Large Scale Continuous Integration


the top. Each box graphs the stability of a given branch in the hierarchy over time. At the top are individual users. They are making changes all day long. Sometimes their work areas build, sometimes they don't. Sometimes the tests pass, sometimes they don't. Their version of the software is going from stable to unstable on a very frequent basis, changing on the order of every few minutes. Hopefully, users only propagate their changes to the next level in the development hierarchy when the software builds for them and an appropriate amount of testing has been done. That happens on the order of once per hour or so, but ideally it happens no less than once per day.

Then, just as individuals check-in their changes when they are fully integrated, the team leader will integrate with the next level and when the integration build and test are done they will merge the team's changes to the next level. Thus, team members see each other's changes as needed, but only team member's changes. They see other team's changes only when the team is ready for them. This happens on the order of several times per week and perhaps even daily.

Changes propagate as rapidly as possible, stopping only when there is a problem. Ideally, changes make it to the main integration area just as frequently as when doing mainline development. The difference is that fewer problems make it all the way to the main integration area. Multi-stage Continuous Integration allows for a high degree of integration to occur in parallel while vastly reducing the scope of integration problems. It takes individual best practices that we take for granted and applies them at the team level.

Distributed Integration
All of the reasons that make Continuous Integration a good idea are amplified by distributed development. Integration is a form of communication. Integrating distributed teams is just as important as integrating teams that are collocated. If you think of your teams as all being part of one giant collocated team, and organize in the same manner as described in the section on Multi-stage Continuous Integration, it will be much easier to coordinate with your remote teams.


Multi-stage Frequent Integration at Litle and Co. 

At Litle, the biggest problem they ran into, as they have grown, was integration of newly developed code into the existing codebase. To address this, in 2007 they added the practice of Multi-stage Frequent Integration to their implementation of XP. They do frequent integration instead of Continuous Integration because a full build/test cycle takes 5 hours.

Prior to implementing Multi-stage Frequent Integration, they would have to manually pore over all build and test failures to determine which change caused which failures. This was done by very senior developers that were familiar with all aspects of the system to be able to understand complex interactions between unrelated components of the system.

Using Multi-stage Frequent Integration, each project works against their own team branch, merging changes from the mainline into their team branch every day or two, and doing their own build/test/cycle with just that team's changes.

Thus, any failure must be a result of one of their changes. When the build/test cycle is successful, the team then merges their changes into the mainline. As a result, any team-specific problems are identified and removed prior to mainline integration and the only problems that arise in the mainline are those that are due to interactions between changes from multiple teams. The isolation also simplifies the job of figuring out what changes may have caused a problem because they only have to look at changes

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