Versioning Feature and Release Branches

For some time I was thinking how to solve a use case where we track both feature and release branches in Reliza Hub.

The problem encountered is related to versioning. Here is the problem in a nutshell: if all branches share same versioning schema, then releases overlap and by simply looking at versions we don’t know which is which. If we only deal with release branches, the solution would be what I presented earlier in this blog – namely, separating branch versions by Minor in SemVer case or by Month in the CalVer case.

However, feature branches complicate this – there are just too many of them to do Minor separation. These days a frequently used pattern is to create a feature branch per each task ticket or per each pull request, and then merge it into master (or in case of urgent fixes – also into release branch). Conventional naming for feature branches would be just the ticket name it references, i.e. TICKET-134 or PR-12. So, we end up having lots of such feature branches with unclear versioning.

The way we started to solve it with Reliza products is by adding specific versioning component Branch. So that our default versioning schema for feature branches becomes Branch.Micro. A sample release version for our feature branch could be TICKET-134.5 – meaning 6th release of our TICKET-134 branch.

There are of course variants, where you could do something like YYYY.0M.Branch.Micro – this way you can also track creation month of the branch. The main benefit of such approach is that feature branch releases do not mix with release branch releases, so we wouldn’t accidentally pull them into non-test environments.

Finally, we are going to introduce approvals for release branches. So that we explicitly indicate which feature branch should be used per environment.

The resulting release selection structure on Reliza Hub is going to look as following:

  1. Identify to what environment our instance belongs
  2. Identify project branch that is currently approved to this environment
  3. Identify most recent release from this branch approved to this environment -> this would be the release version that would be returned to UI and integrated CD system.

This internally creates 2-step selection process instead of 1-step process we used previously. That 1-step process required clients to explicitly specify desired branch, which was not obvious in many cases (as shown above). 2-step selection would add greater logic complexity onto Reliza Hub but remove complexity from the clients – who would just ask for latest approved release per environment and get it. Without worrying about branches.

We are currently actively working on implementing the above logic and it hopefully should be live by the end of June 2020. Meanwhile, I would appreciate any comments or feedback via DM to my LinkedIn.

7 Best Practices of Modern CI/CD

This is a summary of my research of modern CI/CD practices while working on Reliza Hub. This list is rather opinionated but I try to provide explanations why I hold specific opinions. Finally, I’m making this an ordered list, but it’s not actually sorted by importance.

So, let’s start:

1. Separate CI and CD – Use asynchronous pipelines

Too many times I see convoluted multistage CI+CD pipelines, all in one, with bunch of tests and approvals. Such super-pipelines are hitting multiple stages and culminating in production deployments.

While this is still much better than manual no-CI/CD approach, it is not great either. Key problem here is presented by pipelines stuck in the middle waiting for approvals or tests to complete. This quickly creates unmanageable Backlog of Work-in-Progress pipeline runs. Different versions are now tied up together and it is not clear which knot to untie first.

Separating CI and CD means that you have small pipelines that builds artifact. Then you have other small pipelines that perform tests, and yet others that do deployments.

Sometimes you can still mix things. For example, you may mix some quick unit tests into your build CI. But you definitely shouldn’t include your production-grade load testing in there.

As a result of separation, you get multiple small testing, approval and deployment components. They need to run independently and asynchronously – meaning that you also need some system of record to store results and progress (such as Reliza Hub).

Continue reading “7 Best Practices of Modern CI/CD”

Using Google App Engine and GitHub Actions for Static Websites

There are 2 most popular platforms today to host static websites: Netlify and Google App Engine (GAE).

Netlify gained a lot of popularity recently because it provides integrated experience with building and deployment static websites – all in the same platform.

GAE is more flexible in terms that it supports non-static web-sites as well but it certainly lacks the level of integration Netlify provides. So why would I still use GAE in many case? The answer is simple – frequently GAE provides better pricing options. At the same time it allows to have all the features of Netlify and more using few simple tools (GitHub Actions and Reliza Hub) which I’ll describe in this article.

Continue reading “Using Google App Engine and GitHub Actions for Static Websites”

On-demand builds on GitHub Actions with Reliza

10 days ago I published an article how we integrate Reliza Hub with GitHub Actions and ArgoCD for continuous delivery to Kubernetes. Today I am going to improve the approach described there with a new feature we just added to Reliza Hub. The feature is on-demand builds for GitHub Actions that would run on new releases and approvals.

As with the original article we will be discussing Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment for the Mafia Game project. By the way, if you want to play Classic Mafia with me, I’m usually playing every Saturday with Vancouver Mafia Club.

So the point we want to improve from the original article is the GitHub Actions workflow to poll Reliza Hub for new production versions. This workflow was running on a cron every 5 minutes and if there was a new version, it would roll out an update. The improvement we want to make – instead of using cron there, we want to have on demand GitHub Actions run every time someone approves a Mafia Game product release. Below I will show step-by-step guide how to achieve that.

GitHub Actions Side

In the GitHub, proceed to Reliza Hub app at https://github.com/apps/reliza-hub.

Reliza Hub Application on GitHub

Click Configure. Then choose your user or organization where you want to install the application.

Install Reliza Hub Menu on GitHub
Install Reliza Hub Menu on GitHub

In my case, I will be selecting my user taleodor and only one repository – taleodor/mafia-deployment – where my GitHub Actions workflows are deployed.

Install Reliza Hub on GitHub - Select Repositories
Install Reliza Hub on GitHub – Select Repositories

Now I just click Install which brings me to the App Installation page shown below.

Reliza Hub App Installation Page on GitHub
Reliza Hub App Installation Page on GitHub

One thing we need to do here is note the installation id which is shown in the browser address bar. In my case that is 1234567 as shown on the image above. Kidding – I’ve hidden the real id, but you get the idea 🙂 .

We are now done with GitHub part and moving on to modify our workflow code to listen to trigger build events from Reliza.

GitHub Actions Workflow Code Side

Remember that we had cron doing updates which had this code at the top:

on:
  schedule:
    - cron:  '*/5 * * * *'

Meaning that our action would be running every 5 minutes.

All we need to do here is change it to action listening code as following:

on:
  repository_dispatch:
    types: [reliza-build-event]

This is all we needed to do in the workflow code side, and now we are moving to the Reliza Hub SaaS side.

Reliza Hub SaaS Side

First of all we need to ensure that we already have integrated repository registered on Reliza Hub. This is indeed the case for the Mafia Game project, but if not, we need to go to VCS menu and click on the plus-circle icon to add it there.

Mafia Game VCS Repositories in Reliza Hub

Now after we ensured we have our repository, remember that our Mafia Game project consists of 2 major parts: UI and back-end. Each of them should trigger deployment build on approval. So we need to add integration to each of those projects. I will demonstrate what needs to be done on the mafia-vue (UI) project. Doing so for the back-end would be essentially the same – so I will save some space by not mentioning it explicitly.

First we need to go to our project section and click on the tool icon to open Project Settings as shown below.

Mafia-vue Project - Project Settings via Tool icon
Mafia-vue Project – Project Settings via Tool icon

Then in the GitHub App Installation Id we enter our Installation Id from GitHub noted above. We also set checkbox called Trigger GitHub Action On Approval. Note that when this checkbox is checked, every new release for the project and every following approval will trigger build on GitHub Actions.

Finally we click edit icon near Not Set and select our VCS Repository. How it all looks is shown below.

Setting GitHub Actions Integration for the mafia-vue project in Reliza Hub
Setting GitHub Actions Integration for the mafia-vue project in Reliza Hub

I then click Save GitHub Integration button. And then click Trigger GitHub Build to see if our integration works as expected. If everything was configured correctly, you would see GitHub Actions build started by reliza-hub bot with the event called reliza-build-event in your GitHub Actions build page as shown below.

GitHub Actions workflow started by reliza-hub bot
GitHub Actions workflow started by reliza-hub bot

How it Works on Releases and Approvals End-to-End

Now, when everything is configured let us push a simple change to the Mafia Project. In this case, I want to add a short page about classic mafia clubs. I prepare my change and push it to the UI repository.

CI process using GitHub Actions in Mafia Vue repository picks up the change and starts the build.

When it is done, I am getting slack notification that the build is ready.

Slack notification that mafia-vue build is ready
Slack notification that mafia-vue build is ready

Following that our new GitHub Actions integration will trigger deployment build. This deployment build will pull up new project definition for testmafia.brolia.com server and commit it to the mafia-deployment project. This will in turn trigger new deployment for testmafia itself via ArgoCD. Finally, new Mafia product will be created. I will get notified of all that activity via slack:

Slack notifications for Mafia Deployments
Slack notifications for Mafia Game Deployments

Now, I would test the changes in testmafia.brolia.com and once happy set approval to my Product release.

Set PM Approval for Mafia Game Product Release in Reliza Hub
Set PM Approval for Mafia Game Product Release in Reliza Hub

Setting approvals triggers another build on GitHub Actions, which would this time promote our new release to the mafia.brolia.com production instance. Here is how it looks on Reliza Hub after the update:

Mafia Game Production instance in Reliza Hub
Mafia Game Production instance in Reliza Hub

Summary

We were able to replace deployment job working on cron schedule to on-demand version which is triggered by new releases and approvals. All that by extending GitHub Actions functionality with on-demand builds using new Reliza Hub integration capabilities.

Note that current integration is static in terms that it does not send any special parameters to GitHub Actions.

I am now thinking about creating a service with parametrized on-demand builds on GitHub Actions managed from Reliza Hub. You would be able to send custom parameters from there to GitHub Actions builds and trigger them. Would it be useful for you?

Storing Arbitrary Values in Java Keystore

Java Keystore is a nice tool, but it has a very limited number of inputs it supports natively. Mainly those are pem certificates and corresponding keys.

Fortunately, there is a way to store arbitrary data using keytool’s -importpass command and base64 encoding.

Here is how to achieve that. Let’s imagine we have some secret.bin file, we would like to store as a secret. Below is a shell scripting sequence using keytool that would create our keystore (remember to set desired alias and storepass):

base64 -w 0 secret.bin | keytool -importpass -keystore test.jks -alias key1 -storepass mypass

Now, we can read it in Java with code like the following (note, that I’m omitting proper error handling and stream closures – you should use try-with-resources pattern):

char[] pass = "mypass".toCharArray();
KeyStore ks = KeyStore.getInstance("JKS");
ks.load(new FileInputStream("/path/to/test.jks"), pass);
Key mykey = ks.getKey("key1", pass);
byte[] keybytes = mykey.getEncoded();
byte[] decodedKey = Base64.getDecoder().decode(keybytes);

This is it, now decodedKey variable contains your secret binary and you can use it further.

You Can Now Book 30-min Reliza Hub Demo With Me

Use this link to book no-strings-attached 30-minute Reliza Hub demo with me.

I’ll use the first 15 minutes to give you brief overview of the platform and its capabilities. Feel free to use the remaining time to discuss DevOps or Software Productivity issues in your organization or ask any questions you may have.

It will be my pleasure to meet you!

Wrote a Medium article how we are using Reliza Hub with GitHub Actions and ArgoCD

This is about using Reliza Hub for Kubernetes CICD pipeline. Key problem we are trying to help with is managing different versions and permutations of versions of microservices.

The article can be found here: https://medium.com/@taleodor/building-kubernetes-cicd-pipeline-with-github-actions-argocd-and-reliza-hub-e7120b9be870

Take The Fear Out Of Git Push

(Git) Push To Reset The World
Photo by Tom Grünbauer on Unsplash

Remember “The Lean Startup” where they asked engineers to push a change to production on their first day of work? Then the quote to justify it was: “If our production process is so fragile that you can break it on your very first day of work, shame on us for making it so easy to do so”.

“The Lean Startup” was published almost 10 years ago, in 2011. Unfortunately, this simple idea described above still does not resonate with many organizations. On the contrary, putting more pressure on developers committing and pushing code is quite common.

In my experience, the #1 reason for the loss of Software Development productivity is this exact fear to push a change to the Version Control Repository.

Bureaucracy Always Wants To Slow Down Git Push

Developers are frequently told all sorts of things before they push changes: that they need to branch first, or they need to merge to several branches, or they need pull requests first, or they must test locally first, or they need peer reviews, and on and on it goes. Frequently it turns into a strict ever-changing checklist of what a developer needs to do before pushing a simple change. Organization bureaucracy is thus trying to protect itself from negative consequences of botched releases.

But the truth is that if developers are afraid of pushing changes all sorts of bad things will naturally happen:

  1. Developers would hoard changes to push at the very last moment, creating a snowball effect, increasing the batch size and making it very hard to make sense of what is pushed.
  2. Conflicts are now everywhere, which leads to proliferation of merges, which leads to lots of bugs and yet makes already large snowball of changes even bigger.
  3. Every process is synchronized, and everybody spends a lot of time waiting for something – for approvals, for branches being cut, for changes being pushed, for meetings being held – which results in a plain downtime for a lot of people across the organization, while they sit waiting or redoing their work due to merge-conflicts.
  4. Finally, since pushes happen at the last possible moment, deadlines will be missed, releases truly will be botched and the customers won’t be happy.

Making It Right

So as DevOps / GoalOps people, what can we do to make it right? First and foremost, let developers push their changes whenever they feel changes are ready. For this to work correctly, CI process on push must become asynchronous.

This means that the CI process itself must be decoupled from downstream approvals and deployments. With such approach, CI is guaranteed to run on every push and provide needed level of feedback to developers. At the same time untested and unapproved CI artifacts should not clog any downstream CI/CD components. Meaning that developers may do their work freely, while downstream teams may do their work freely on other artifacts at the very same time. Sure enough, they need to communicate, but the process must prevent teams from blocking each other.

A reasonable developer or a development team getting continuous feedback from such CI process would gradually improve and over time balance the amount of code and testing needed for builds to roll accurately. This is what we call asynchronous process, where each team receives needed feedback quickly while at the same time not clogging processes for other teams.

Surely, we need the right tooling to make this work. Having one-fits-all pipeline in Jenkins would unlikely support asynchronous workflow. Instead, another approach would be more suitable: asynchronous CI goes first, then asynchronous Release Assembly, and then asynchronous CD – an approach of this kind we are building with Reliza Hub. The key is decoupling release phases and removing hard dependencies between teams for the sake of faster feedback.

Summary

If we can remove fear from git push – this is one thing that can increase Software Development productivity dramatically. Getting this right is also an indicator of maturity of GoalOps culture. Both technical and business people will appreciate that.