In this era where technology is rapidly evolving, a lot of time is spent to build, test, deploy your code from Development to a Test environment to Production. This is where Deployment and Build automation comes into the picture. Before you deploy and test your code, you will develop and build/compile the code first. So we shall focus on build automation first.

Build Automation

In software development, build refers to the process that converts files and other assets of your project into a single file that can be deployed into your server. Build automation tools produce the executable code, which can be deployed later using deployment automation. The build process will include but not limited to the below steps.

  • Compiling source files from a local or shared repository
  • Adding required dependencies.
  • Link all the files and store logs
  • Packaging the above files into a single file with compressed formats like (jar, ear, war, zip) so that they can be deployed.

The build is said to be automated when these steps repeatedly need to be performed and do not require any human to intervene in this process directly, and this process can be performed at any time/scheduled. If you do these steps manually, there are chances that a human could make a mistake. It may take more time for a human to perform these tasks; hence you should automate your build and deployment process so that humans could focus on another important task at hand.

Using build automation has the following benefits

  • Save money
  • Keeping logs of your builds and releases so that issues can be addressed in future builds
  • Dependency on specific team members who have developed this code will be removed through this automation
  • It will reduce time and manual efforts and accelerate the process
  • It will perform repetitive tasks without causing any human error.

Now how do you achieve Build automation? Which tools help us to achieve build automation?

The most popular tool which helps us achieve build automation is Maven.

Let us take an example of a java project, and now you will ask why I need Maven when we have an eclipse? Well, the eclipse is an IDE that helps you develop your code. However, it doesn’t build your code; Maven does it.

In most of the Java Projects, you need to work with third-party libraries. For example, if you are working on a Spring MVC project, there are numerous dependencies that you need for your project dependencies are nothing but the libraries or the jar files. So, for spring, there are 10 to 12 libraries

that you require, and in order to use them, you would need to download them first and then add them to your project.

Don’t you think it is a tedious task to do all of these manually? In addition to that, you also face another big issue. Suppose you’re working on the Java 7 version, and for some reason, you need to upgrade your project from Java 7 to Java 8. In this case, you would again need to download and add these dependencies for the latest software version.

Here comes in the picture Apache Maven to make our life easier!

Maven is a powerful build automation tool that is mainly used for Java-based projects.

When you build software, you need to take care of two critical aspects, that is, how to build it and its dependencies. And Maven effectively addresses these two aspects.

Maven, a fundamental unit of work, is known as Project Object Model (POM). This POM.xml file, as already mentioned, stores all the necessary information regarding how software is built and its dependencies on external components & modules.

The POM.xml file also includes the built order, the directories, and the required plugins. It also performs defined tasks like a compilation of code and its packaging, thanks to Maven’s built-in system, which holds predefined targets.

Maven is capable of downloading Java libraries and Maven plugins from repositories such as the Maven central repository, and then it stores this software in the local cache. Maven makes your life easier by eliminating practices of having to do things manually. All your problems related to dependencies can be solved by Maven. You just need to specify the dependencies that you want in a POM.xml file, and it will take care of the rest.

Therefore, even in the later stages of your project, if you need to upgrade the version of the software that you are using, Maven handles everything elegantly.

You just need to make the change in the POM.xml file, and it’ll automatically download the latest version for you. Unlike other build tools like Ant, you need not write long scripts to execute your tasks.!!

A build life cycle comprises a sequence of build phases. Each build phase comprises a sequence of goals. The name of a build lifecycle, phase, or goal is Maven Command. If a lifecycle is requested executed by giving maven command, all build phases in that life cycle are also executed. If a build phase is requested executed, all build phases before it in the defined sequence are executed too.

Summary

Maven is an automation and management tool. It is a popular open-source build tool that works best for enterprise Java projects It is designed to take much of the hard work out of the building process. Maven uses an approach that is declarative in nature. Here the project structure and contents are well described, rather than taking the task-based approach used in Ant or in other traditional make files, for example. This enforces company-wide development standards and considerably reduces the time you need to write and maintain build scripts. You describe your project using a well-defined project object model when you use Maven. It can then apply cross-cutting logic from a set of custom or shared plugins. Maven can set up the way to work as per standards in the case of multiple development teams in a very short time. As most of the project setups are simple and reusable, Maven makes developers’ lives easy while creating reports, checks, build, and testing automation setups.

Deployment Automation.

Now that you have learned about building automation and your code is built now, it’s time to deploy the built code to be tested and eventually deployed to the Production environment.

Taking your built software and installing or deploying it on a Test or Production system is called Deployment Automation. Automation is very crucial in order to reduce the risk of production deployments. It’s also essential for providing fast feedback on the quality of your software by allowing teams to do comprehensive testing as soon as possible after changes. With an increasing number of applications and functionality demanded by business needs, application deployment needs to happen in such a way that it is reliable and fast and such that it should not disturb existing processes. The

idea here is to save time and reduce errors from manually deploying software. Much like build automation, there are a hundred ways to end up with errors/mistakes in software deployment. We have stayed late at the office to fix manual deployment problems on many occasions when they need a functioning system for customers coming on-site tomorrow. Automating multiple systems introduces more risk: instead of one system possibly crashing or having weird errors, we now have ​multiple systems that can go wrong. However, that risk is far lower than somebody missing a step on a checklist or issuing the wrong command and messing up a deployment. If you are lucky, you can simply restore a backup and start over; if you are unlucky, an error might cause the system to function incorrectly. Is it a software defect? Did the person not set a configuration correctly? This takes time to diagnose, time that you may not have, and time that need not be spent if you automate the process.

Some Benefits of deployment automation.

#1: Deployments become much less error-prone and much more repeatable

Manual deployments are error-prone. This is because it involves humans doing stuff. So, Murphy’s Law governs it: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Important steps in a release can be accidentally missed, faults that occur during a release may not be spotted, the incorrect versions of software can be shipped, and broken software ends up going live. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to recover from this quickly. If you are unlucky, well… it’s pretty embarrassing at best.

#2: Anyone in the team can deploy software

With an automated deployment process, knowing how to release your software is captured in the system, not in an individual’s brain.

Performing manual or partially-automated deployments are often the responsibility of a small subset of people in an organization. In fact, it’s not uncommon for this duty to fall to a single person in a given project team. If the person assigned the job is ill or for some reason is unavailable at short notice, releasing can become cumbersome. With this anyone having access to the “Deploy” button can initiate release.

#3: You can release more frequently

When an automated deployment mechanism performs a single deployment it has a low overhead. A release process with low overhead is one that can be repeated frequently

Teams releasing frequently can deliver amazing features to their users more often and in incremental steps. In doing so, they also gather continuous feedback from these users on the software they created. This way they can adapt their approach.

Which tools would help me achieve Deployment Automation?

Deployment is a complicated process that includes steps such as installing Jar/ ear /war files, configuring data sources, activation specifications, updating endpoint URLs, bindings, adapters and restarting the application itself or the server, follow the release process, perform sanity checks to ensure that all the parameters have been updated as expected and so on.

One of the most commonly used tools is Jenkins. This is an excellent tool for achieving deployment automation or continuous deployment. Deployment scripts will be written and configured in Jenkins, with just clicking a button in Jenkins your deployment process will start and perform all the steps much faster, and in an efficient manner.

How do I implement Deployment Automation?

When designing your automated deployment process, we recommend that you follow these practices for best results:

Use the same deployment process for each and every environment even in Production.​This rule helps ensure that you test the deployment process repeatedly before you use it to deploy to Production.

Allow anyone with the required credentials to deploy any version to any environment according to demand in a fully automated fashion.​If you have to create a ticket and then sit back and wait for someone to prepare an environment then you don’t really have a fully automated deployment process.

Use the same packages for every environment.​According to this rule you should be keeping environment-specific configuration separate from the packages. That way, you know that the packages you are deploying to Production are the same ones that you tested.

Make it possible to recreate the state of any environment from information stored in version control.​This rule helps ensure that deployments are repeatable and that in the event of a disaster recovery scenario, you can restore the state of Production in a deterministic way.

Ideally, you have a tool that you can use autonomously to make deployments, that records which builds are currently in each environment, and that records the output of the deployment process for audit purposes.

What are the ways to measure deployment automation?

Measuring deployment automation is straightforward.

In your deployment process count the number of manual steps​. Work to reduce those steps systematically. The number of manual steps increases the chance of error and the deployment time as well.

Measure the percentage of automation in a deployment pipeline​. Work to increase that level continually.

Determine the time spent on delays in the deployment pipeline​. As you work towards reducing these delays, try to understand where and why code stalls in your deployment pipeline

Summary

So having both build and deployment automation as part of your release /software development lifecycle process definitely help you save time, cost, efforts spent for every release and reduce a lot of chances of error so that you can focus on other important tasks rather than performing the same repetitive or mundane tasks, we definitely encourage you to spend time and consider on Implementing build and deployment automation in your project/business processes.

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