Binary Dependency Builds
[ vmassol ] 10:44, Wednesday, 12 January 2005

The concept

The typical local builds that developers run on their machines work by building the subproject they're working on but also all the dependent subprojects it requires. Usually, as building all dependent subprojects takes a lot of time, the developer infrequently checks-out other project sources and build them on demand. His focus is on his subproject that he's making modifications to (and rightly so!). This strategy has the following drawbacks:

  • Setting up the build on a new fresh machine is complex and takes time. Indeed you have to check out all the top level project sources and build all projecets one by one until you reach the subproject you're concerned with.
  • It doesn't scale too well. Your local build starts taking tens of minutes which does not encourage running it that often. And if you do, you don't rebuild all the subprojects even though there are probably lots of changes that have been made by other coworkers. Thus, you're increasing the possibility of an integration break (breaking your other coworkers when they integrate your changes).
  • When someone from another team inadverently breaks your project's build, you'll have to switch context (i.e. stop what you're doing) and help out to restore the master build. If this happens unfrequently, it's probably fine and even positive (as it increases team collaboration ;-)). However when it happens frequently (which is bound to happen as the team grows), you'll start suffering from it...

Because of all these problems, I have been using a different approach on my current project for the past 2 years. This was mostly motivated by the fact that the project is a big project (close to 100 developers) and we were hitting the issues mentioned above. I have called this strategy "Binary Dependencies Build". If you're interested this is an approach I have presented both at TSSS2004 and at Javapolis 2004.

Here is how it works (click on image for a larger picture):

Imagine that you have a "trading" subproject that depends on 2 other subprojects ("partners" and "referenceData"). The idea is that your local build will NOT build them from sources but instead will download their latest version that work from a remote artifact repository (a location where the result of the subproject build is located). In order to accelerate even further the build, the versions downloaded are stored locally. In our example, the latest "partners" jar is already available locally and is thus not downloaded but the "referenceData" one is not. It is downloaded and then stored locally. The "trading" subproject is built using these binary dependencies.

This is all fine but there is a burning question: How do I do continuous integration with such a system? Won't the binary dependencies be old versions when I get them? The solution to this is to have a continuous build server that continuously build subprojects and puts their artifacts in the remote repository. Note that there are put in the repository only if their build passes with no errors. This ensure that there are always fresh versions available and that they are as "good" as they can get.

Doing it with Maven

The good news is that this feature is built in Maven. Maven implements this support of artifact repositories (local and remote) and it supports the process of automatic download of artifacts not available in the local repository. Usually Maven will verify first in the local repository if the artifact's version exists and if so will use it. However, if an artifact's version contains the "SNAPSHOT" keyword, Maven will always check if there's is a more uptodate artifact in the remote repository. This allows implementing easily the strategy defined above.

Conclusion

We've been very happy with this solution so far. I think there are 2 key points in making this work:

  • A good build that provides assurance that the binary artifacts are working. Indeed we've experienced that our subproject build was not always good enough to qualify how "good" was a jar artifact. This was usually caused by the non-existence of automated functional tests which meant that even though the build was passing the jar was not working when executed on the developer's machine. The solution is of course to include integration/functional tests in the build (at least the master CI build).
  • A quick master build. It's important that it generates fresh jar artifacts as quickly as possible so that CI can happen as often as possible.

Comments

So on the CI build, you perform a jar:deploy AND jar:deploy-snapshot so the local builds are just dependant on SNAPSHOT? How does the 1.0-SNAPSHOT version work into this? When a new version is released, do you change all deps to 1.1-SNAPSHOT?

--Jeff Brekke, January 13, 2005 08:22 PM

What happens if we want to build the 'Big' project from sources without binary dependencies? What about circular dependencies? when one sub-project depends on other sub-project

--Zachi Hazan, May 30, 2005 05:33 AM
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