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Deprecation is an attribute applied to a computer software feature, characteristic, or practice to indicate that it should be avoided (often because it is being superseded). Beyond describing software, the term is also used for a feature, design, or practice that is permitted but no longer recommended in other areas, such as hardware design or compliance to building codes.
While a deprecated software feature remains in the software, its use may raise warning messages recommending alternative practices; deprecated status may also indicate that feature will be removed in the future. Features are deprecated rather than immediately removed, to provide backward compatibility and give programmers time to bring affected code into compliance with the new standard.
In mainstream English, the infinitive "to deprecate" means, simply, "to strongly disapprove of (something)". It derives from the Latin verb deprecare, meaning "to ward off (a disaster) by prayer". Thus, for a standard document to state that a feature is deprecated is merely a recommendation against using it. It is still possible to produce a program or product without heeding the deprecation; but to the extent that conformance with latest standards is a requirement of the buyer (that is, a condition of payment), it may not be acceptable in that it may fail to conform.
Reasons for deprecation
Among the most common reasons for deprecation are:
- The feature has been replaced by a more powerful alternative feature. For instance, the Linux kernel contains two modules to communicate with Windows networks:
cifs. The latter provides better security, supports more protocol features and integrates better with the rest of the kernel. Since the inclusion of
smbfshas been deprecated.
- The feature contains a design flaw—frequently a security flaw—and so should be avoided, but existing code depends upon it. The simple C standard function
gets()is an example of this, because using this function can introduce a buffer overflow into the program that uses it. The Java API methods
.resumeare further examples.
- The feature is considered extraneous, and will be removed in the future in order to simplify the system as a whole. Early versions of the Web markup language HTML included a
FONTelement, to allow page designers to specify the font in which text should be displayed. With the release of Cascading Style Sheets and HTML 4.0, the
FONTelement became extraneous, and detracted from the benefits of noting structural markup in HTML and graphical formatting in CSS. Thus, the
FONTelement was deprecated in the Transitional HTML 4.0 standard, and eliminated in the Strict variant.
- A future version of the software is planned to make major structural changes, which make it impossible (or impractical) to support older features. For instance, when Apple Inc. planned the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, it created a subset of the older system's API which would support most programs with minor changes. This became the Carbon library, available in both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Programmers who were, at the time, chiefly using Mac OS 9, could ensure that their programs would run natively on Mac OS X by using only the API functions supported in Carbon. Other Mac OS 9 functions were deprecated, and were never supported natively in Mac OS X.
- Standardization or increased consistency in naming. Projects that are developed over long periods of time, or by multiple individuals or groups, can contain inconsistencies in the naming of various items. These can be the result of a lack of foresight, changes in nomenclature over time, or personal, regional or educational differences in terminology. Since merely renaming an item would break backwards compatibility, the existing name must be left in place. The original name will likely remain indefinitely, but will be deprecated to encourage use of the newer, more consistent naming convention. An example would be an API that alternately used the spelling "color" and "colour". Standardization would result in the use of only one of the regional spellings throughout, and all occurrences of the other spelling would be deprecated.
- A feature that once was only available independently is now combined with its co-feature. An example is VLC Media Player; VLC used to stand for 'VideoLan Client', and a separate 'VideoLan Server' was available as its co-feature. Both the client and server became available in the same package, and as such, getting one independently would be impractical.
An example in hardware design is omission of pull-up resistors on unused inputs to a logic gate. This practice may have been acceptable in the past, but becomes deprecated because faster clock speeds are likely to induce more transient noise on input lines, causing hardware glitches or malfunctions.
A building code example is the use of ungrounded ("2-prong") electrical receptacles. Over time, these older devices were deprecated in favor of the safer grounded ("3-prong") receptacles. The obsolete ungrounded receptacles were still permitted by "grandfathering" in existing electrical wiring, but became prohibited from new installations. Ungrounded receptacles are still available for legal purchase, but are intended solely for repairs to existing older electrical installations.
In writing and editing, usage of a word may be deprecated because it is ambiguous, confusing, or offensive to some readers. For example, the words sanction and inflammable may be misinterpreted as having auto-antonymic or self-contradictory meanings; writing style guides often recommend substituting other words that are clearly understood. Some word usages that have acquired different connotations over time, such as gay or colored may be deprecated as obsolete in formal writing.
The term deprecated may also be used when a non-computer technical term becomes obsolete, either through change or superseding. An example in paleontology is the deprecated term Brontosaurus, the formerly popular name for the genus Apatosaurus.
- GNU. "Line Input". The GNU C Library. GNU. Retrieved 2008-08-02. "Deprecated function: char * gets (char *s). ... The
getsfunction is very dangerous because it provides no protection against overflowing the string
s. The GNU library includes it for compatibility only. You should always use
- "Java Thread Primitive Deprecation". Oracle. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
- Upchurch, Paul; Barrett, Paul M.; Dodson, Peter. (2004). "Sauropoda". In Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter; and Osmólska, Halszka. (eds.). The Dinosauria (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 259–322. ISBN 0-520-24209-2.
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