Ten Essential Practices of Continuous Integration

Rubber chicken

Martin Fowler has identified the key process elements of making Continuous Integration work. You could even argue that they are the elements that define Continuous Integration (done correctly). We include his list and our thoughts below:

  1. Maintain a Single Source Repository
  2. Automate the Build
  3. Make Your Build Self-Testing
  4. Everyone Commits Every Day
  5. Every Commit Should Build the Mainline on an Integration Machine
  6. Keep the Build Fast
  7. Test in a Clone of the Production Environment
  8. Make it Easy for Anyone to Get the Latest Executable
  9. Everyone can see what’s happening
  10. Automate Deployment

For background information, check out the Foundation Series on Continuous Integration article.

1. Maintain a Single Source Repository

The smartest people I know use subversion when they have been able to make the choice themselves. Aside from being open source, it provides two key differentiated benefits relative to “everything else”.

  • Atomic commits: The ability to check in everything or nothing, so you don’t risk breaking the build with a partial check-in.
  • Overall project versioning: Allows you to track changes in source file directory hierarchies, file renaming, etc. Each version is of the entire project, not of a single file.

2. Automate the Build

Fowler sums it up perfectly:

“…anyone should be able to bring in a virgin machine, check the sources out of the repository, issue a single command, and have a running system on their machine”

3. Make Your Build Self-Testing

Include automated testing as part of the build.

4. Everyone Commits Every Day

More frequently when possible. This is the minimum.

5. Every Commit Should Build the Mainline on an Integration Machine

A seperate, dedicated machine does a daily (or more frequent) build and full test suite run autonomously. The “build and test” model above relies on people to kick off the build when they commit. A scheduled task on a seperate machine provides a safety net for human error (oversight). Alternately, companies like Calavista can make this foolproof by automatically triggering an automated build as part of every commit. With Calavista’s devEdge, if the developer “commits”, what really happens is that the automated build/test cycle is triggered with his new code, and it gets promoted only if all the tests pass.

6. Keep the Build Fast

Tests can take a long time, builds should only take ten minutes. Fowler suggests a strategy of staged builds to address the 10-minute threshold. Run unit tests against the 10-minute build, and run the full suite in parallel or series.

Another option is to use statistical sampling of tests to get a “10 minute answer” while the full suite is kicked off in parallel.

7. Test in a Clone of the Production Environment

Eliminate even more variables. Make sure the tests are running against a clone of the production environment. Teams that are pushing the envelope today use virtual machines (VMs) to quickly create cloned production environments, install the software and run the tests.

8. Make it Easy for Anyone to Get the Latest Executable

Make sure everyone knows where the latest build can be found. Probably a good idea to keep recent builds in the same place too, in case a problem sneaks through the process temporarily (like a memory leak or other obscure, not-yet-tested situation).

9. Everyone can see what’s happening

Visibility! eMail the team when builds start/finish, including success/failure information. Put a rubber chicken on the desk of the person currently running the build (don’t ask – just read Fowler’s post). Ring a desk bell when the build passes. Have fun with it.

10. Automate Deployment

Make deployment into production as easy as running the build. Since tests are run against a production clone, and are already automated, this presents minor incremental effort.

Conclusion

Martin presents a great list. In addition to the above, we would suggest

  • Generate test-results documents per requirement. For each build, identify which requirements pass, fail, or are untested. The most relevant information for communicating outside of the team is status of previous requirements (did our regression tests pass?) and current requirements (are we almost done with this timebox?).

3 thoughts on “Ten Essential Practices of Continuous Integration

  1. Very nice list. If the production product is going to be obfuscated, where would you add in the obfuscation and integration testing?

    I’m starting to really look into CI and how obfuscation should/could fit into the cycle if needed, so I’m curious as to what your thoughts or suggestions are on it.

    It seems most people don’t deal with the details when it comes to obfuscation (sort of like demos never have error/exception handling code in them) or they just don’t need to obfuscate their code (ie. server side apps).

  2. Thanks Jason, for the comments and the long-time reading and referencing of our site. I really appreciate it.

    Sorry to everyone who tried to follow the Calavista link before, it was broken, but should be fixed now.

    Jason, I haven’t personally done any obfuscation stuff in any of my projects, so I don’t have an answer from experience. That said, I think it makes sense to include it as a precompilation step within the automated build. Automated testing should be of the post-obfuscaation binary, to eliminate the risk of the obfuscation introducing any bugs.

    It would make sense to be able to trigger an automated test run of the non-obfuscated code in the event of bugs being found during the automated testing.

    Just my thoughts on how I would approach it. I would love to hear from anyone who’s currently doing obfuscation.

  3. The list of the test-results its very good to make the trazability matrix. In the continous integration we have to count that some requeriments its not completed in the first Iteration or integration. the test plan have to say it!!.

    Not all practices, mencionated, are avaliable on the first integration. Example, many times the installer o the deploy of the app its the last work to delivery.

    I have a question, do you a tool to make when delivery the producto to the tester run the unit test?

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