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.

Platform-as-a-Service

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.

Conclusion

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.

How To Remove Friction From Your Version Control Experience

ErrorLast week, I spend several days fixing a bug that only surfaced in a distributed environment.

I felt pressure to fix it quickly, because our continuous integration build was red, and we treat that as a “stop the line” event.

Then I came across a post from Tomasz Nurkiewicz who claims that breaking the build is not a crime.

Tomasz argues that a better way to organize software development is to make sure that breaking changes don’t affect your team mates. I agree.

Broken Builds Create Friction

Breaking changes from your co-workers are a form of friction, since they take away time and focus from your job. Tomasz’ setup has less friction than ours.

But I feel we can do better still. In a perfect Frictionless Development Environment (FDE), all friction is removed. So what would that look like with regard to version control?

With current version control systems, there is lots of friction. I complained about Perforce before because of that.

Git is much better, but even then there are steps that have to be performed that take away focus from the real goal you’re trying to achieve: solving the customer’s problem using software.

For instance, you still have to create a new topic branch to work on. And you have to merge it with the main development line. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to do that.

Frictionless Version Control

version-controlSo how would a Frictionless Development Environment do version control for us?

Knowing when to create a branch is easy.

All work happens on a topic branch, so every time you start to work on something, the FDE could create a new branch.

The problem is knowing when to merge. But even this is not as hard as it seems.

You’re done with your current work item (user story or whatever you want to call it) when it’s coded, all the tests pass, and the code is clean.

So how would the FDE know when you’re done thinking of new tests for the story?

Well, if you practice Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), you start out with defining the behavior of the story in automated tests. So the story is functionally complete when there is a BDD test for it, and all scenarios in that test pass.

Now we’re left with figuring out when the code is clean. Most teams have a process for deciding this too. For instance, code is clean when static code analysis tools like PMD, CheckStyle, and FindBugs give no warnings.

Some people will argue that we need a minimum amount of code coverage from our tests as well. Or that the code needs to be reviewed by a co-worker. Or that Fortify must not find security vulnerabilities. That’s fine.

pipelineThe basic point is that we can formally define a pipeline of processes that we want to run automatically.

At each stage of the pipeline can we reject the work. Only when all stages complete successfully, are we done.

And then the FDE can simply merge the branch with the main line, and delete it. Zero friction from version control.

What do you think?

Would you like to lubricate your version control experience? Do you think an automated branching strategy as outlined above would work?

Visualizing Code Coverage in Eclipse with EclEmma

Last time, we saw how Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) allows us to work towards a concrete goal in a very focused way.

In this post, we’ll look at how the big BDD and the smaller TDD feedback loops eliminate waste and how you can visualize that waste using code coverage tools like EclEmma to see whether you execute your process well.

The Relation Between BDD and TDD

Depending on your situation, running BDD scenarios may take a lot of time. For instance, you may need to first create a Web Application Archive (WAR), then start a web server, deploy your WAR, and finally run your automated acceptance tests using Selenium.

This is not a convenient feedback cycle to run for every single line of code you write.

So chances are that you’ll write bigger chunks of code. That increases the risk of introducing mistakes, however. Baby steps can mitigate that risk. In this case, that means moving to Test-First programming, preferably Test-Driven Development (TDD).

The link between a BDD scenario and a bunch of unit tests is the top-down test. The top-down test is a translation of the BDD scenario into test code. From there, you descend further down into unit tests using regular TDD.

This translation of BDD scenarios into top-down tests may seem wasteful, but it’s not.

Top-down tests only serve to give the developer a shorter feedback cycle. You should never have to leave your IDE to determine whether you’re done. The waste of the translation is more than made up for by the gains of not having to constantly switch to the larger BDD feedback cycle. By doing a little bit more work, you end up going faster!

If you’re worried about your build time increasing because of these top-down tests, you may even consider removing them after you’ve made them pass, since their risk-reducing job is then done.

Both BDD and TDD Eliminate Waste Using JIT Programming

Both BDD and TDD operate on the idea of Just-In-Time (JIT) coding. JIT is a Lean principle for eliminating waste; in this case of writing unnecessary code.

There are many reasons why you’d want to eliminate unnecessary code:

  • Since it takes time to write code, writing less code means you’ll be more productive (finish more stories per iteration)
  • More code means more bugs
  • In particular, more code means more opportunities for security vulnerabilities
  • More code means more things a future maintainer must understand, and thus a higher risk of bugs introduced during maintenance due to misunderstandings

Code Coverage Can Visualize Waste

With BDD and TDD in your software development process, you expect less waste. That’s the theory, at least. How do we prove this in practice?

Well, let’s look at the process:

  1. BDD scenarios define the acceptance criteria for the user stories
  2. Those BDD scenarios are translated into top-down tests
  3. Those top-down tests lead to unit tests
  4. Finally, those unit tests lead to production code

The last step is easiest to verify: no code should have been written that wasn’t necessary for making some unit test pass. We can prove that by measuring code coverage while we execute the unit tests. Any code that is not covered is by definition waste.

EclEmma Shows Code Coverage in Eclipse

We use Cobertura in our Continuous Integration build to measure code coverage. But that’s a long feedback cycle again.

Therefore, I like to use EclEmma to measure code coverage while I’m in the zone in Eclipse.

EclEmma turns covered lines green, uncovered lines red, and partially covered lines yellow.

You can change these colors using Window|Preferences|Java|Code coverage. For instance, you could change Full Coverage to white, so that the normal case doesn’t introduce visual clutter and only the exceptions stand out.

The great thing about EclEmma is that it let’s you measure code coverage without making you change the way you work.

The only difference is that instead of choosing Run As|JUnit Test (or Alt+Shift+X, T), you now choose Coverage As|JUnit test (or Alt+Shift+E, T). To re-run the last coverage, use Ctrl+Shift+F11 (instead of Ctrl+F11 to re-run the last launch).

If your fingers are conditioned to use Alt+Shift+X, T and/or Ctrl+F11, you can always change the key bindings using Window|Preferences|General|Keys.

In my experience, the performance overhead of EclEmma is low enough that you can use it all the time.

EclEmma Helps You Monitor Your Agile Process

The feedback from EclEmma allows you to immediately see any waste in the form of unnecessary code. Since there shouldn’t be any such waste if you do BDD and TDD well, the feedback from EclEmma is really feedback on how well you execute your BDD/TDD process. You can use this feedback to hone your skills and become the best developer you can be.