The end of Oracle JDK’s free long-term support (LTS) builds

In 2018, Oracle announced plans to stop providing free LTS JDK builds for production services, triggering a stream of angry and confused posts and prompting more developers to consider moving to alternative JDK builds.

A year later, the number of production-ready JDK builds has blossomed, more companies are building their own (you can now pick between Oracle, Red Hat, IBM, SAP, Bellsoft, Amazon, Alibaba, Azul, etc.), and it’s more difficult to decide which one to use.

This is almost like choosing a Linux distribution! Taking a look at the number of JDKs, I’d like to start from a simple set of criteria to pick one to use for a new project, assuming zero budget and a desire for maximum flexibility.

DevExperts put out a good comparison of JDK builds in February 2019, and while it doesn’t include some JDK builds and may become dated, it was very helpful for a first pass. They compare Oracle JDK, Oracle OpenJDK, Red Hat OpenJDK, Azul Zulu, Amazon Corretto, and AdoptOpenJDK.

My requirements for a JDK build

  • It must be free for use in development and deployment.
  • It must provide long-term support, with at least 1-2 years of security updates and bug fixes.
  • It must support development and deployment across operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac OS X).
  • It must be verified as compliant with the Java specification (eg. Technology Compatibility Kit compliant, or TCK-compliant).

Long-term support may not matter to you if you’re always able to promptly upgrade to the next major version, but in practise it’s nice to have extra breathing room and have time for all of your dependencies to handle breaking changes. It’s not much fun to have to scramble every few months to keep your software working, and bad practise to rely on end-of-life software that will no longer receive security updates.

JDK builds considered, ordered alphabetically

Filtering out builds with paid licenses

Oracle JDK charges licensing fees for Java 11 onwards based on how many hosts your application is installed on, which rules it out. Oracle OpenJDK is free, and has a 6-month support cycle after which point you have to migrate to a newer release to continue receiving security updates.

Red Hat OpenJDK is only free to use on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which requires paying for RHEL licenses. This rules it out for my use case, while it wouldn’t be a factor at workplaces where RHEL hosts are already used.

Azul Zulu’s OpenJDK community builds do not have long-term support, and their enterprise builds charge licensing fees based on the number of hosts running your application.

Filtering out builds without long-term support

Oracle OpenJDK and Azul Zulu’s community edition unfortunately do not provide long-term support.

In a September 2018 blog post from Oracle, Oracle announced that their OpenJDK would be almost identical to their commercial JDK for Java 11 onwards, which makes it likely that Oracle OpenJDK for Java 11+ will work out-of-the-box with most development tools. For this reason, I would prefer Oracle OpenJDK over other JDK builds without long-term support if rolling 6-month releases were not an issue.

Filtering out builds without cross-platform support

This rules out Alibaba Dragonwell8, which only supports Linux x64 as of August 2019.

Filtering out builds which are not TCK-compliant

AdoptOpenJDK is one of the easier non-Oracle builds to find, however, due to licensing difficulties they are not TCK-compliant and do not support certain tools such as JavaFX.

JDK builds meeting my requirements

Amazon Corretto, Liberica JDK, and SapMachine are free, cross-platform, TCK-compliant, and provide long-term support builds. It’s difficult to find good comparisons between them, and Liberica JDK and SapMachine seem to be targeted towards Bellsoft and SAP customers.

Amazon Corretto is an open-source distribution provided by Amazon under the same open-source license as OpenJDK, and adds performance improvements and bug fixes which their documentation states that they plan to continue contributing back to the upstream OpenJDK project. It is fairly new, having been publicly released in January 2019, but has been validated at scale at Amazon and they’ve committed to support their builds for the long term. Corretto 8, which builds on OpenJDK 8, will be supported for free until June 2023, and Corretto 11, which builds on OpenJDK 11, will be supported for free until August 2024.

This leaves Amazon Corretto as the most promising JDK build for consideration, while there are doubtless more alternatives out there. I haven’t used Amazon Corretto before (knowingly that is, since it seems that many internal Amazon services and packages build on it), but will try it out and see how it goes.