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.
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.