Why Entity Framework vNext will be EF5 and nothing else

This post touches on some history and on how different rationales have driven versioning of the Entity Framework for the last few years. I recommend you to continue reading only if you care about learning how things went in detail, otherwise here is all you need to know:

  • The Entity Framework now versions separately from the .NET Framework as some of its most important APIs ship outside .NET Framework (learn more details here)
  • We started using Semantic Versioning since EF 4.2, which means that  in the future any version increment will follow simple rules and will respond exclusively to technical criteria
  • The next planned version of EF after EF 4.3.0 is EF 5.0.0 (or EF 5 for short). This version will take advantage of the improvements we have made in the core libraries of EF in .NET 4.5 to deliver much awaited features such as support for enum and spatial types, TVFs and stored procedures with multiple results, as well as significant performance improvements

As with everything in this blog, this post represents my personal view and not the position of my employer or of my team (although I am doing my best to just presents the facts :)).


I have very little to say about how we thought about versioning during the development of the first version of EF. Perhaps other people in the team gave it more thought, but I think the majority of us were just focused on getting EF out of the door. As naïve as it might sound, I think when software engineers are working on the first version of a product, they seldom think about versioning.

The only hint of versioning I remember being evident at the time were there many cool features we had to postpone to “vNext” because they didn’t fit in the schedule.

4 = 2^2

When development of what today is called EF4 started, we used to refer to it in various ways, like EF vNext, EF v2, etc. At the time the concern emerged that versioning EF separately from .NET would cause confusion among some customers. After all, the EF runtime was going to be only a library that would ship as part of the .NET Framework, much like the core ASP.NET technologies or WinForms, and there were no reasons in sight to think that would ever change.

Although EF was a new library compared with ASP.NET and WinForms – which had been part of .NET from day one – at least with the information we had at the time it seemed that aligning the version of EF with the version of .NET would minimize fragmentation of the .NET brand and the confusion among a certain crowd.

I feel tempted to say something like “in retrospective, we were wrong”. But what really happened is that there were too many important things we wouldn’t learn until later…

4.1 = 4 + 5 CTPs + 1 Magic Unicorn

Forward to June 2009, with .NET 4.0 still in development, we released the EF Feature CTP 1, which included the Self-Tracking-Entities template, the POCO template and the first version of Code First. The idea of the Feature CTPs was to have a vehicle to get semi-experimental features of EF out and gather customer feedback that would help us develop them or discard them rapidly. Then the plan was that once finished, those features would be integrated into .NET and Visual Studio in the next available window.

That way Self-Tracking-Entities made it on time for the final version of Visual Studio 2010, and the POCO template was released out of band in the Visual Studio Gallery. In the meanwhile, the most interesting piece of the EF Feature CTP 1, Code First, was a runtime piece, and the schedule to integrate runtime improvements into .NET 4.0 was already very tight. We also knew that the design could be improved substantially, and wanted to have multiple rounds of shipping previews and gathering feedback.

Code First ended up missing the .NET 4.0 release. The only part that made it was the addition of DDL methods to ObjectContext and the EF provider model (e.g. CreateDatabase, DeleteDatabase, DatabaseExists).

More than a year later and after several previews more, we released EF Feature CTP 4, which included for the first time another critical piece of the new EF: the “Productivity Improvements”, also known as the DbContext API. The .NET 4.0 train had departed long ago, but the .NET 4.5 train hadn’t still been announced.

As the popularity of Code First and DbContext grew rapidly, it became obvious that we could not wait for the next version of .NET to release it.

We ended up releasing the RTM version of Code First and DbContext under the name Entity Framework 4.1 in April 2011.

At the time I remember some people asked me why we called it EF 4.1 and not EF 5. Version number 4.1 comes from the fact that it builds on top of version 4, and it is a purely additive and incremental change (i.e. it is a separate DLL that uses the public API of EF 4). There were many new features in 4.1, but we wanted to reinforce that it was just an incremental improvement and that EF 4 was still there.

x = 4 + 1

Things have changed a lot since we decided to call the second version EF 4. It was never a popular choice among those people that really care about versioning. Some have even suggested that it was a marketing stunt to make EF look like a more mature product than it was. Although not strictly an engineering decision, this was never the goal. Regardless, by the time we released EF 4.1, EF 4 was completely established.

When deciding how to call the next major version of EF, we looked at different alternatives. We could have chosen to just wait and hope that things would align magically, e.g. make sure we don't go over EF 4.4 based on .NET 4.0, and then say that the version of EF that releases at the same time as .NET 4.5 was also EF 4.5, but there were other forces at work...

Since the first Feature CTPs we have released more and more of our new functionality outside of .NET. At this point the way we release EF resembles more the model of ASP.NET MVC, which ships outside .NET and hence evolves at a different pace. We have achieved greater agility with the things that we ship out-of-band, and given the sustained customer demand for improvments, it only makes sense to move more pieces to the out-of-band releases. From this perspective, and for the long term, it makes more sense for EF to have versioning that is independent from .NET.

When we looked for alternatives to rationalize our versioning system, we run into Semantic Versioning almost immediately (Scott Hanselman had been evangelizing it for some time). Semantic Versioning is a versioning system that consists on a small set of very straightforward, common sense rules.

Adopting Semantic Versioning has lots of advantages. For starters, any software pieces that has a dependency on e.g. version 2 of certain component can assume that it will work with any version greater or equal to 2 and lesser than 3 as long as they are using Semantic Versioning. This simplifies managing dependencies and authoring installers. SemVer is also not something completely new, but a formalization of common practices, therefore everyone can understand it.

Last August we announced that we were considering Semantic Versioning and asked for feedback. Last October we made it official: we will be using "Entity Framework" to refer to the bits we ship outside the .NET framework, and “EF core libraries” for the libraries we ship in .NET. We will continue versioning EF outside of .NET but we will use Semantic Versioning. There is one caveat: we have to start counting versions from where we already are. Since we started versioning EF separately from .NET with EF 4.1, we actually had very few option but to continue doing so. Unfortunately there was no way we could go back in time and change the decisions we made years before. Decrementing version numbers was obviously not an option, and besides, changing the name of the product and resetting to v1 sounded like a really bad idea.

x = 5.0.0

Two days ago, in the announcement of EF4.3 beta we mentioned that the next major version of EF, which will contain much awaited features like Enum and Spatial type support, will be called EF 5 and that a beta is just around the corner.

It seems that this has triggered some questions even among people that usually follow the evolution of EF very closely. Here is why EF 5.0.0 is our only option:

The Semantic Versioning spec clearly states:

9. Major version X (X.y.z | X > 0) MUST be incremented if any backwards incompatible changes are introduced to the public API. It MAY include minor and patch level changes. Patch and minor version MUST be reset to 0 when major version is incremented.

There are in fact some breaking changes coming in EF5. For instance, DataAnnotations that in the .NET 4.0-based versions of EF were defined inside EntityFramework.dll have been moved to System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations.dll in .NET 4.5.

My favorite thing about Semantic Versioning is that it reduces the question of versioning to an engineering problem! EF 5.0 is what it has to be.

Hope this helps make the reasons clearer,