In my current project we have adopted the Continuous Integration process and its key practices, some of which we’ve used in previous projects, but not all at once.
The project technology stack looks like this:
Single Source Repository
We have been using Team Foundation Server since version 2005 and all new and ongoing projects use it, however, Continuous Integration takes source control to another level and require us to put more stuff in there than we are use to. For example, all versions of web.config is stored and version controlled through the Web.config Transformations in ASP.NET 4. This gives us easy access and great control over the different configuration setups we use in all our environments.
Compiling, building and running unit tests is something we’ve been doing for years in Visual Studio, but when we had to do the same in an automated Continuous Integration process we could not rely on the build scripts generated by Visual Studio (e.g. all .csproj-files) alone but had to learn MSBuild our selves. It turned out to be a very good thing. Build scripting languages like MSBuild give you the power to do pretty much anything you need to build your software in an automated fashion, and it is the core building block for Continuous Integration and development automation in general.
We have for instance used MSBuild scripts to automate deployment to multiple sites and to generate code coverage reports publishable in Team City.
The build is self testing
In my opinion, to be able to automatically verify that features we implemented earlier continue to work throughout the project and beyond, is the single most valuable practice in our profession. Think of how many hours you spend testing the same thing over and over, if you don’t have tests. Start automating testing today, and you do not want to go back.
The automated testing part of Continuous Integration is what really makes it all worth it. Plus, the rapid integration feedback act as a motivator for keeping the test coverage high and not falling for the temptation to get lazy and skip tests. If the coverage drops you can not be as confident that the code is healthy even though the build passed.
My highest priority is unit tests, followed by integration tests. I’ve started to look at acceptance testing and I plan to integrate that in our CI process later.
Everyone commits every day
A short check in-cycle is key to getting value from Continuous Integration. In practice this means that I try to check in as soon as I can describe the change as a check in comment. If I have a hard time describing the change, it’s probably a sign I have done too much, and should have checked in earlier.
An integration machine builds on every commit
We chose to use Team City on our build servers because it was so easy to get started. In my first attempt I installed Team City on my dev machine, created a new project in the web user interface, connected the project to TFS, and hooked it up to build using the Visual Studio .sln-file. It took less than 20 min to get a full Continuous Integration build running on every check in. But it doesn’t stop there, Team City supports every imaginable tool for build automation and is fully extensible.
In previous projects I’ve always felt impeded by a slow and error prone deployment process. A consequence is often that deployment can only be performed by one individual from his or her machine. In my current project I focused hard on getting it automated from the beginning. We have multiple sites that all need to get deployed at once so we’ve set up a build configuration in Team City where anyone on the project at any time can at the click of a button, get the latest from source control, run the check in-tests, and deploy to all servers. Usually this takes no more than a minute.
The secret behind this is the new IIS Web Deployment Tool from Microsoft (also known as MS Deploy). It enables a user without administrator privileges to synchronize the content of a site in IIS. Synchronization is key to making the deployment go super fast since we never need to do a full transfer, only the changes are pushed.