Jax and Jaxlib versioning#

Why are jax and jaxlib separate packages?#

We publish JAX as two separate Python wheels, namely jax, which is a pure Python wheel, and jaxlib, which is a mostly-C++ wheel that contains libraries such as:

  • XLA,

  • pieces of LLVM used by XLA,

  • MLIR infrastructure, such as the StableHLO Python bindings.

  • JAX-specific C++ libraries for fast JIT and PyTree manipulation.

We distribute separate jax and jaxlib packages because it makes it easy to work on the Python parts of JAX without having to build C++ code or even having a C++ toolchain installed. jaxlib is a large library that is not easy for many users to build, but most changes to JAX only touch Python code. By allowing the Python pieces to be updated independently of the C++ pieces, we improve the development velocity for Python changes.

In addition jaxlib is not cheap to build, but we want to be able to iterate on and run the JAX tests in environments without a lot of CPU, for example in Github Actions or on a laptop. Many of our CI builds simply use a prebuilt jaxlib, rather than needing to rebuild the C++ pieces of JAX on each PR.

As we will see, distributing jax and jaxlib separately comes with a cost, in that it requires that changes to jaxlib maintain a backward compatible API. However, we believe that on balance it is preferable to make Python changes easy, even if at the cost of making C++ changes slightly harder.

How are jax and jaxlib versioned?#

Summary: jax and jaxlib share the same version number in the JAX source tree, but are released as separate Python packages. When installed, the jax package version must be greater than or equal to jaxlib’s version, and jaxlib’s version must be greater than or equal to the minimum jaxlib version specified by jax.

Both jax and jaxlib releases are numbered x.y.z, where x is the major version, and y is the minor version, and z is an optional patch release. Version numbers must follow PEP 440. Version number comparisons are lexicographic comparisons on tuples of integers.

Each jax release has an associated minimum jaxlib version mx.my.mz. The minimum jaxlib version for jax version x.y.z must be no greater than x.y.z.

For jax version x.y.z and jaxlib version lx.ly.lz to be compatible, the following must hold:

  • The jaxlib version (lx.ly.lz) must be greater than or equal to the minimum jaxlib version (mx.my.mz).

  • The jax version (x.y.z) must be greater than or equal to the jaxlib version (lx.ly.lz).

These constraints imply the following rules for releases:

  • jax may be released on its own at any time, without updating jaxlib.

  • If a new jaxlib is released, a jax release must be made at the same time.

These version constraints are currently checked by jax at import time, instead of being expressed as Python package version constraints. jax checks the jaxlib version at runtime rather than using a pip package version constraint because we provide separate jaxlib wheels for a variety of hardware and software versions (e.g, GPU, TPU, etc.). Since we do not know which is the right choice for any given user, we do not want pip to install a jaxlib package for us automatically.

In the future, we hope to separate out the hardware-specific pieces of jaxlib into separate plugins, at which point the minimum version could be expressed as a Python package dependency. For now, we do provide platform-specific extra requirements that install a compatible jaxlib version, e.g., jax[cuda].

How can I safely make changes to the API of jaxlib?#

  • jax may drop compatibility with older jaxlib releases at any time, so long as the minimum jaxlib version is increased to a compatible version. However, note that the minimum jaxlib, even for unreleased versions of jax, must be a released version! This allows us to use released jaxlib wheels in our CI builds, and allows Python developers to work on jax at HEAD without ever needing to build jaxlib.

    For example, to remove an old backwards compatibility path in the jax Python code, it is sufficient to bump the minimum jaxlib version and then delete the compatibility path.

  • jaxlib may drop compatibility with older jax releases lower than its own release version number. The version constraints enforced by jax would forbid the use of an incompatible jaxlib.

    For example, for jaxlib to drop a Python binding API used by an older jax version, the jaxlib minor or major version number must be incremented.

  • If possible, changes to the jaxlib should be made in a backwards-compatible way.

    In general jaxlib may freely change its API, so long as the rules about jax being compatible with all jaxlibs at least as new as the minimum version are followed. This implies that jax must always be compatible with at least two versions of jaxlib, namely, the last release, and the tip-of-tree version, effectively the next release. This is easier to do if compatibility is maintained, although incompatible changes can be made using version tests from jax; see below.

    For example, it is usually safe to add a new function to jaxlib, but unsafe to remove an existing function or to change its signature if current jax is still using it. Changes to jax must work or degrade gracefully for all jaxlib releases greater than the minimum up to HEAD.

Note that the compatibility rules here only apply to released versions of jax and jaxlib. They do not apply to unreleased versions; that is, it is ok to introduce and then remove an API from jaxlib if it is never released, or if no released jax version uses that API.

How is the source to jaxlib laid out?#

jaxlib is split across two main repositories, namely the jaxlib/ subdirectory in the main JAX repository and in the XLA source tree, which lives inside the XLA repository. The JAX-specific pieces inside XLA are primarily in the xla/python subdirectory.

The reason that C++ pieces of JAX, such as Python bindings and runtime components, are inside the XLA tree is partially historical and partially technical.

The historical reason is that originally the xla/python bindings were envisaged as general purpose Python bindings that might be shared with other frameworks. In practice this is increasingly less true, and xla/python incorporates a number of JAX-specific pieces and is likely to incorporate more. So it is probably best to simply think of xla/python as part of JAX.

The technical reason is that the XLA C++ API is not stable. By keeping the XLA:Python bindings in the XLA tree, their C++ implementation can be updated atomically with the C++ API of XLA. It is easier to maintain backward and forward compatibility of Python APIs than C++ ones, so xla/python exposes Python APIs and is responsible for maintaining backward compatibility at the Python level.

jaxlib is built using Bazel out of the jax repository. The pieces of jaxlib from the XLA repository are incorporated into the build as a Bazel submodule. To update the version of XLA used during the build, one must update the pinned version in the Bazel WORKSPACE. This is done manually on an as-needed basis, but can be overridden on a build-by-build basis.

How do we make changes across the jax and jaxlib boundary between releases?#

The jaxlib version is a coarse instrument: it only lets us reason about releases.

However, since the jax and jaxlib code is split across repositories that cannot be updated atomically in a single change, we need to manage compatibility at a finer granularity than our release cycle. To manage fine-grained compatibility, we have additional versioning that is independent of the jaxlib release version numbers.

We maintain an additional version number (_version) in xla_client.py in the XLA repository. The idea is that this version number, is defined in xla/python together with the C++ parts of JAX, is also accessible to JAX Python as jax._src.lib.xla_extension_version, and must be incremented every time that a change is made to the XLA/Python code that has backwards compatibility implications for jax. The JAX Python code can then use this version number to maintain backwards compatibility, e.g.:

from jax._src.lib import xla_extension_version

# 123 is the new version number for _version in xla_client.py
if xla_extension_version >= 123:
  # Use new code path
  # Use old code path.

Note that this version number is in addition to the constraints on the released version numbers, that is, this version number exists to help manage compatibility during development for unreleased code. Releases must also follow the compatibility rules given above.