A software build is an overloaded term that can be used to mean the process of compiling source code into some desired artifacts or to mean the artifact itself. These artifacts produced can range from binaries to documentation.
Software builds are a part of the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and are normally done when a particular milestone is achieved, such as a release or audit. The process of creating builds can be done manually or using automated tools.
Many organizations incorporate automated build tools in their development. However, this does not invalidate the use of manual build processes. They are particularly useful when carrying out complex tasks that may not necessarily be done in an iterative framework.
In this tutorial, we’ll focus on the automated building process.
2. Types of Software Builds
2.1. Full Build
This requires compiling every object from scratch. It’s necessary to ensure that all the code runs properly.
Full builds can be slow to achieve. In some cases, they could take minutes to finish. Some ways to tackle this issue is through parallel execution, e.g., building and testing simultaneously.
2.2. Incremental Build
This involves compiling only the objects that have changed and those that reference them. This process relies on the previous build and adds on it. For that reason, it’s faster than a full build.
Incremental builds can be done through content-aware hashing and also the use of timestamps.
However, it does come with some challenges. Sometimes, the build framework may not be able to correctly register all changes, for example, in the instance of a file deletion.
3. Build Tools
Build tools are software that automates the process of compiling, testing, and packaging software. These tools are used to implement development workflows in CI/CD pipelines.
Some of the most popular build tools are Travis CI, Make, and Maven.
Notably, Travis CI supports over 30 programming languages. Make only supports C/C++, while Maven is a popular tool for Java applications.
3.1. Why Do We Need Build Tools?
- Processes are less error-prone. Due to the predictable and repetitive nature of the setup, we can catch bugs and code failures early
- Faster development. These tools automate a number of standard procedures in the DevOps process. For example, with build triggers, we can automate checks for code formatting. If a commit doesn’t meet the set criteria, it will automatically be rejected without requiring a human to first go through it
- They facilitate packaging software into deployable formats, e.g., WAR (Web Application ARchive) files, bytecode, and binaries. This comes with numerous benefits, such as ease of distribution and control over the installation process
- Foster collaboration. Most of these tools define a standard directory structure & best practices. This eases collaboration & maintainability since all the team members know the standard place where files must go. This is key for managing the product when it comes to big projects
- Automated tests. This software provides unit tests, integration tests, and regression tests for your code
- Job Logs. For every build, there’s an accompanying log. This enables developers to know at which build number an error first occurred and which ones were okay. This simplifies the software management process. In particular, debugging becomes easier
In this article, we discussed the definition of a software build as well as the reasons to use frameworks for it.