the most developers are not particularly interested in and indeed can’t work out how to do properly. It is well worth someone investing the time to learn the intricacies of your particular build tool and learning how to write this, or alternatively to bring in an experience external consultant. The granddaddy of build tools is Make and for many years it pretty much had the field to itself. Some pretty arcane syntax and the dreaded tab/space problem have caused much tearing of hair over the years. Enhanced versions such as Gnu Make are quite a bit nicer to use and there are some excellent articles showing the power of this by John Graham-Cumming at CMCrossroads.
Other alternatives that have surfaced over the years include Jam, Scons and more recently the XML based Ant and its .Net equivalent Nant. Vendor specific solutions include OpenMake, ClearCase Make with its wink-in technology to avoid rebuilding what someone else has recently done, and Microsoft’s upcoming MSBuild – another XML based tool. There are a number of discussions as to the suitability of XML as a human-readable description of such systems, and it will be interesting to see how this area develops in the future.
Incremental Build Case Study
One of the authors implemented a system based around Jam which has worked very well since first being implemented 8 years ago. While not exactly being an agile environment, the principles apply!
The system consisted of over a hundred executables that were running on a VAX/VMS system. Subsequently this was migrated to Alpha/VMS and then flavours of Unix. The basic build scripts (which the developers needed to maintain), were very simple and just listed source files and libraries for each executable. These changed very little during the migrations between operating systems. The nitty gritty rules as to how to build files and do dependency checking (including operating system specifics) were maintained by 1 or 2 people – others didn’t need to know.
Prior to this system, a hard coded set of batch files were used to build things. This included no dependency checking at all – for incremental builds people just need to know what they wanted and ensure that everything was built in the appropriate order (the build worked OK for the full system builds, though changes in dependency ordering caused problems). The full system build took around 8 hours which came down as the machines got faster.
Since developers typically worked on 1 or 2 executables at a time, with a few source files, they hacked up batch scripts just to build the individual executables. The process was time consuming and error prone, particularly the first time you wanted to build one you hadn’t done before.
The Jam based system did full automatic dependency checking and used the same scripts that the full system build used in order to build individual executables, just supplying the name of the required executable as a command line parameter. The trick was to use the equivalent of search paths so that any local source code was used if present, otherwise a central shared read-only snapshot was used (so that people didn’t have to have the full source code present in their workspaces if they didn’t need it).
The advantage of this was that there was only one place that people needed to maintain the contents of individual executables – the system build script. Various libraries were constructed as necessary and linked in to the appropriate executable.
In a new (clean) workspace, the first time you tried to build an executable all the appropriate libraries would be built and