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Project Jackpot at JavaOne

Posted by tball on June 15, 2005 at 11:35 AM PDT

My apologies for not writing recently, but it has been for a good reason: I will be giving a JavaOne presentation on Project Jackpot: A New Javaâ„¢ Technology for Source Transformation, and have been working hard on a NetBeans plug-in to demonstrate it. I am really excited to be able to finally discuss our work to such a wide audience.

What a long, strange trip it's been! James Gosling and Michael Van De Vanter started the Jackpot Project at Sun Labs back in the spring of 2000, and I joined a month later. For the first three years, "Jackpot" was just the project name while we investigated different ways tool improvements can enhance Java developer productivity. Rather than publish papers with our ideas, we made the radical decision (for Sun Labs, anyway) to publish our results as open-source NetBeans modules. The metrics (now obsolete) and classfile modules are a couple of Jackpot "publications".

In late 2002 we focused on an experiment James developed which read Java source into a model, applied transformations to that model, and then wrote the model back to source files. What was different about his approach is that its model allows a tool to make much more radical (but safe) changes to Java source code than is possible when working with syntax trees. The need for a deep understanding of the Java type system in a source transformation tool became even more apparent when generic types were added in Java 5. Project Jackpot therefore uses every scrap of information it can pull from javac rather than try and create its own parser, as it is a huge effort to correctly model all of the subtleties of the Java language.

When James became Sun's Chief Technical Officer of the Developer Products Group, the rest of Project Jackpot transferred over as well to the NetBeans core engineering team. Jackpot was put on hold so that javac's parser and error-checker could be leveraged by the NetBeans refactoring engine and editor. Once 4.0 released, the Jackpot engine has been re-designed and re-written (hey, it was just a research prototype!). Now that this rewrite is fairly stable, my top priority is incorporating Jackpot into NetBeans so Java developers can start using it. And yes, the plan is to make it an open-source project, just like the rest of NetBeans. As my father used to tell me, there is no rest for the wicked. :-)

I hope you are coming to JavaOne and can attend my session on Tuesday, June 28th at 1:30. I will also be attending NetBeans Software Day on Sunday the 26th. After JavaOne I will be writing more often about Project Jackpot and the tips and tricks I learned while developing it.

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