Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Ant can be less verbose than Java

5 August 2008 Leave a comment

I had one of those rare opportunities today when I got to pair with one of the developers on our project. The story he’s working on has to do with generating usage documentation for a webservice at runtime. What he wanted was a list of source files to be available at runtime. The solution he came up with (which does work) was the following Java program:

package com.example.service.utils;

import java.util.Arrays;

public class ListControllers {
    public static void main(String[] args) throws IOException {
        String outputFile = args[0];
        String srcDir = args[1];
        File f = new File(srcDir);
        File serverDir = new File(f, "com/example/service/server");
        String[] entries = serverDir.list();
        BufferedWriter writer = new BufferedWriter(new FileWriter(outputFile, false));
        for(String entry : entries) {
            if(entry.endsWith("")) {
                writer.write(name + "\n");

This was then called by the following Ant snippet:

<mkdir dir="${target.dir}/war/WEB-INF/classes"/>
<java classname="com.example.service.utils.ListControllers" 
      classpath="${main.jar}" failonerror="true">
    <arg value="${target.dir}/war/WEB-INF/classes/controller.list"/>
    <arg value="${src.dir}"/>

This was then bundled up in the war file so that he could get his mits on it at runtime. It works, but is not without problems. My primary complaint is that it makes the build harder to understand. To figure out what’s going you need to find and open up the .java file, and be able to understand Java in the first place.

After a few minutes of pairing we managed to fix it with the following Ant snippet:

<mkdir dir="${target.dir}/war/WEB-INF/classes"/>
<pathconvert property="controller.list.propery" 
            <fileset dir="${src.dir}/com/example/service/server" 
    <map from="${src.dir}/com/example/service/server/" to=""/>
<echo message="${controller.list.propery}" 

Not only is it now easy to see what we’re trying to do in the build file, but we managed to replace 29 lines of Java + Ant with 10 lines of Ant. Sweet!

Categories: Build, Development, Software

EC2 AMI Creation Tips

19 November 2007 1 comment

While we were still working on Buildix 2, people started asking about an AMI for Buildix on Amazons EC2. This didn’t seem to be such a big ask, but now that I’ve finally gotten around to working on this I’ve found it can be a bit fiddly! While there is a lot of good documentation in the various sections of the EC2 site, I still had a quite a few head scratching moments trying to create my own Ubuntu 7.04 Server image to load Buildix into.

The Buildix image is now available for public use as ami-e4ca2f8d.
Read more…

CruiseControl and Buildix 2 at JAOO 2007

26 September 2007 Leave a comment

I’ve been at JAOO for the past few days, and while here I had a chance to do a presentation with Erik Doernenburg on Continuous Integration and CruiseControl. We used the new Beta version of Buildix 2 to show people the new CruiseControl Dashboard, and quite a few people were impressed with it. Favourite features were the CCTray integration, and the ability to see the status of a large number of projects at a glance.

As always, there were also people who were interested in hearing about how it can be used for non Java projects. I had a good chat to one person who is interested in using it on a mixed Common LISP and Erlang project he’s working on. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes for him. Due to lack of experience on my part I could unfortunately not help him much with the darcs problems he’s having though. Some people have all the fun…

It was also quite useful to speak to people about the problems they’re currently facing when trying to use CruiseControl. A common theme is people trying to manage large numbers of builds, or trying to build products across large numbers of different platforms. These are problems the dedicated ThoughtWorks development team are currently working on, so it’s great to get the validation that we’re putting effort into the things people care about now.

Categories: Development, Linux, Software, Unix

The Microsoft School of Error Messages

Up until now I’ve managed to avoid ranting here, but I can no longer resist! After all these years of experience, why are the error messages in windows still generally meaningless? Is it because there are so many of them?

The problem I faced was trying to patch a game. Downloaded the patch, tried to apply it, but got the message “The application failed to initialize properly (0xc0000135)”. Much confusion. Downloaded from another source, tried again, same error. Tried on my laptop, and this time it worked perfectly. What’s the problem?

Turns out the patch is written in .Net, and I don’t have the correct version of the runtime installed on my desktop, but I do have it on my laptop. I only had .Net 1.0, and it needs a newer version. Good thing the error message told me that in the first place then, isn’t it…

Categories: Software, Stuff

Using CruiseControl for non-Java Projects

A lot of people are under the impression that CruiseControl is solely intended for Java projects. This is a common misconception. At my current client we’re using CruiseControl to build a 15 year old, 2.5 million line mixed C/C++ app using GNU make. We’re also using it to build and functionally test a new C app we’re writing as part of the project. I’ve also used it in the past on Python apps.

There are a number of ways to do this, and they all really depend on what you’re using Cruise for. If you’re simply using it for compilation, then you can simply use <exec> to call make (or whatever you’re building with). By default it will break the build if the command returns a non-zero return code, so it should be smart enough to do this out of the box. I know that some of our Ruby projects that use this method too.

My personal preference is to get CruiseControl to do an Ant build, which has some additional logic, including taging the source repository with the build label if the build passes. The approach is very similar in this case, and has the following steps:

  • Have ant do any additional work/checks you want to ensure the environment is how you want it.
  • Update my working copy to an exact known version that can be tagged at a later stage if the build is good (primarily a CVS problem, not really needed if you’re using Subversion).
  • Use the <exec> task from ant to run the build
  • If you have additional tests to run, use an <exec> within a <parallel> block to start your newly built binary in the background, then run the tests
  • If everything is good and passes, tag your source code with the build label.

So, although it is fairly easy to add build plugins for various other projects, you can save yourself a bit of pain simply using the one <exec> or shelling out of an <ant> builder.

Categories: Development, Software

Quick Comparison of TeamCity 1.2, Bamboo 1.0 and CruiseControl 2.6

21 February 2007 1 comment

One of the things I spend a lot of my life doing is looking after Continuous Integration environments. As I work for ThoughtWorks, and am one of the guys who created Buildix, it should come as no surprise that this is all done with CruiseControl. However, in the past few months there a few new Continuous Integration tools that have crept out onto the scene. The two that I hear the most about are TeamCity and Bamboo. I finally managed to get a few hours to test them out, and here’s my impressions.

One of the things I wanted to see was how quick and easy it was to get these tools up and running. With this in mind, I specifically decided in advance to pull down the .war bundle of each one and try that out. In my experience, this would be the one that most of the clients I’ve been at would have gone for.


  • This is very much a first impressions run of the products – I had a limited time window (2 hours total) to do this in.
  • People could quite fairly say that I have a biased view, but I’ve tried to keep this as fair as possible.
  • I only tested doing an Ant build of a simple sample webapp from a subversion repository.
  • You have to buy a license for TeamCity and Bamboo (I got evaluation licenses for both), but CruiseControl is still free…

Test Environment:

  • Fedora Core 4
  • Via C3 800 server with 512Mb RAM
  • Sun Java 1.6.0-b105
  • Apache Ant 1.7.0
  • Jetty 6.1.1
  • Subversion 1.2.3

Read more…

Categories: Development, Software

Why testing early pays off

12 February 2007 Leave a comment

Part of what we’re doing at my current client is writing an HTTP interface to allow read only access to a Tangosol cache. For the first month or so we’ve been using Jetty (6.0.2) for testing and development, because it’s free and easy. Everything has been going well, and we finally got the official ruling that our webapp will run in production under JBoss (4.0.3SP1). We did expect this, as current webapps they have in production run under JBoss, but we were not sure of which version we were going to end up on so we stuck with Jetty. We’ve been very carefull to keep our app as vanilla as possible, but when we deploy our happy app under JBoss, we start getting showered with NullPointerExceptions like these:

at org.apache.xalan.transformer.SerializerSwitcher.switchSerializerIfHTML(
at org.apache.xalan.transformer.TransformerIdentityImpl.startElement(

After a bit of poking around I found that the only nulls that existed in that area of our code was when we were calling startElement() and endElement() with nulls. A quick look at the JavaDocs for these methods says that you should pass “the empty string” if there is no Namespace URI or Namespace. Simply replacing calls like:

transformerHandler.startElement(null, null, ERROR_TAG_NAME, errorAttributes)


transformerHandler.startElement(“”, “”, ERROR_TAG_NAME, errorAttributes)

sorted out the problem!

We’re only due to go live with this app in July, but one of the patterns that has saved me many times is to test early and often. The trick is not to limit your testing, but push it as far as you can go. In this case, testing in a production like environment 5 months before we’re due to go live has meant we only needed to change a few lines of code in two classes. Imagine how much more we would have to change in 5 months time…

Categories: Development