Friday, October 9, 2015

Everything I know about Jenkins - Part 1

I have been working with Jenkins for over an year as a user, developer, customization programmer and providing operations support for Jenkins at Blue Shield of California. I started playing with Jenkins by running it on my laptop as a standalone jar. I moved on to running it on Tomcat in a VirtualBox VM. Later, I created reusable a Vagrant box for the same. Then I got hooked on Docker and created a replica of a production Jenkins server as a Docker container.

1. What is Jenkins?
Jenkins is an open source tool that allows organizations to perform continuous integration and continuous delivery (CICD) of all their software applications through automated builds and deployments. The creator of Jenkins is Kohsuke Kawaguchi. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Jenkins conference in San Francisco.

2. Are there other options?
Yes. Teamcity from JetBrains, Bamboo from Atlassian. There may be others and I have not tried them.

3. Do I need any other tools or software to perform CICD with Jenkins?
Yes. Jenkins is just one of the tools needed for CICD. Other tools include, source control, bug tracker, wiki, automated test execution suite, document or artifact storage tool, compilers, archiving software and in some cases infrastructure automation tools like Puppet.

4. What is under the hood?
Under the hood, the source code of Jenkins is written in Java. There is no database. Instead, configuration and build logs are stored on the hard drive. Whenever the Jenkins app is fired up, either as a standalone jar or as a web application deployed on a J2EE container based web server like Tomcat, the app reads configuration and build job information from the hard drive and does a good job of caching everything so there is no performance lag when a user needs to run a job. Also, under the hood, Jenkins was an offshoot of the popular build tool Hudson. Long story.

5. Which version should I use?
Irrespective of the level of experience with Jenkins, the latest or the second to latest LTS version (Long-Term Support) is recommended. LTS versions are most stable, with fewer bugs than the general release versions and as the name suggests, support is provided for a longer term than the general release versions.

6. Does Jenkins integrate with other software?
Yes and it integrates a little too well. There are Jenkins plug-ins for just about any software tool or API that one can install on the Jenkins instance and configure the integration on the Jenkins front end. If there is no plug-in for a particular tool or software that you currently use, building a Jenkins plug-in from scratch is a piece of cake.

7. What is the quickest way to get started with Jenkins?
Download the latest LTS release version from for your operating system and follow the installation instructions. The really quick way of doing it is with Docker. Just execute "docker pull jenkins" on command line or follow instructions on Docker hub.

8. Why would I want to use Jenkins?
a. Automate builds and deployments of software applications
b. Orchestrate a complete cycle to compile code, run unit tests, perform static analysis of code, deploy the code to a test environment, execute automated smoke tests in the test environment and then deploy the code in production if all the prior steps are successful.
c. Or perform each of the above operations separately.
d. Get notified via email if any of the orchestration steps fail.

Jenkins is a Java based tool. The options for customization are limited to the available hardware resources. One can integrate just about any software product to work with Jenkins.

If you anticipate performing a task more than once, "automate it and get it right the first time". Jenkins provides the means to simplify the automation part.