CQ. These tests fail when an API changes in backward incompatible ways. If your API is unstable, consider adding it to the internal or experimental SDK categories to prevent partners from depending on it and to opt out of static compatibility tests, allowing the API to change freely. Once the API is stable, add it to the partner category.

Replacing FIDL APIs

Sometimes you need to replace an API with a new definition. To do this at API level N, annotate the old definition with @available(replaced=N) and the new definition with @available(added=N). For example, this is how you would change the value of a constant at API level 5:

const MAX_LENGTH uint32 = 16;
const MAX_LENGTH uint32 = 32;

Deprecating FIDL APIs

You should always deprecate an API at an earlier level than you remove it. When an end developer targets a deprecated API, they see a warning at build time that the API is deprecated and they should migrate to an alternative. You should include a note to help the end developer find an alternative. For example:

protocol Example {
    // (Description of the method.)
    // # Deprecation
    // (Detailed explanation of why the method is deprecated, the timeline for
    // removing it, and what should be used instead.)
    @available(deprecated=5, removed=6, note="use Replacement")


There must be at least one API level between an API's deprecation and removal. It is perfectly fine, however, to deprecate an API at the same level that it was added. For example:

// These are OK.
@available(deprecated=5, removed=6)
@available(deprecated=5, removed=100)
@available(added=5, deprecated=5)

// These will not compile.
@available(deprecated=5, removed=5)
@available(deprecated=5, removed=3)

Removing FIDL APIs

Note that you should always deprecate an API before removing it.

To remove an API that was added in a stable level, use the @available attribute's removed argument. For example, to remove a method at level 12:

protocol Example {
    @available(added=10, removed=12)
    Run() -> ();

In this example, an end developer targeting levels 10 or 11 would see client bindings for the Run method, but a developer targeting level 12 or greater would not. Developers working on the Fuchsia platform would see bindings for the Run method as long as 10 or 11 remain supported API levels, since the platform build targets the set of all supported API levels.

Once the platform drops support for levels 10 and 11, you can delete the Run method from the FIDL file if you wish. If you delete it while levels 10 or 11 are still supported, static compatibility tests will fail and special approval from //sdk/history/OWNERS will be required to submit the change.

To remove an API that was added at an unstable level such as NEXT or HEAD, you can simply delete it from the FIDL file.

Designing APIs that evolve gracefully

This rubric focuses on promoting compatibility with a range of platform versions. These attributes make compatibility as easy as possible to maintain and is a subset of the FIDL API Rubric.

Follow the FIDL Style Guide

The FIDL style guidelines are used to make FIDL readable and embody best practices. These are generally best practices, and should be followed regardless of sdk_category.

Use FIDL Versioning annotations

The FIDL versioning annotations allow libraries, protocols, and other elements to be associated with specific API levels. All compatibility reasoning is based on API version. This is how to express a point in the evolution of an API.

  • Only ever modify an API at the in-development or HEAD API level.

  • Once an API level is declared stable, it should not be changed. (see version_history.json). This allows changes to the API, while existing API levels are unchanged.

Specify bounds for vector and string

More information: FIDL API Rubric - Specify bounds for vector and string

Use enum vs. boolean

Since booleans are binary, the use of enum which can have multiple states is preferred when making APIs compatibility-friendly. This way if an additional state is needed, the enum can be extended, whereas the boolean would have to be replaced with another type. More information: FIDL API Rubric - Avoid booleans if more states are possible.

Use flexible enums and bits

Flexible enums have a default unknown member, so it allows for easy evolution of the enum.

Only use strict enum and bits types when you are extremely confident they will never be extended. strict enum and bits types cannot be extended, and migrating them to flexible requires a migration for every field with the given type.

More information: FIDL Language - Strict vs. Flexible

Prefer tables over structs

Both structs and tables represent an object with multiple named fields. The difference is that structs have a fixed layout in the wire format, which means they cannot be modified without breaking binary compatibility. By contrast, tables have a flexible layout in the wire format, which means fields can be added to a table over time without breaking binary compatibility.

More information: FIDL API Rubric - Should I use a struct or table?

Use open protocols with flexible methods and events

In general, all protocols should be open, and all methods and events within those protocols should be flexible.

Marking a protocol as open makes it easier to deal with removing methods or events when different components might have been built at different versions, such that each component has a different view of which methods and events exist. Because flexibility for evolving protocols is generally desirable, it is recommended to choose open for protocols unless there is a reason to choose a more closed protocol.

One potential exception is for tear-off protocols, representing a transaction, where the only two-way method is a commit operation which must be strict while other operations on the transaction may evolve.. If a protocol is very small, unlikely to change, and expected to be implemented by clients, you can make it closed and all the methods strict. This will spare the client the trouble of deciding how to handle an “unknown interaction.” The cost, however, is that methods or events can never be added to or removed from such a protocol. If you decide you do want to add a method or event, you'll need to define a new tear-off protocol to replace it.

More information:

Use the error syntax

The error syntax is used to specify a method will return a value, or error out and return an int or enum representing the error.

Use a custom error enum, not zx.Status

Use a purpose built enum error type when you define and control the domain. For example, define an enum when the protocol is purpose built, and conveying the semantics of the error is the only design constraint.

Use a domain-specific enum error type when you are following a well defined specification (say HTTP error codes), and the enum is meant to be an ergonomic way to represent the raw value dictated by the specification.

More information: FIDL API Rubric - Prefer domain specific enum for errors.

Don't use declarations from other libraries

It‘s good for a public API to reuse types and compose protocols if they’re semantically equivalent, but it's easy to make mistakes.