Build Environment 101

What is a build environment?

The build environment is used to compile the source code in software and application development. Complete and executable software is generated as part of the build. The result is an executable program.

The Build environment is used for central compilation, but not for executing the source code . It is not absolutely necessary for the build environment to be similar to the production environment. But it must provide the dependencies required for compilation.

The term build itself relates on the one hand to the process of creating complete and executable software and on the other hand to the result of this process, i.e. the executable programs and applications as well as their resources. Accordingly, both the process and the finished version are referred to as build.

Almost every software and application consists of several source files. Before they can be executed, they must be converted into an executable construct. This is where the build process comes into play. In most cases, it is common practice to assign a unique build number to identify individual builds.

An exception are open source software solutions where end users tackle the build process themselves. The build number can take the form of simple and sequential numbering. However, it often also includes the version number of the sources used.

For example, a more complex build number is the build number used by Google for Android apps . At the beginning there is the letter that corresponds to the first letter of the code name of the respective Android version (for example O for Oreo). In the further course, in the second place there is a letter code to identify the version status of the source text. After the subsequent date, a code follows in the last place, which is designed continuously and sequentially for each individual build process within the same version and with the same date.

A build and its process

Compiling the source material is the focus of every build . The sources are typically written in programming languages ​​that require the compilation step (e.g. C) or at least enable ( e.g. Python or Java ). The build process primarily includes the provision of suitable and up-to-date sources.

Automation tools also play a major role in the process of a build. For example, steps such as downloading a source code archive or providing the source can be automated. Build tools are also used to ensure consistency in the framework conditions between different builds.

The automation tool ” make “, which comes from the Unix universe, is a program that is often used. Its job is to read a configuration file (usually named Makefile) that contains detailed instructions for the steps in the build process. Here it is possible to make each step dependent on precise conditions, for example on how up-to-date the files are.

For example, this is a great way to ensure that all the steps involved in a build are performed in the correct order. This also serves to reduce additional work if the results or partial results of previous build steps are still up-to-date during the further run.

In addition to this mother of build tools, there are various derivatives for different programming languages ​​on the market. A build tool that has long established itself as the standard for Java and other JVM languages is Maven. A standard for application development in Android is Gradle. Various plug-ins can be used to expand its range of functions beyond the JVM environment.

Basically, there is a separate build tool for almost every language. Or there are specialized plug-ins that build on an existing build tool. Similar to the choice of programming languages ​​or editors or operating systems, there is a large selection available. There is often no consensus among developers about the selection and suitability of build tools.

The end of the build process (partly automated by tools) is marked by the local installation of the generated application (if it is intended for use directly on the target system) or the packing of the files for export.

Importance of the build environment in the software development process

To understand the build environment more precisely, it is important to consider it in the context of other environments or environments that are relevant in the context of software development.

The development environment can basically ( Development -Environment), the staging different environment and the production environment. These can be supplemented by numerous other environments and steps. Often there is also a test environment. The software development environments are supplemented by a quality assurance environment.

The development environment represents a kind of working version of the software or application that is on a secure server or local computer. The staging environment is used to test the applications under the most realistic conditions possible and relies on similar components as the release version. The productive environment is used to use the program in the directly intended use by the customer.

The productive and staging environments largely correspond to one another, if possible. In the productive environment, ideally there are no more changes to be made by the developers. The possibly supplemented quality assurance environment should also be as similar as possible to the productive environment. This optional environment is designed to identify and fix errors or bugs in the code.

Build Environment 101

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