Disaster Recovery and Trouble-Free Continuous Integration

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We’ve all got our source code in source code control systems (right?) that get backed up on a regular basis (right?) so we can reasonably easily recover from any issues and get right back to coding. You might even have a backup program running on your development workstation so you can restore corrupted files or settings.

Are you backing up your continuous integration server?

“Why,” you might ask, “would I back that up? If I have all of my source in the backed-up source code control system, what else is there?”

It’s something I know I take for granted - the continuous integration build server just being there and working. But ask yourself some questions:

  • If you had to re-create your build server, how long would it take you?
  • If someone modifies your build configuration and messes it up, can you roll back the changes?
  • How easy is it to add or remove a project from your build configuration?
  • How easy is it to set up a brand new build server?

Sure, some of those don’t sound like disaster recovery issues, but by solving some of the issues, you can make your life easier on others.

Here are some tips that might help you make your continuous integration server experience a little more trouble-free. (We use CruiseControl.NET at Corillian, so I’ll use that in my examples.)

  • Check in your build server configuration. Store your build server configuration files (e.g., ccnet.config) in source code control, just like your product source. If you ever have to restore the configuration or roll back a bad change, this will make it vastly easier.
  • Isolate build artifacts from the rest of the server. Put everything that has to do with your build - your source, the build server configuration files, state information - in an isolated folder. If you can, put it on its own logical drive. This will help you in backing up, restoring, and moving to a new server (should you ever need to). You’ll know that all you need for the build server to run is in this one folder; everything else is peripheral.
  • Standardize everything. Your source code repository layout. The build output structure. The format of logs that get generated. Everything. This doesn’t sound like it’d be helpful in easing your continuous integration experience, but it is very helpful. By standardizing your source code repository layout across all the projects you build, it’s far easier to script any large changes to the build configuration. It also makes your configuration files look a lot like copy/paste work with minor substitutions. This ties into the next tip…
  • Generate your server configuration. If you have a standard repository layout, a standard build output structure, and so on, you’re only a step away from using a code generation tool to generate any server configuration you need. We have a small XML configuration file that has the differentiating bits for each project - the location of the source code repository, the name of the project, the version label prefix - and use CodeSmith to generate our ccnet.config file. We use that same XML configuration file and CodeSmith to generate a NAnt script that automatically adds any folders for the projects on the build server and do the initial source code checkout. Using Subversion as our source code provider and tagging after each successful build, we can even script re-creation of the CruiseControl.NET state file for each project. A keen side benefit of all this is that adding or removing a project on the server is as simple as updating the small XML configuration file and regenerating all the config.
  • Build on a virtual machine. If your build server is a virtual machine, you can easily take periodic snapshots of the system and restore the whole system to a previous state. It also allows you to start new build servers easier by cloning a good build server image and creating/generating the configuration for your new projects.

Check out your continuous integration setup. If the server died a horrible death in the middle of the night, how long would it take you to get running again?