Loïc Faugeron Technical Blog

Semantic Versioning 17/12/2014

TL;DR: A library's public API can be: fully qualified class names, object's types, exceptions, method names and arguments.

When working on a project, every change made to it can possibly break its usage. Sometimes this is because we introduced a bug, but some other times this is because the project's usage needed to be changed.

Or did it?

In this article, we will discuss about semantic versioning, and public API.

Semantic Versioning

In order to make the migration between two versions easier for users, we could use Semantic Versioning, which can be summed up as follow:

Given a version number MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH, increment the:

  1. MAJOR version when you make incompatible API changes
  2. MINOR version when you add functionality in a backwards-compatible manner
  3. PATCH version when you make backwards-compatible bug fixes

The trick is to define a "public API" (what the user actually use) and promise that we won't break it as long as we don't increment the MAJOR version.

Public API

The "public API" will vary between projects:

Let's focus on libraries.

Redaktilo example

When I started the Redaktilo library I had a lot of decisions to make:

I knew that I could make the wrong choices, which would mean changing names, types, arguments, etc. Basically, for the developers using the library it would mean breaking their code.

Private and public classes

In order to avoid that as much as possible, I've decided to minimize the number of classes the developers would use: a Text model and an Editor service. Editor doesn't contain any logic, it relies on several "private" classes to do the actual job. It's a Facade.

So my public API was the Gnugat\Redaktilo\Editor's fully qualified classname (full namespace and the class name), and its methods (name and arguments).

Private class constructors

Later on in the project we've introduced a version that didn't change the defined public API, but broke the projects that were using Redaktilo: the issue was that we added a new arguments in a private class's constructor.

Therefore the public API was extended to every constructors.

To fix the backward compatibility break, we made this new argument optional.


Some time passed and we've decided to re-organize the project's exceptions: moving them to their own sub-namespace (Gnugat\Redaktilo\Exception) and throwing only exceptions we owned. But by doing so we could potentially break project's using our library.

Hence we extended the public API to exceptions.

To avoid backward compatible breaks we simply duplicated the exceptions: the new ones in the sub-namespace contain all the logic and inherit from the old exceptions to get their types.

Making changes to the public API

Defining a public API doesn't mean we can't make changes to it:

Those changes will introduce deprecations that will be removed only when the MAJOR version is incremented.

This can be documented directly in the code, using phpdoc: use @deprecated <since-version> <what to use instead>.

This can also be described in a migration documentation (e.g. UPGRADE-2.0.md).

Avoid complete rewrites

Semantic versioning only applies to versions greater than 1.0.0: if you tag your project as being in version 0.MINOR.PATCH you are allowed to break everything. But remember that it will make your project very unstable, and people won't trust it.

In theory you could break everything again when incrementing the MAJOR version (e.g. from version 1 to version 2), but this won't be appealing at all for people that already use your project. Try to make as few changes as possible, document them and give time to your users to stop using deprecated stuff.


Semantic versioning is a versioning methodology which has its perks and advantages. It gives high priority to user's experience, so you have to define a line between what should be used (public API) and what shouldn't (private).

Changes to the public API can be made by keeping the old stuff and document it as deprecated.

When creating a library, remember that exceptions and all constructors (even of private classes) are part of the public API.

Note: Many thanks to Loïck Piera and his help, without him I'd still think that declaring a class as being part of the public API is sufficient.