Working towards a better deployment (Part 3)

So, on the to third part of my little series (part one, part two) on making a shiny new deployment system for our sites. What’s that? Yep, I said sites – plural. I’m working all of this up on a “one site” concept, but in reality we have five or six websites that this process will eventually apply to. They’re all pretty similar, thankfully, and all use a lot of the same libraries. This makes the next step of my little process so much easier – the unit testing.

If you’re not unit testing your code, drop what you’re doing (well, finish this article at least) and go learn as much as you can about it. It can help take that feeling of dread away from your code updates and can help make things go a bit smoother in your deployment. Imagine having an automated way to check and ensure that the results of your scripts/libraries are still working exactly how the should. Unit tests can help you verify that things that should pass the tests still do and that your failures still fail in all the right ways.

One of the more popular unit testing softwares out there is PHPUnit (from Sebastian Bergmann). Its a super-easy way to set up a suite of tests that can be run as a part of your deployment process. The tests run on your scripts with methods corresponding to each of the methods in the target class. You use assertions inside the tests to check for things like pass, fail, true, false, if an array value is set, etc. The methods are called and the output is verified – if everything’s good, the test passed. If there’s a problem (something non-standard) the test fails which can cause the entire build process to fail too.

You can test more than just simple single method calls too. Say you have a class that creates a user by logging them in and setting up a session for them. If your tests require this, you can make the user session in your “setup” method and use the “teardown” method once things are finished to log the user out and destroy any of the resources you might have created.

These unit tests have found a home in my build process right after the lint check on each of the new files. Phing allows you to defne a tests directory for it to look in for any unit tests it should apply. The PHPUnitTask takes care of the dirty work with options to fail the build if the tests have an error and gather code coverage information as they’re tested. You can also set up a PHPUnitReport task to get more information out of your build. This makes reports and, with the help of some XSLT templates, transforms the results into something n bit more human readable.

All that’s really left after this (with the exception of a few other options) is the push of the up-to-date, tested code out to the production server…but that’s for the next article to cover.

Oh, and for those that are wondering, I’m going to be getting to the tech behind all of this pretty soon. Having information about the setup is one thing, but having the actual setup behind it all helps even more. I’m going to go back over all of this from start to finish to show you how it all fits together. Just hang in there with me!

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