Development kaizen: Deployment and testing

I got back yesterday to a still-empty defect list, so I decided to spend the day working on some infrastructure to help my team work more effectively.

Thinking about what could make the most difference in the other developers’ productivity, I decided to invest time into making it easier for them to deploy code to the testing server. I had written a Makefile target that efficiently transferred only the updated files, but the other developers worked on Microsoft Windows and did not have all the necessary tools. I spent the morning writing a web-based interface for them: a password-protected PHP script that displayed a list of recent revisions and allowed people to deploy a selected revision to a separate server. Behind the scenes, it was a mess of bubblegum and string. To work around various limitations, I strung together sudo and suid and rsync and ssh key-based authentication. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I e-mailed instructions to my team members, and they started using it right away.

After solving that problem, I focused on improving our tests. Fixing one bug often led to creating or recreating another, and these regression errors resulted in back-and-forth communication and wasted time. I explored the Simpletest automated testing framework for Drupal, and found out that I could write both unit tests and Web-based tests using the framework. However, I had a hard time figuring out why several of my Web-based tests consistently failed. I found out that the latest version of Simpletest for Drupal 5 did not understand the Location: header, which we use extensively in order to direct people to different subdomains and external sites. I fixed it and wrote a number of tests for one of our key modules. By the time I was ready to pack up and go home, I’d gotten into the swing of writing test cases.

Easier deployment and automated testing go a long way towards making a project almost a joy to work on. I’m glad I spent some time paving the way for my team and for other projects to come. =) Kaizen: relentless improvement.

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