Julian Simpson, aka The Build Doctor, has been working away at a nice web based Build Status Monitor called XFD for a while now. One of my complaints for years has been that there’s no nice build status tool that’s easy to use, but I think he’s on to something.
It’s entered in the Ultimate Wallboard Challenge, and you can vote for it here.
I’ve been putting off this post for a few months now, but I think the time has finally come to admit what I’m sure people who care have guessed for a while – active development on Buildix has stopped, and will probably not resume. The site will stay up for the foreseeable future, nothing will vanish, but nothing new will be added either.
We started the project because at the time, setting up a new Continuous Integration server was quite an arduous task. The only real option out there for a Java project was CruiseControl, and it could take a new developer days to get their first build through the system. Thankfully though this is no longer the case.
Since then the whole CI landscape has changed. Just having a single “build server” is now more the exception than the rule. It’s all about build farms these days using tools like Cruise, Hudson and TeamCity. They integrate nicely with a variety of SCM’s and story tracking tools. Setting up a build environment with these tools is really easy now. I’d like to think that Buildix at least had something to do with helping people to see how easy it could be to get a CI environment up and running, and I know that at least in the case of Cruise this is true because I’ve been part of that team.
So – thank you to all of you who used Buildix and liked it and provided feedback. Thank you also to the current big players in the CI field who put effort into making sure that looking after your CI environment no longer needs to be a full time job for someone.
How often has someone come up to you and asked you what build of your software is currently deployed in a specific environment?
How many times have you come across a .jar or .dll file and wondered what version it is? Especially when using Open Source Software?
The most frightening one for me is when I’ve looked at a cluster of production servers and noticed that the .war file for the application deployed on it is a different size on one of the nodes. Which one was the correct one to deploy? Luckily this happened to me a long time ago, but I know that people out there are still having this problem today.
The solution is what I call “Self Identifying Software”. Every build of your software needs to have something that tells you what version it is and how to get back to the source code that created it. Having a build label or release number visible in your application is a good start, but it does not make your software Self Identifying. Product companies have been doing this for ever. The problem is that for that number to be useful (particularly when you’re trying to access the source code to reproduce and fix a bug) you then need to refer to a build system or release notes to find out where the source code came from (if you’re lucky). It often also does not apply to development builds. To be truly Self Identifying you need to make sure that every build (including builds developers create on their workstations) also includes enough information from the SCM system so that anyone who has access to the source code can go right back to the exact source code that produced that binary. For example, if you use Subversion as your SCM then this will be a URL and a revision number.
This is not exactly a new concept, it’s something I (and others) have been doing for a number of years now. The reason I’ve decided to write about it now though is that recently I was showing a new guy around one of the projects I’m working on at the moment, and when I showed him how to determine which version of the app was deployed he was delighted.
Last year at JAOO I had the chance to speak to Markus from Software Engineering Radio about the talk I gave there on Continuous Integration. It’s finally available now over here. The slides that go along with the talk are available from the JAOO site.
Whenever I talk to new clients about Continuous Integration, and especially about using Build Pipelines to extend their CI process to cover testing things like the deployment of their application, there is always one question that is guaranteed to pop up – how do I manage the configuration of my application in all these environments?
This is always a hard one to answer. In the last place I worked as a System Administrator we used Split-Horizon DNS as one of the ways to solve connecting to the correct host for a service. Our applications had hard coded hostnames for key services such as db.internal.domain, loghost.internal.domain and mailhost.internal.domain. Depending on which environment they ran in, when the did a DNS lookup they would get an answer that pointed them to the correct server providing that service for the environment they were physically running in. Combine this with tools like an LDAP Server in each of these environments containing the rest of the system configuration and life is easy. Or is it?
DNS and LDAP servers are relatively straight forward for experienced Sys Admins to understand and maintain, but they still can’t be described as easy to use, which is probably why so few people do it. This limits our options for fixing things down to two general categories – fix DNS and LDAP admin tools so they are easy to use, or find another way to solve the problem.
We chose the path of least resistance and went for the second option – creating ESCAPE. In the Unix tradition, it’s an app that takes one problem and solves it simply and well (at least in our opinion). It provides a RESTful interface for both the setting and getting of environment configuration. GET requests will retrieve configuration, whereas POST/PUT requests will create new entries or update them.
The URL scheme we’ve decided on is most easily demonstrated by constructing an example URL:
|URL||Value returned in the body|
|http://escape/||User interface. No API available here.|
|http://escape/environments/||A JSON list of all the available environment.|
|http://escape/environments/production/||A JSON list of all the applications in the “production” environment.|
|http://escape/environments/production/mywebapp||All keys and values for the “mywebapp” application in the “production” environment.e.g:
|http://escape/environments/production/mywebapp/thiskey||The value of “thiskey” for the “mywebapp” application in the “production” environment.|
As the tool is now usable we’ve happily released version 0.1. Currently we’re busy putting a lot of work into making the management interface understandable and intuitive to use. The closest thing we currently have to a roadmap is our ToDo list.
Please join us on the discussion group with your feedback.
I like to describe my job at ThoughtWorks as helping Developers and Operations realize that they’re playing on the same team. No matter how awesome your code is, how elegantly you’ve solved the problem at hand, how nice and readable the code is – if you can’t get it into production your software is just a collection of bits. Likewise, you can have the best network, the most scalable hardware, the neatest cable patching scheme – but it’s just a big fancy heater if it’s not running the code your business needs.
As I’m normally brought in with the developers, I’ve been trying to find efficient ways to engage with the client Operations teams. Normally I end up having one on one conversations with various members of the team, try to find out what their current processes are, what their major challenges are and what their concerns are regarding the project I’m involved in. I usually do this to keep the safety levels high. The problem though is that it takes quite a lot of time and effort to get things going and get some momentum going.
At my current client though I didn’t have the time or access to the people to do things the normal way. A meeting was arranged with the key Operations stake holders and I effectively had just 2 hours to explain our development process in general, and Continuous Integration and Build Pipelines in detail. While talking with Graham Brooks about what we wanted to cover, he came up with the idea of running it as a mini retrospective.
After the usual introductions, we gave them 15 minutes to list the Good, the Bad and the Puzzles of their current development and release process. We had good participation from the group and as expected had a high number Bad entries. After talking through the cards and grouping them into related sections, we then allowed them to vote on the ones they most wanted to talk about. Most votes went to the core pain points, and we spent the rest of the time talking about how our process would address those issues. It also helped a lot that most of the Good entries related to the automation they already have in place…
By the end of the meeting no was talking about the bad old days (lobbing releases over the wall). Everyone was engaged starting to get some spirit of collective ownership going in the whole delivery process and that breaking down the walls that exist between the various silos was high on the list of things to do. Rather than talk to them about our process and how we would like to interact with them, we had allowed them to lead the discussion on which elements from our toolbox would have the greatest value for them.
All I need to do now is learn how to be as good a facilitator as Graham was…
Early last year I did a Quick Comparison of some of the popular CI servers of the time. Things have moved on since then, and I’ve actually been involved with the Cruise development team since then. Now that Cruise has been released, a number of people both inside and outside ThoughtWorks have asked me to put together a follow up article – here it is.
The list of available products out there has grown a lot in the past 18 months, and the features that they support are really great. Since I did the last review I’ve actively avoided having a look at the other tools out there to keep a clear focus on what I wanted to see in Cruise. Doing this review has been a great way for me to see what everyone else has been up to.
Just having loads of features does not automatically make for a good tool though. Instead of having a shooting match between who does what, I’ve taken a little sample Java servlet that I use for demos and tried to get it working with all the tools. This project is hosted on a local subversion repository. I’m going to try set it up to simply run unit tests and create my distributable .war file. Areas that I’m going to look at are:
- Installation (on Linux, OSX and Windows)
- Setting up my existing project
- What did the tool inspire me to try next
Tools that I’ll be trying out are (in alphabetical order):
- AntHillPro 3.5.3
- Bamboo 2.1.1
- Cruise 1.0
- CruiseControl 2.7.3
- Hudson 1.252
- Pulse 1.2.56
- TeamCity 3.1.2