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Porting Million Lines of Code from Java to Kotlin at Meta

Meta has been at work to port their Android codebase from Java to Kotlin. In the process, they have learned a number of lessons of general interest and developed a few useful approaches, explains Meta engineer Omer Strulovich.

Meta's decision to adopt Kotlin for their Android apps was motivated by Kotlin advantages over Java, including nullability and functional programming support, shorter code, and the possibility of creating domain specific languages. It was also clear to Kotlin engineers that they had to port to Kotlin as much of their Java codebase as possible, mostly to prevent Java null pointers from creeping into the Kotlin codebase and to reduce the remaining Java code requiring maintenance. This was no easy task and required quite some investigation at start.

A first obstacle Meta engineers had to overcome came from several internal optimization tools in use at Meta that did not work properly with Kotlin. For example, Meta had to update the ReDex Android bytecode optimizer and the lexer component of syntax highlighter Pygments, and built a Kotlin symbol processing (KSP) API, used to create Kotlin compiler plugins.

On the front of code conversion proper, Meta engineers opted to use Kotlin official converter J2K, available as a compiler plugin. This worked quite well except for a number of specific frameworks, including JUnit, for which the tool lacks sufficient knowledge to be able to produce correct conversions.

We have found many instances of these small fixes. Some are easy to do (such as replacing isEmpty), some require research to figure out the first time (as in the case of JUnit rules), and a few are workarounds for actual J2K bugs that can result in anything from a build error to different runtime behavior.

The right approach to handle this cases consisted in a three-step pipeline to first prepare Java code, then automatically run J2K in a headless Android Studio instance, and finally postprocess the generated files to apply all required refactoring and fixes. Meta has open sourced a number of those refactorings to help other developers to accomplish the same tasks.

These automations do not resolve all the problems, but we are able to prioritize the most common ones. We run our conversion script (aptly named Kotlinator) on modules, prioritizing active and simpler modules first. We then observe the resulting commit: Does it compile? Does it pass our continuous integration smoothly? If it does, we commit it. And if not, we look at the issues and devise new automatic refactors to fix them.

Thanks to this approach, Meta has been able to port over 10 million lines of Kotlin code, allowing thus the majority of Meta Android engineers to switch to Kotlin for their daily tasks. The process also confirmed a number of expected outcomes, including shorter generated code and unchanged execution speed. On the negative side, though, Kotlin compiler proved significantly slower than Java's. This opened up a new front for optimization by using KSP for annotation processing and improving Java stub generation and compile times, which is still an ongoing effort.

Do not miss the original article about Meta's journey to adopt Kotlin if you are interested in the full details.

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