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Software Configuration Management Best Practices: Defining a Build

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If you do not think it is worthwhile to spend resources on a good build process, your product will not be successful. This chapter will teach you not only how to design a good build process, but also why it is so vital to your project to do so.
This chapter is from the book

Philosophy: The build is a piece of software and should be treated as such. The build is among the most heavily used and complex pieces of software in the development group and should be treated as such. —Danny Glasser, Microsoft developer in the Systems Group, March 9, 1991

The first thing we should do is define what a build is. What Danny describes in the previous quotation is important. The purpose of a build is to transform code written in any computer language into an executable binary. The end result of a software build is a collection of files that produce a product in a distributable package. In this case, package can mean a standalone application, Web service, compact disc, hotfix, or bug fix.

If you do not think it is worthwhile to spend resources on a good build process, your product will not be successful. I have been on a couple of product teams at Microsoft that have failed, and I have seen many others fail because they were not able to consistently build and test all of the product’s code. I also see this at customer sites when I am reviewing their build process. The companies that have clean, crisp, reliable build and release processes are more successful than the ones with ad hoc, insufficient processes.

The Two Types of Builds: Developers and Project

I like to say that there are really only two types of builds: ones that work and ones that don’t. Seriously, though, when you’re shipping a product, you should consider these two different types of builds:

  • Developers’ (local machine builds)—These types of builds often happen within an editor such as Visual Studio, Emaqs, Slick, or VI. Usually, this is a fast compile/link of code that the developer is currently working on.
  • Project (central build process)—This type of build typically involves several components of an application, product, or a large project, such as Windows, or in some cases several projects included in a product, such as Microsoft Office.

The developer’s build process should be optimized for speed, but the project build process should be optimized for debugging and releases. I am talking about optimizing the process, not compiler or linker optimization switches. Although speed and debugging are important to everyone who is writing code, you must design a project build process to track build breaks and the offender(s) as quickly as possible because numerous people are waiting for a build to be released. For a developer, what seems to be most important is clicking some type of Build and Run button to make sure the code compiles without errors and then checking it in. For the build team, building without errors and having the ability to track down the person who broke the build is the most important thing.

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