Monday, December 21, 2009

Protect Your Environment, Part 2

Last time I talked about separating your environment, and automating it such that almost nothing needs to be customized outside your source control. Today, I want to expand on that thought a bit and specifically talk about your build environment. If you aren't using a build environment like Cruise Control, you really should be. By automating your build, you can quickly detect when you've changed code that causes a regression test to fail, or if you've otherwise unintentionally broken things.

I'm not really trying to espouse the benefits of an automated build system, though, so I'm going to assume you have one set up. The next step is to protect your build environment.

With the build environment, it's especially important to keep everything in source control, and contained within the root directory. If you can't have 2 parallel checkouts of your source simultaneously running your build without failing in some way, you are doing it wrong.

This means a few things. Primarily, do not depend on external files or libraries. If your code looks for a file in /usr/share/, then move that file to within your root checkout and change your code to point to that properties file with a relative path instead. Commit every jar or other runtime library into source control, and point your build to load the files locally.

What this gains you is flexibility to have parallel development. You can have a branch that represents what is currently deployed, and a branch that represents your current development. You can update that external jar you depend on in your current development branch and it won't affect your currently deployed branch. This means you can have 1 build server constantly running your tests on both branches, and neither will need to worry that they share the same file system.

If you have any kind of branching going on, you run a much higher risk in hitting build issues if you depend on something outside what is committed to source control. If you have a test that needs to look for a file in a special location on your file system, there will be a problem the moment that file diverges between your branches.

If you must depend on some custom environment variables, prepare those environment variables within the build. Just like diverging files, it's entirely possible a separate branch will need to tweak those variables. Once you need to, your other branches will be hosed.

So, once again, once you've prepared your environment to be bulletproof, protect it vigorously. Don't let your build depend on anything outside what is committed to your source control repository, and your automated build server will thank you.

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