Software Development methodologies

Continuous Delivery With GoCD

This blog outlines our experience moving one of our projects to Continuous delivery Model using GoCD on AWS.

Prior to this implementation our code deployments were manual and on demand. We were looking for automated way of deploying code to various environments with minimal manual intervention. GoCD has continuous delivery as a first-class concept and provides an intuitive interface to start building CD pipelines. We started off with a quick PoC to validate some of our understanding and after initial success, we now use GoCD to define all of our deployment/delivery pipelines.

This move forced us to have comprehensive test suite and work flow defined to set the criteria to promote code in different environments. The change also increased our ability to push more but smaller changes frequently.

Deployment vs Delivery

It is fairly often to see the terms Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment used interchangeably. For some this is a huge distinction and for some this does not matter.

Continuous Deployment provides the ability to automatically release the new features and changes to production quickly as the code is checked-in. This typically means there are no process related gating functions between code being checked in and a release of that software making it to production. The only(simplification) gating function is whether or not the automated test suite has passed. Any code defect will lead to test failures and will force the deployment to fail and stop, so it is important to write integration tests with maximum scenario coverage in order to proceed towards continuous deployment. Continuous Delivery, while similar to Continuous Deployment differs in one major aspect – that automation goes as far as the process within an organization allows – and then relies on human or other approval processes to then deploy to production. Continuous integration and continuous delivery are a prerequisite for continuous deployment. GoCD is a tool which provides us the ability to create pipelines to accomplish continuous delivery.

Now that we have that squared away, let’s look at GoCD and how we can use it in a bit more depth.

Key GoCD Concepts

  • Environment
  • Pipeline
  • Stage
  • Job
  • Task
  • Go Server
  • Go Agent

Each artifact (service) being deployed to various environments in the form of pipelines can form a pipeline group. A pipeline within a pipeline group will deploy the artifact to an environment (like DEV or QA). A pipeline consists of various stages; each stage consists of jobs which execute in parallel and lastly, each job consists of tasks which execute sequentially. Pipelines can be shared among multiple artifact pipelines using a pipeline template”For example, QA pipelines of 2 different applications – ServiceA and ServiceB can share same pipeline template. Environment variables and other properties can be shared between pipelines belonging to same environment in form of GoCD “environments“. For instance, environment variables created in GoCD DEV environment are available to all GoCD DEV pipelines.

Go-Server and Go-Agent are entities which together provide us the ability to form and run pipelines. Go-server allows us to create pipelines, maintain configurations and any addition data which composes our pipelines. Go-Agents take command from Go-Server and execute the stages of pipeline.

Sample Pipeline Workflow

Below diagram depicts the sample workflow created using GoCD tool. Source control system used is subversion and the deployment is on AWS, but other deployments are similar and instructions can be found https://gocd.io website. This workflow shows deployment through 2 environments : Dev and QA. Once the code gets checked-in, it is picked up by the Build stage of DEV pipeline, which is polling for the changes on trunk. Four stages are set up for pipeline on each environment. In DEV follow the order of build, deployment, integration testing and build promotion for next environment. For QA environment, artifact promoted in DEV is used as the material (input to pipeline).

GoCD Server and Agent Installation on AWS

On the AWS server, go to the location you want to download the files and run these commands in order

$ wget https://download.gocd.io/binaries/16.12.0-4352/rpm/go-server-16.12.0-4352.noarch.rpm
$ sudo rpm -i go-server-16.12.0-4352.noarch.rpm
$ wget https://download.gocd.io/binaries/16.12.0-4352/rpm/go-agent-16.12.0-4352.noarch.rpm
$ sudo rpm -i go-agent-16.12.0-4352.noarch.rpm

For simplicity, we are installing go-server and go-agent on the same machine, but it can exist of different servers. Once installed, go-server can be accessed at https://{go-server-ip}:8154/go/

GoCD provides set of commands to start or stop the server and agents which are located in init.d folder. Go-agent and go-server can be controlled using these commands:

$ /etc/init.d/go-agent [start|stop|status|restart]

By default, go process runs as a ‘go’ user. After startup the server can be accessed using these urls:

https://{go-server-ip}:8154/go [secured]
http://{go-server-ip}:8183/go   [unsecured]

If the server is running, you will find a default pipelines page. Also, go-agent is registered and can be located using this url: https://{go-server-ip}:8154/go/agents

If you want to have separate agents addressing different environments, check the agent you want to modify, click environments and make changes.

Pipeline Setup

Access pipelines admin page : {go-server}:8154/go/admin/pipelines

  • Create a new pipeline group, then add pipeline within this pipeline group.
  • Add material information, for DEV pipeline, it should be one or more svn (or other version controlled) artifact. For consecutive pipelines, it should be a pipeline stage from parent pipeline.

  • Add stages – Build, Deploy, Test, Promote (or different based on requirement)
  • Within stages, add jobs and then add tasks within each job.
  • Task can be one of the primary task types from dropdown list, or execute shell scripts using the “Script Executor” plugin.

  • From the home page, click environments and add a new Pipeline Environment if none exists using “Add A New Environment“.

  • Make sure Pipeline Environment has an agent associated with it in order for any pipeline within it to run. Agents can be added via ‘Add Agents’ tab when you create environment or can be managed using ‘Agents’ tab, as shown above.
  • Once environment is create, go to ‘Environments’ tab from home page, and click on the environment created. It appears like this:

  • Environment can have all the environment variables which are shared by pipelines within it. Also, pipeline can have its own environment variables.
  • If the pipeline is to an automatic one, make sure to check the ‘ ‘ box in pipeline edit page. Make it unchecked for manual deploys, and add cron time for time-scheduled deploys. For example, to run a pipeline everyday at 8 am, use this inside edit pipeline timer settings : 0 0 8 * * ? More documentation on using cron timers is here: https://docs.gocd.io/current/configuration/configuration_reference.html#timer
  • New pipeline is by default in paused state. Once pipeline is created, go to pipelines tab, and click ‘pause’ button to un-pause the pipeline.

Extracting Templates from existing pipelines and Creating pipelines from Template

  • If the pipelines are to be reused, go to admin/pipelines page and click ‘Extract Template’ for the template to extract.

  • To use extracted template, instead of creating stages, click “Use Template” when you create a new pipeline.

Plugin Installation

Script executor plugin used above can be downloaded from here. There are lots of other plugins too provided by GoCD.

To install above plugin, download only jar from releases and place it here: <go-server-location>/plugins/external & restart Go Server.

GoCD Directories

Listed below are the default locations.

Go agent/server config:
$ /etc/default/go-agent
$ /etc/default/go-server
Log path:
$ /var/log/go-agent
Go Server location:
/var/lib/go-server/

Adding new user for gocd server access

There are multiple mechanisms to setup authentication with GoCD. We used File based authentication.

Steps to set up file based authentication:

  1. Create a ‘.passwd’ on GoCD server, say /users/go/.passwd
  2. Add users to this file from command line like this:
    $htpasswd -s .passwd username

    The user is prompted for the password. The password will be encrypted using the modified Apache MD5 algorithm. If the file does not exist, htpasswd will do nothing except return an error. -s to force htpasswd to use SHA1.

  3. Go to Admin page, and click on Server Configuration tab.
  4. Under User Management section, find the ‘Password File Settings’ and mention the path  /users/go/.passwd, then click Save.

Managing Disk Space

GoCD usually needs 1GB of free space, absence of which will lead to GoCD complaining about the disk space issues. There are various ways which can help with freeing up the disk space. Below is what we follow :

  • Make sure ‘Clean Working directory’ is checked in all stages (see pipeline->stage->’Stage Settings’)
  • Deleting pipelines folder from /var/lib/go-agent. It is temporary working directory to maintain pipelines data by go-agent.
  • Compressing logs
  • Moving go-server pipeline artifacts config to new location with higher disk space (like a different mount location). Update ‘artifactsDir’ in Admin→Config XML to this location.

Best Practices to adapt CD

  • Do trunk based deployments, and promote same binaries across all environments.
  • When starting a new service or project, develop on the dev branch or feature branch for the group. Merge with trunk when ready, but use trunk when doing any new deployments after that.
  • Merge your branch to trunk frequently, with set of thorough tests. Update the dev branch often with trunk during development. This ensures less time merging with master.
  • Add Tests (unit, integration, smoke, regression, etc.), without tests CD will always put us on risk of promoting builds with bugs.
  • Use manual pipelines/interference only on rare scenarios. Embrace CD as often as possible.

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