Andrusiv A. Role of build automation tools in software development // International scientific journal "Internauka". — 2018. — №14.
Student of the Faculty of Informatics and Computer Science of the
National Technical University of Ukraine
“Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute”
ROLE OF BUILD AUTOMATION TOOLS IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT
Summary. The process of turning source code into executable application is a hard and timewasting experience. In big projects which use databases and a lot of external libraries it is nearly impossible to keep track of all dependencies there are and tests that code must pass trough. That’s why build automation tools exist. The article overviews and analyzes popular methods and tools used for build automation.
Key words: build automation, continuous integration, software testing, maven, gradle, gulp, bazel.
Introduction. Build tools are utilities that automate all task needed to create executable application from code. Build automation cycle includes different tasks depending on the tool, but basic tasks are :
Optionally build cycle can also deploy ready-to-run project on a platform and create project documentation .
Why do build tools exist?
Really small projects that doesn’t use any external libraries can be easily build without using any building tools, but as soon as some external libraries or media/text files are included, or tests must be executed, developer will start having troubles following all dependencies, including files in the right spot, and making sure that ready application will pass all the tests needed. Using a tool in big projects allows the build process to be executed in right sequence and with right dependencies, and in general to be more consistent, saving time, money, and developers from going insane.
Types of building tools :
They usually called continuous integration servers. Continuous integration is the idea of merging all working copies to a shared main branch, and then executing building on daily basis to discover problems as quickly as possible. The main idea of CI is to reduce number of mismatches caused by a lot of people committing to the same project. It does that by making a new build and running tests each time one of the developers commits. The longer main branch of code remains checked out, the greater risk of conflicts. So CI servers try to rebuild projects as frequently as possible.
Here some examples of building utilities:
Here is an example of Maven pom.xml file used in Java project :
<project xmlns="http://maven.apache.org/POM/4.0.0" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
<description> HelloWorld </description>
The downsides of Maven is that it is hard to learn at first and it is not as flexible as some other building tools due to pom file restrictions. And another downside is that if all dependencies are downloaded from a repository, some of newer open-source libraries could not yet be there, and in that case you have to ether wait or to add them to your project build manualy.
Gradle is a bit more flexible allowing developer to change build cycle of application almost completely. So Gradle can be used in large services and multi-projects builds. But while being able to work on more difficult projects, Gradle builds faster due to incremental builds, were it determines which parts of a project are updated, so parts of a build cycle that depend only on them don’t have to be re-run.
Due to heavy influence of Maven, Gradle basic plugins are focused on Java. But a lot of other languages and projects are supported too.
Gradle is using build.gradle file as instruction which is based on Groovy instead of XML, so this leads to smaller files with less “garbage” which are easy to read and change.
Here is an example of build.gradle file :
apply plugin: 'java'
baseName = 'Internauka'
version = '1.0'
Bazel is similar to Gradle, it is based on Ant and Maven, and it builds applications using a set of rules which are not created using XML. Bazel uses Skylark language to create instuctions ( a subset of Python ) . Bazel downloads dependencies from a large pull of repositories. And in the same way Gradle does it, Bazel re-builds only parts of the project that was changed and which will be affected by those changes. So overall Bazel is just a more refined Gradle for Google needs. It is easily extendable due to Skylark language, and can use projects build by differend utilities as a repository, so Bazel can use almost every bit of code that is out there.
Nowadays there is a lot of tools that need to be compiled.
Each file is loaded with a minimum of 20-100ms per request, and the file size does not metter.
All of this is lowering the performance and making the client wait.
That’s where building tools come in, in front-end they are oriented to improve performance of a web page. So what exactly this tools do?
Developers need to have a particular way of structuring code and way of naming functions and numbers that are “must have”, because it is a lot easier to read and understand code in this way. But for a machine, it does not matter if you name variable “A” or “SecondPageCartIncrementationFlag”, and we can cut out all the spaces unnecessary for a machine, etc. So we can minimize that and decrease the file sizes.
After loading a file this tools can generate a hash and add it to the files that are already loaded, so when next page starts loading it will see the hashes and load only new files.
The main differences between grunt and gulp is that gulp is the more recent one, meaning that it was developed considering all the up and downs of grunt. Tasks in Gulp work using streams instead of files, like grunt does, so it does not need to wait until one file finishes its work to work with another, so Gulp contacts with a file system only in the beginning and at the end of its work.
Another difference is in configuration files, while Grunt files look more like JSON then JS, Gulp’s files look like a simple clean JS code, which is more understandable in big projects.
We overviewed a few major building tools that used in software development. And analyzed functionality they offer. And to summaries it all.
Co-founder of Gulp:
“Builds can be the most awful sinkhole for teams to waste their time with”.
And that’s exactly why using build automation tools is one of the most important things in software development. Why dig a hole yourself, when there is machines made to do it? So next time you start a project, start it with the right tool.