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The Buzz About Builds

Just Build It

Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.

—Kurt Vonnegut

Developers not only set their clocks differently, they may code in different languages. A decent-sized software project is likely to involve several languages—in addition to the C or C++ or Java code, maybe a smattering of Python or Tcl or Perl, and some XML. Even an individual programmer working alone is likely to work in multiple languages/scripting systems. The good news is that there are well-established Build tools for C, Java, Perl, Python, Ruby...

The bad news is that there are well-established Build tools for C, Java, Perl, Python, Ruby...

Ragan: "If you are writing both Java and C apps, then you have to write separate scripts, written in different Build scripting languages (make and ant) to get the job done. What a headache. We get customers asking, 'how can I create a single process for both languages' all of the time."

That's not a trivial challenge. "Java works differently from the traditional C compilers," Ragan says. "This causes some really convoluted Java scripts. As a person who can easily read a make script and is versed in XML, I struggle following the logic of the Java scripting process. There is no clean way of doing it, I don't care how good a scripter you are."

Then there are the demands of Agile development. Mario Moreira of CM Journal has predicted that one of the hot issues for configuration management this year will be Build automation agility. He points to IBM's Rational BuildForge Enterprise edition, open-source Luntbuild, and CruiseControl, and Urbancode's AnthillPro3 Build Management Server as tools providing the continuous-Build requirement of Agile development. He could also have mentioned OpenMake, JetBrains TeamCity, Zutubi Pulse, PMEase QuickBuild (based on Luntbuild), Electric Cloud's ElectricAccelerator/ElectricCommander, VSoft FinalBuilder, ViewTier Systems' ParaBuild...

"One of the key principles of agile development," Ousterhout says, "is frequent integration and testing, both of which depend on reliable and efficient backend processes. Many organizations are trying to become more agile, but discover that they cannot do it without major improvements in their backend processes."

Why? Because you can't do Agile with long Builds.

"If you are an agile developer," Ragan says, "you want to do Builds continuously. Well, if you're a Java developer using ant or maven scripts, then you cannot do an incremental Build. Incremental means if only one file changes, just rebuild what was impacted. So instead you rebuild all. Well, a rebuild all could take hours, meaning continuous integration waits for the last Build to complete."

Ragan's and Ousterhout's companies exist to tackle such challenges. Ousterhout points out that Intuit uses his company's ElectricAccelerator tool to rebuild QuickBooks automatically "every 30 minutes all day long, every workday." That way, overnight Builds rarely fail.

Another factor or two.

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