RFC-0169: SDK Tool Compatibility

RFC-0169: SDK Tool Compatibility
  • Developer

Describes compatibility requirements for SDK tools

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2022-05-06
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2022-06-16


Developers need to work with a variety of Fuchsia-based products, each supporting a potentially different Fuchsia ABI revision. Developers use host-side tools to connect to Fuchsia systems and interact with those systems. These tools need to have a defined compatibility policy with regard to the Fuchsia system they are connecting to in order to ensure the user gets predictable and clear behavior.

This RFC lays out a set of policies that describe when tools are intended to be compatible with Fuchsia-based product releases, and some initial steps we intend to take to enforce compatibility.

The extremely short version of the policy is that, if an SDK ships with a supported developer tool, that developer tool has the same compatibility guarantee as a component that targets the most recent ABI revision supported by that SDK. As a result, the tool will be guaranteed to work with any subsequent Fuchsia product bundle (as described in RFC-0100) that supports that ABI.


Fuchsia has a well defined notion of what it means for a component to be compatible with a given system. As detailed in RFC-0002, each release of the Fuchsia SDK supports a set of API levels and ABI revisions. If a component targets a given ABI revision, and the Fuchsia product bundle - the set of artifacts needed to run a Fuchsia product, excluding the SDK and its tools - supports that revision, then the component is compatible with the given product bundle.

New Fuchsia platform releases continue to support ABI revisions for a specific length of time (or compatibility window) since their introduction. (An upcoming RFC is going to lay out a new policy for how we determine the length of compatibility windows.) As a result, the component will be compatible with new Fuchsia builds for the duration of the compatibility window.

There is no similar notion of compatibility for tools released with the Fuchsia SDK, which currently have ad hoc compatibility mechanisms that mostly reflect the intent of specific teams and developers. This RFC addresses that shortcoming.

The mismatch between tools and components can cause significant user frustration. Many Fuchsia users download product bundles separately from tools. This leads to a situation where developers use tools that support a different ABI from the ones supported by the products they are trying to monitor and manage. This results in errors that developers find difficult to diagnose and resolve.

In this RFC, we set an initial policy for when tools are expected to work with a given Fuchsia product bundle, and describe steps we intend to take to enforce and communicate this policy. This policy is not intended to be complete. There are other aspects of SDK tool compatibility that we do not address here, such as guarantees about the lifetime of command line options, or tool compatibility with older C/C++/FIDL headers.





abarth (versioning, Fuchsia TL) amituttam (tools) dschuyler (SDK) sebmarchand (customer representation) sethladd (SDK, versioning)


ffx Team CTF team Editor Team wilkinsonclay (developer relations) yaar (customer representation)


This RFC was socialized with representatives from the component framework and developer areas, as well as discussed on mailing lists with stakeholders in Fuchsia versioning.



An SDK Tool is an executable that ships with the SDK. Note that, for the purposes of this policy, individual ffx plugins count as individual tools.

Partner API and Partner Tools are API and Tools supported for use by targeted individuals and teams who work closely with the Fuchsia team on feature development. They are shipped in a Partner SDK.

Public API and Public Tools are API and Tools that are supported for use by anyone. They are shipped in a Public SDK. Note that, as of the writing of this document, there is no public SDK, only partner SDK.

In this document, we use the term stable to refer to both a) supported partner tools / API that target public or partner ABI and b) hypothetical future public tools / API that target public API. In the future, it is likely that public and partner platform surface area will have different compatibility windows, but the distinction is not germane to this document.

An SDK tool is supported if it does not have any indication (through command line flags, the naming of the tool itself (e.g. foo_internal), or documentation) that it is experimental. As an example, the ffx tool has several experimental subcommands that are not considered supported. Unsupported tools are not guaranteed to work, even if the system claims compatibility with a specific ABI revision.


This RFC introduces the requirement that supported developer tools shipped with SDKs must exclusively interact with the platform via ABI / API supported by the corresponding SDK when interacting with the system.

If a tool is supported for partner use, it must only interact using partner or public ABI / API. If a tool is supported for public use, it must only interact using public ABI / API. Supported SDK tools must not use internal or experimental ABI / API.

By following this discipline, supported SDK tools will be guaranteed to be compatible with all Fuchsia products developed at head or from a branch made during the compatibility window for those ABIs and ABIs.

Stable developer tools may target formerly stable API / ABI - that is, stable API / ABI that has been deprecated or removed from the platform. For example, the Fuchsia project may find it useful to have tools that can flash new images onto devices running images that predate the compatibility window. Such behavior should be clearly described in documentation. In such cases, unless the tools themselves are deprecated, they must continue to work with stable API / ABI.

In cases other than deprecated and removed API / ABI, when stable tools target non-stable API/ABI, it is considered a bug, and there must be a plan to transition them to stable API/ABI or remove them. This includes currently supported tools in the SDK that use non-stable API.

For the purposes of experimentation, the SDK may contain non-stable developer tools. These must be labeled as such. Non-stable developer tools may use non-stable ABI / API. Documentation for non-stable tools must indicate that they are not supported. Invocations of non-stable tools should make it clear that they are not supported (e.g., by requiring an extra command line flag). Such tools may produce warnings when used.

The fact that individual ffx plugins are considered separate tools means that, for example, ffx foo may be considered stable, but, in the same release, ffx bar may not. Other tools may have similar policies; these should be well documented.

The Fuchsia platform provides no guarantee of forward compatibility for its tools. Recent versions of tools may not work with older products. Developers should make every effort to ensure that tools provide clear and actionable errors in these cases.


Individual SDK tool owners may decide to enforce compatibility requirements during development, via mechanisms such as testing and build support. These enforcement mechanisms may become mandatory for SDK tools in the future.

The team working on the ffx tool plans to take the following actions to enforce compatibility. This list is not intended to be exhaustive; it is simply a set of examples of actions teams can take to enforce these policies.

  • Older versions of ffx will be run as part of the set of CTF tests (defined as CTS tests in RFC-0015), enforcing that newer platform builds maintain compatibility with tested features.

  • The command line and JSON interfaces for ffx will be versioned, and compatibility will be enforced for those versions.

  • The ffx tool, and the underlying Overnet transport, will have a target ABI revision with which it is compatible, which is likely to be the revision at fuchsia.git head when it was built. The tool will report the target ABI revision to a service on the Fuchsia target. The service will report back whether the ABI is in the supported set. If it is not, then ffx will produce an error for the user, and direct the user to a compatible version of ffx. We may need to revisit the specifics of this approach as compatibility enforcement evolves; in the short term, only static ABI revision (i.e., determined at assembly time) will be available, but in the longer term, there will be different ABI exposed by different parts of the system, and we will need to provide a more dynamic check.

  • Stable ffx plugins built infuchsia.git will use build restrictions to restrict the set of FIDL definitions they use to those available in public and partner SDKs.

  • It will be an explicit goal of Fuchsia tooling owners to migrate ffx plugins intended for long term support away from unstable API and ABI.

  • ABI revision will be incorporated into product bundle metadata to help developers identify which versions of ffx will work with that product bundle prior to running it. We will have a goal of attaching version identifying information to any input to ffx that needs to have it.


These policies do not affect performance. Enforcement of these policies may affect performance; however, this is a quality of service issue for an individual tool.


These policies improve tool ergonomics by making it clear when a given tool is compatible with a given Fuchsia target.

Backwards Compatibility

Many existing SDK tools do not support mechanisms to detect or enforce compatibility guarantees, and many use non-stable API and ABI. Some tools will need to make a transition to long-term stable ABI. As always, transitions must be done carefully, to minimize disruptions to users. Developers should consider the option of treating non-stable API and ABI used by their tools as if it were stable by continuing to support it for the duration of a full compatibility window, and performing a soft transition to the stable replacement.

Security considerations

These policies introduce no known security considerations.

From time to time, security issues may require us to break a compatibility guarantee. For example, we may find security issues with the Overnet transport that we use to communicate from the host to the device.

Privacy considerations

These policies do not relate to the collection of user data.


Although it is a best practice to use testing to ensure that an SDK-facing developer tool adheres to these policies, this RFC does not require developer tools to do so. The Fuchsia CTF (formerly known as CTS) provides a mechanism for testing that some tool developers may wish to employ.


Tool documentation should be updated to refer to this policy.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

One alternative is an ad hoc approach to compatibility: that is, each tool provides its own minimum compatibility window. In practice, we have found that this causes a great deal of user confusion, as users do not typically use a single tool in isolation. For example, a user may find it surprising if ffx log works and ffx component does not work.

Prior art and references

Tools for many systems face backwards compatibility challenges. For example, in Java, bytecode is tagged with a classfile version number. The JVM has a set of classfile version numbers it understands. Sufficiently old classfiles may not work.