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Developing in "Dirty Trunk"

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I’m going to start a series of posts covering different aspects of DevOps.

Let’s start today with branching strategy called “dirty trunk”. Actually, this is an attempt to avoid branching at all.

The idea is that:

  1. all developers commit their changes directly to master branch or (trunk).
  2. CI server is triggered a build on every commit and resulting artifact is accepted or rejected based on test results.
  3. once all the tests are passed the artifacts are promoted thus making Continuous Delivery (CD) possible.

This is a simple strategy to implement from the Ops point of view. But it requires significant effort from the developers to maintain stability of the build. When tests are failing the disrupting change should be immediately fixed or reverted. We used to practice this strategy for two years, but as the team and number of tests grow it was more and more difficult to keep build stability. Finally we switched to feature branching and it helped with a build stability a lot.

Pros #

  • Easy to understand
  • Simple CI/CD-friendly automation flow
  • Sequential build number from subversion commit number
  • This strategy fits well for both git and subversion

Cons #

  • Requires discipline among developers to not push the changes unless sanity (smoke) tests are passed on local machine.
  • So, there should be sanity (smoke) tests – a subset of tests covering most important functionality. We’ve called them “cookies”: The one who breaks that tests should bring a cookies to the team.
  • Even if your tests passed, maybe somebody has pushed his/her changes while you were running your tests.
  • Keep an eye on the build status after your push, be ready to revert.
  • It may be painful to revert the changes when somebody has pushed a change over a destructing one.
  • As a consequence, build is often broken. We had a dedicated developer who was on duty fixing the build.

Good Practices #

  • Reproducible builds (common practice). It should be always possible to make a build again (e.g. if you lost your artifact repository). If you’re using maven , use maven-release-plugin to increment version, commit, push and set a tag on this version. Later you’ll be able to find a version by tag or create a new branch from the tag.
  • Make a build in one step (remember p.2 from Joel Test).
  • Don’t rebuild artifacts. It saves time and ensures that you’re deploying and testing the same artifact.
  • Tag good commits: make a tag once tests passed (maven-release-plugin can do it for you).
  • Automatically promote good build (Continuous Delivery)
  • Implement auto-revert changes on test failure. At least if there are no newer commits.
  • Make build and run tests in parallel on multiple build agents. This saves time a lot.

I can recommend this strategy only when your team is small and disciplined and you can run all tests locally before commit, so you’ll unlikely break a build. With a poor random tests it leads to fragile codebase and takes a lot of time to support.

Recommended reading: Paul Hammant’s blog

Ideas, suggestions, comments are welcome. Thank you.