Development Blog

 Saturday, December 22, 2007
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One of the first things we did when we got a dedicated development server was set up a continuous integration server. The natural choice at the time was CruiseControl.NET, so Jacob set off to get CC.NET installed and configured. I can't speak to that experience first hand, but I know it wasn't a fun one. Lots of XML hell and other non-fun issues. The end result wasn't too bad--it'd email us when builds failed with a log, and we could review logs on our CC.NET site. There was really nothing WOW about it--it got the job done. It was frustrating at times because the logs it spat out were difficult to visually parse; it was basically just a verbose msbuild log with a failure mixed in somewhere... and that was if we were lucky enough to get a text log and not have to filter through the build xml log. I'm sure there are some things we could have done to filter that log down, apply xslt to our build.xml to make it more readable, or configure things to be nicer, but I'm also sure it would have involved hard work and more XML hell.

Enter the free Professional Edition of TeamCity 3.0. We'd tried out TC briefly in the past and it seriously lacked in the .NET support arena. Now they tout support for msbuild (2.0 and 3.5), sln files from 2003-2008, and even a nifty .NET duplicate code finder. They also have some pretty slick support for NUnit which I'll get to in a moment.

I decided to give it a shot again, so I set up the TC server on our Ubuntu VM. Why there? Well that's where most of our server tools are: SVN, Mingle, FogBugz and now TC. But wait, aren't we a .NET shop? Yep. The build doesn't happen on our Ubuntu VM. See, TC is set up to have a server + build agents. A build agent is basically a machine that will check out code, do the build when the server tells it to, and report back results and artifacts to the build server. This way you can have multiple Build Agents--different Operating Systems, system configurations, physical locations, etc.

Installing both the Server and the Agent were relatively straight forward. There were a few annoyances with the Agent's configuration (like I couldn't get it to use a network drive as a working directory and it took some tweaking to get things to work with our directory structure,) but after a while I got things up and running.

buildconfiguration Setting up a build configuration in Team City is an absolute breeze. You basically have a 7 step Q&A about your configuration:

  1. General Settings - Name, Description, a few options and the build number format (we use our SVN revision #)
  2. Version Control Settings - You can set up multiple repos to check out with a number of tools (SVN, CVS, Perforce, StarTeam, ClearCase). I'm sure it wouldn't be too difficult to write plugins for Mecurial or Git. You can also tell it where to check out relative to your working directory and whether or not you want it to check out to the agent or on the server and then have the agent download it.
  3. Build Runner - Mainly .NET and Java stuff. No Rake yet, but it supports command line so you could just use that. With MSBuild you just specify your MSBuild file, the target you want to run, and any command line args you need. It's here that you specify your build artifacts as well. Build artifacts are kept along side your completed builds and easily accessible from the TC site.
  4. Build Triggering - You can trigger based on VCS changes, schedule, other build configurations completing, or automatic retry.
  5. Artifact dependencies - This makes it really easy to say you want Build A to use Build B's artifacts. For example, an installer configuration that will build an installer based on the last successful CI build.
  6. Properties and environment variables - Self explanatory.
  7. Agent requirements - Not all your agents can run all your build configurations necessarily. This will let you set requirements. You can set these based on environment variables, machine names, etc.

configs

Once you get things set up, you get to see the really cool stuff. TeamCity is just packed full of nerdgasm features that just work out of the box. No need to scour the web for plugins, deal with XML, or anything like that. Things just work. For example, you get full status of the build while it is happening--you can see what MSBuild step the build is on, you can see the important messages in the Build Log (it filters them quite intelligently), you can even see what threads/processes are running. If you use their NUnit runner you can even see how many tests have passed/failed/been ignored.

testduration That's not all you can see with their test runner though. You also get a full history of each test--how long each test took each time it was run, and if one fails you can see in what build it first failed, if it has been fixed yet, and you can even click to open it in your IDE if you have the Visual Studio plugin failedtextinstalled. The Tests tab even orders your tests by Duration so you have an idea which tests you may need to optimize.

statisticsThen there's the Statistics tab. This tab is a one stop shop for build health. You can see how long the build takes, how often it succeeds, how many tests you have, how many fail and even how big the artifacts are. You can see our build #s jump when we switched from a counter to SVN revision.

If there aren't enough features for you, don't worry, like with most JetBrains products you can extend them to your hearts content. That is if you can stomach the lack of API documentation (surprisingly, normal usage documentation is pretty good). One of our guys is working on a Campfire Notification plugin at the moment so we can get better build notifications in our Campfire. That's another post though.

All in all, we're very happy with TeamCity. It's just as free as CC.NET for a team of our size, it's much much easier to set up, and it has way more features. How could you go wrong? I'm sure its only a matter of time before we start to see rake runners, MBUnit test runners, and many other things to make TC even better. JetBrains has a winner here.