Haskell and Continuous Integration

October 19, 2012

GravatarArash Rouhani

Continuous integration is about keeping your code base in shape and to never let it degenerate. This is done through setting up a CI service that will instantly build your project and run the tests once the code base changes. All projects, in particular those with more than one developer, will benefit from continuous integration. But is it worth the trouble in setting it up and maintaining it? If you answered no, this post might change your mind.

Software alternatives

Jenkins CI and Travis CI are the two continuous integration servers I've been playing around with. They both have their pros and cons and hopefully after reading this blog post you'll be able to pick the one that best fits your project.

I'll be keeping my advice general to Haskell projects using the typical cabal setup. But since this is the Yesod blog I'll include a section related to that too.

Travis CI

Travis is a free CI service for open source projects hosted on GitHub and it integrates well with GitHub. Travis launched in 2011 but Haskell support were not added until March 2012.

The build agents seem to be quite fast but the maximum build time is limited. This can be an issue for Haskell packages that have heavy dependencies like the yesod-platform. Furthermore, Travis is still quite new and outages can happen or Travis might just decide to decrease the build times, the current alloted build times seem to between 8 to 20 minutes depending on which build step is running. Currently Travis only supports public repositories hosted at GitHub.

Here is a list of great features of Travis:

  • Extremely easy setup for Haskell
  • Supports all your public repos and your organization's public repos!
  • When somebody does a pull request, it will build those patches and it integrates well into the GitHub web interface. Read more
  • Want build results to be announced in your favorite irc channel? Travis has many cool notification setups. Check out all the ways you can configure Travis!

Jenkins CI

Many Haskellers already use Jenkins for their CI needs. To get Jenkins running you have to install it on your own server. Jenkins is a large Java project. There is an incredible amount of open source plugins for it, including both Git and darcs Integration. Setting up Haskell projects is quite easy. I've maintained the build server for Yesod for over a year now and I've seldom needed to update the Jenkins configuration of that server.

Here is a list of great features of Jenkins:

  • You don't need to use GitHub nor Git and you don't need to clutter your repo with a .travis.yml file
  • There are plugins for most things
  • Flexibility, you can add workers if you have many projects and you feel that Travis is congested
  • Jenkins can configure to your needs. In the Yesod world we've set up the yesod project to be a post build of wai, persistence and shakepeare. That enables continuous integration across dependent projects
  • Jobs can start in any environment. Travis always run from clean environments. This isn't always desired. In general you only want to build your project and not it's dependencies. Fast builds is a good CI practice!
  • Jenkins is community driven

Some aftermath

So for a long time there have not been any popular continuous integration hosting sites like Travis, so people had to host the CI service themselves. As for source control hosting, Git became widely recognized around 2007 and the GitHub source hosting site launched a year after. Continuous integration is a software engineering term coined in 1999. Two popular CI services, Hudson and Teamcity, seem to have been released roughly around 2006 and now Travis have come along to simplify continuous integration by hosting the actual build workers. The reason that hosted CI for open source projects took longer to appear could be that more expensive computer resources are required (computation instead of storage), also the sandboxing technology and such might have made it more complicated. In either case, Travis is free for us but it does cost money, therefor a donating option is available.

Setting up the build steps

Luckily, there is almost nothing you need to know when setting up your Jenkins jobs or your Travis configuration. For Jenkins, just have a "Execute shell" step where you enter the commands you use to build your package, typically something like cabal configure && cabal install. For Travis the default steps work for most projects, that is, you only need to specify that you use Haskell.

CI for Yesod sites

A Yesod site package can use the general Haskell setup. If you happen to use the yesod-platform meta package, you will need this trick in your build step to ensure that the meta package gets built before the other dependencies.

Conclusion -- which CI software should I use?

If your project is open on GitHub and have few dependencies and get a lot of pull requests, then Travis is ideal for you. However, for a closed project not using Git in a company that already has a Jenkins cluster, Jenkins fits better.

There are of course other CI services as well. Some with Haskell support! For instance, somebody have created a cabal plugin for TeamCity.

What's next?

The only thing left now is for the Haskell community to slowly start to adopt continuous integration in open source projects wherever possible. I've started slow myself. If you use GitHub, pick any of your Haskell projects, register it for CI at Travis, add your .travis.yml file and add the build status image at the top of your README. It will be appreciated by the community!

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