How To Develop Software Using Only SaaS

cloud-codeThe world is fast moving to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and we developers are busy learning how to build SaaS applications.

We can now finally do that using nothing but SaaS applications ourselves.

The Developer’s Toolbox

As developers, we don’t ask for much.

An Integrated Development Environment (IDE) lets us do our main task: writing code. A Source Code Management (SCM) system stores our Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. A Continuous Integration (CI) server pulls our code through hoops that prove it is ready for use. And finally a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or other deployment environment runs our applications.

We are used to running all of these on premises. IDEs like Eclipse or IntelliJ run on our local machines. SCMs like Git or Subversion run on some company server, as does our Jenkins/Hudson or TeamCity CI server. Finally, we deploy to a Paas like CloudFoundry, or to a custom server.

Most of those tools already run in the cloud. For those that don’t, we can easily find good alternatives. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates.

Integrated Development Environments

I’ve written about Cloud9 before. It’s mainly focused on web languages like JavaScript. For Java, Codenvy seems a better choice. For both, you can run the hosted offering, or deploy it in your own data center.

Neither can match a local IDE experience yet, but the gap is closing. On the other hand, they offer some functionality you won’t easily find in locally installed IDEs, like remote pair programming.

Source Code Management

githubGit has taken over the world, and the SaaS version of it, GitHub, is following suit.

Some people even think that your GitHub profile is your resume.

Again, you can use the hosted version (with public or private repositories), or install GitHub in your data center.

Both Cloud9 and Codenvy work seamlessly with GitHub repositories.

Continuous Integration

Jenkins/Hudson is the leader in this space, and CloudBees offers a SaaS version. Other products include Bamboo, Travis CI and CodeShip. Some of these are free for open source projects. Again, there are hosted and on premises versions.

The CI tools support GitHub through public SSH keys for access and commit hooks for starting jobs.


After GitHub, these are probably the most familiar to you: Pivotal CloudFoundry, Heroku, Google App Engine, and Azure. CloudFoundry is backed by many big organizations (including the company I work for, EMC) and seems to be emerging as the leader.

cloudfoundrySome cloud IDEs let you push to a PaaS directly, but I don’t think that’s the right way to do it.

You should commit to your SCM and let CI pick up your changes.

Your CI jobs should be responsible for pushing to the PaaS. Your CI may have a custom integration to your PaaS, or you may have to use something like the CloudFoundry command-line interface to push your changes.


It seems that our entire tool chain is now available as a service, although the IDEs still leave us wanting a bit. Most of these tools are available as open source and can be deployed in your own data center.

Looks like we’re making some progress towards a Frictionless Development Environment!

What SaaS applications are you using for software development? Please leave a comment below.

Removing Deployment Friction With Push-To-Deploy

appengineAt work we use CloudFoundry as our PaaS, but I also like to keep informed about what other platforms do.

Google AppEngine Introduces Push-To-Deploy

Google AppEngine recently added an interesting feature: Push-to-Deploy through Git.

With Push-To-Deploy, you can simply push your code to a Git repository to get your code deployed on AppEngine.

This Git repository is maintained by Google and tied to your cloud account. I guess this is implemented using the post-receive Git server hook.

Push-To-Deploy Removes Friction

What I like about this feature is that it removes some friction from the deployment process: you no longer need to know about how to deploy your application on AppEngine.

Push-To-Deploy inches us closer to a Frictionless Development Environment (FDE). The two most likely candidates to become the FDE of choice both support Git, so it’s easy to use Push-To-Deploy in both Orion and Cloud9.

More Friction Remains

LubricationOf course, this is only a small step and a lot more work needs to be done before we really have an FDE.

In my ideal world, for any change that I make the FDE would automatically run the tests and code checkers in the background and, when successful, push the changes to a development branch to make them available for my co-workers.

To make this efficient, only tests that could potentially have been impacted by the changes would run, and they would run in parallel in the cloud. When specified criteria are matched, changes on the development branch would propagate to master and, using Push-To-Deploy, to production.

Although this is all far far away, every step is to be applauded, and I hope other PaaS providers will follow Google’s example.

What Do You Think?

Do you use Google AppEngine? Git? Would you use Push-To-Deploy? Would you like to see a similar feature in CloudFoundry or another PaaS?

Please leave a comment.

Adventures in JavaScript: Getting Started

Node.jsOne of the high potentials for a Frictionless Development Environment (FDE) is Cloud9.

It is one of a growing number of web applications that uses JavaScript as the programming language for both front-end and back-end. The latter brought to you by Node.js.

So I thought it was time to start playing around with JavaScript and Node. Here is an account of my very first adventure into this Brave New World.

Preparations: Adding JavaScript Support to Eclipse

To keep the number of changes low, I wanted to keep my trusted old Eclipse. So the first step was to install Nodeclipse and jshint-eclipse.

To support documentation in the Markdown format that Node uses, I installed the Markdown Editor plugin for Eclipse.

This left me with nothing for unit tests. So I installed the JavaScript tools from Eclipse. That gave me some JS support, but nothing for creating unit tests.

Some googling told me there is such a thing as JsUnit, the JS port of my beloved JUnit. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to come with Eclipse support, even though this thread indicates it does (or did).

JsTestDriverMaybe I’m just doing it wrong. I’d appreciate any hints in the comments.

Some more googling informed me that Orion is using JsTestDriver.

This introduction to JsTestDriver explains in detail how it works.

First Exercise: Roman Numerals

Now that I’m all set up, it’s time to do a little exercise to get my feet wet. For this I picked the Roman Numerals kata.

I started out by following this JsTestDriver example. I created a new JavaScript project in Eclipse, added src/main/js and src/test/js folders, and created the JsTestDriver configuration file:

server: http://localhost:9876

  - src/main/js/*.js
  - src/test/js/*.js

Next, I opened the JsTestDriver window using Window|Show View|Other|JavaScript|JsTestDriver and started the JsTestDriver server. I then opened the client in FireFox at

The next step was to create a new run configuration: Run|Run Configurations|JsTestDriver Test. I selected the project and the JsTestDriver configuration within the project, and checked Run on Every Save.

Now everything is set up to start the TDD cycle. First a test:

RomanNumeralsTest = TestCase("RomanNumeralsTest");

    = function() {
  var romanNumerals = new TestApp.RomanNumerals();
  assertEquals("i", romanNumerals.arabicToRoman(1));

And then the implementation:

TestApp = { };

TestApp.RomanNumerals = function() { };

    = function (arabic) {
  return null;

I completed the rest of the kata as usual.


The cool thing about JsTestDriver is that it automatically runs all the tests every time you change something. This shortens the feedback cycle and keeps you in the flow. For Java, InfiniTest does the same.

The problem with my current tool chain is that support for renaming is extremely limited. I got Operation unavailable on the current selection. Select a JavaScript project, source folder, resource, or a JavaScript file, or a non-readonly type, var, function, parameter, local variable, or type variable.

Other refactorings do exist, like Extract Local Variable and Extract Method, but they mess up the formatting. They also give errors, but then work when trying again.

All in all I feel satisfied with the first steps I’ve taken on this journey. I’m a little worried about the stability of the tools. I also realize I have a more to learn about JavaScript prototypes.

Bridging the Client-Server Divide

webapp-architectureMost software these days is delivered in the form of web applications, and the move towards cloud computing will only emphasize this trend.

Web apps consist of client and server parts, where the client part has been getting bigger lately to deliver a richer user experience.

This split has implications for developers, because the technologies used on the client and server parts are often different.

The client is ruled by HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, while the server is most often developed using JVM or .NET based languages like Java and C#.

Disadvantages of Different Client and Server Technologies

Developers of web applications risk becoming either specialists confined to a single part of the stack or polyglot programmers.

Polyglot programming is the practice of knowing and using many programming languages. There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with polyglot programming. I believe the overriding disadvantage is the context switching involved, which degrades productivity and opens the doors to extra bugs.

Being a specialist has advantages and disadvantages as well. A big disadvantage I see is the “us versus them”, or “not my problem” culture that can arise. In general, Agile teams prefer generalists.

Bringing Server Technologies to the Client

Many attempts have been made at bridging the gap between client and server. Most of these attempts were about bringing server-side technologies to the client.

GWTJava on the client has failed to reached widespread adoption, and now that many people advice to disable Java applets altogether because of security reasons it seems increasingly unlikely that it ever will.

Bringing .NET to the client has likewise failed as Silverlight adoption continues to drop.

Another idea is to translate from server to client technologies. Many languages can now be compiled to JavaScript. The most mature effort is Google Web Toolkit (GWT), which translates from Java. The main problem with GWT is that it supports only a small subset of Java.

All in all I don’t feel there currently is a satisfactory way of using server technologies on the client.

Bringing Client Technologies to the Server

So what about the reverse? There is really only one client-side technology worth looking at today: JavaScript. The only other rival, Flash, is losing out quickly due to lack of support from Apple and the rise of HTML5.

Node.jsJavaScript on the server is starting to make inroads, thanks to the Node.js platform.

It is used by the Cloud9 IDE, for example, and supported by Platform-as-a-Service providers like CloudFoundry and Heroku.

What do you think?

If I had to put my money on any unification approach, it would be Node.js.

Do you agree? What needs to happen to make this a common way of developing web apps? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Likely Candidates for Frictionless Development Environments

Last time I reviewed the book on Consumption Economics, which explains how technology companies and their products will have to change to survive the brave new world that we’re entering.

So what would we find if we take the lessons from the book and apply them to our own software development environment? I think the answer would be surprisingly close to what I’ve called a Frictionless Development Environment (FDE) before.

To be honest, I’ve only started thinking more systematically about FDEs after reading Consumption Economics. In Five Essential Components of a Frictionless Development Environment, I’ve laid out the major building blocks of an FDE: cloud computing, big data analytics, recommendation engines, plug-in architecture, and open source.

It may be to soon to expect existing solutions to have all of those, but let’s see where we stand. There are already some cloud development environments. Most of these are geared towards web developers, and offer limited languages (mostly JavaScript). Some offer a big enough range to be interesting to a wide range of developers.

Big data analytics and recommendation engines are big features that are probably not there yet, but could always be added later. What’s more important is to look for a plug-in architecture and particularly for open source. These are fundamental architectural and business decisions.

Using open source as a criterion reduces our list to Cloud9 and Orion. Both have a plug-in architecture. The latter is an Eclipse project, but the former seems more mature. Be sure to follow both Cloud9 and Orion.

So what do you think? Would any of these cloud IDEs work for you? What other open source cloud IDEs are out there?