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Which Continuous Integration Tool Is Best for Hosted CI?

The development team for the continuous integration platform FaZend.com installed, configured, and maintained leading continuous integration tools, including Hudson and CruiseControl. Find out what they learned about working with the top CI tools.


Continuous Integration (CI) is a popular concept actively exploited by Agile software development teams. The idea, originally formulated by Martin Fowler in September 2000, is simple and at the same time very effective: on a daily basis, a pre-configured automata (CI tool) grabs the latest version of source code from the repository, compiles it, tests, and reports about any problems found. The report reaches all parties involved and triggers certain organizational and management actions. If, at any moment of time, anyone introduces a test-detectable defect into the repository, everybody gets notified on the next day.

At first sight, it appears you can accomplish most necessary CI tasks with a simple few lines of bash script, started every day by cron, for example (assume we're using Subversion and Maven):

cd /home/ci/trunk
svn update
mvn test

Then we can hook this script to crontab with the following two lines (assume it's a Unix-like platform):

* 0 * * * /home/ci/ci.sh 2>&1

Everything will work fine, until you start thinking about more advanced features. For example, it would be nice to have an ability to do the following:

  • To send emails only in case of failure
  • To email different people, depending on their role in the project
  • To store protocols somewhere on the server in order to review them later
  • To enable a Web UI, instead of a plain old SSH terminal
  • To let someone start a new build at any time, not only at midnight
  • To publish online certain HTML reports produced by Maven
  • To enable something else except Subversion and Maven

Hosted Continuous Integration Requirements

You see, we need something more complex than just a small shell script. We need a real CI tool that can automate at least these operations. Such tools have been created during the last few years by different authors. Some of them are open source, others are commercial. Two years ago, my team started to experiment with continuous integration tools for our internal software projects (we do custom programming), and came up to the idea of creating a free hosted platform. We called it FaZend.com. Since we had already invested a lot of our time into installation, configuration, and maintenance of CI tools, it was easy to let other teams use our experience and server resources. Now I will explain the lessons learned.

During the last two years, we have tried three different products and concluded that Hudson is the best choice for our needs. FaZend.com provides a continuous integration service to public audience, so security and reliability are top requirements for us. Compared to the situation where the continuous integration server is used by a single isolated software team, our case is more sophisticated. Our servers build and test products that belong to third-parties, not only to us. At the moment of this writing there are 102 software products being built by our server.

Let me explain what our needs are, since they are not typical:

  • Computer-driven configuration shall be enabled. We don't use Web panel for configuration of CI tools, instead we integrate it with our existing user management server-side system. We need the CI tool to enable its configuration through some reliable and easy-to-understand mechanism.
  • Access control shall be configurable. Since we have our own database of users and we manage their passwords and emails, we need to be able to inject this information into the CI tool.
  • Seamless integration with common SCMs. We have different clients, they use Subversion, Mercurial, Git, and CVS. Maybe in the future we will meet something else, maybe IBM Rational ClearCase. The CI tool should be ready to accept these formats.
  • Business logic shall be easily configurable. Almost every project has its own requirements and needs, from "I want a build triggered twice per night" to "After every successful build we should upload this directory by FTP to this server."

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