Monday 4 October 2010

Zero-friction deployment: from local to github in one powershell command

Short version:

Code is here, depends on a dll here and here. Allows for a powershell script to upload a file to github.

Long version:

There are one core belief powering this post:

- There should be zero friction in getting a software release out in the open. In the age of build scripts and APIs and everything over http there is no reason a human should be involved in cutting a version except in the decision to make it so.

The main side effect of having very little to no friction in cutting a release is that it happens way more often, since there is no reason not to do it if the code is good to go.

In this particular case, all I lacked was a way to upload a file to github. The packaging was already done, courtesy of psake+write-zip. Having found nothing in the powershell world to do it, I ended up “porting” part of a ruby script.

Github stores files in Amazon’s S3, so there were two steps to uploading a file:
-Telling github that the file exists and getting a token to pass to S3.

-Uploading the file itself to S3 using the token gotten from step 1.

The biggest issue ended up being that WebClient doesn’t handle POST’ing to an url with MIME values, which is what S3 expects in this scenario. Using the underlying *thingie* directly from powershell would bit a bit harder and more prone to errors, so I just used an existing helper to upload the file correctly.

The powershell code that uses it is available here, with another extra dependency on the Html Agility Pack to scrape the downloads page for info on existing downloads.

The function itself (not iet a full commandlet due to lack of time) is upload_file_to_github:

function upload_file_to_github($login, $repo, $api_key, $file, $filename, $description){
    [void][System.Reflection.Assembly]::LoadFrom((get-item "lib\Krystalware.UploadHelper.dll"))
    $full_repo = $login+"/"+$repo
    $downloads_path = ""+$full_repo+"/downloads"
    $post = new-object System.Collections.Specialized.NameValueCollection
    $wc = new-object net.webclient
    $upload_info = [xml][System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetString($wc.UploadValues($downloads_path, $post))
    $post = new-object System.Collections.Specialized.NameValueCollection
    $upload_file = new-object Krystalware.UploadHelper.UploadFile $file.FullName, "file", "application/octet-stream"
    [void][Krystalware.UploadHelper.HttpUploadHelper]::Upload("", $upload_file, $post)

As you can see, it’s just a normal POST to the web to notify github of a new file, interpreting the response as xml to extract needed information for the S3 POST. That one uses the helper to pass the parameters as MIME-encoded values.

I have to say, using xml in powershell was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I wonder if JSON is equally well supported…

Monday 27 September 2010

Blaze-IPP – Design choices and implementation

When I set out to create the support to code commands in IronPython, there were two main guidelines in my mind: simple commands and fast feedback.

Simple commands

Commands should only need to be a name and the definition of execute for the simplest of cases. No imports, just the code:

This is the simplest way to define a command as of version 1.2. As you can see, there’s nothing that isn’t required, and simple shortcuts or expanders could be defined by a simple method

The side effect is that even short or small tasks can be easily automated since there’s no ceremony.

There are two main features to accomplish this guideline:

  • Incrementing the scope with the extra classes and namespaces.
  • Some “smarts” to allow for both methods and classes to be commands.

Adding definitions to a scope is simple, since all we need to do is associate a value to a symbol:

ScriptScope scope = _engine.CreateScope();
scope.SetVariable("BaseIronPythonCommand", ClrModule.GetPythonType(typeof(BaseIronPythonCommand)));
scope.SetVariable("UserContext", UserContext.Instance);

Allowing for both classes and methods is also trivial, since we can filter the values on the scope by type after executing code.

Anything that’s a PythonType for which the CLR type can be assigned to an IIronPythonCommand is a command class.

Anything that is callable and a PythonFunction that doesn’t start with “_” is a command method.

Fast feedback

I shouldn’t need to reload the application just to pick up a new script or a change to an existing one. Blaze should pick up changes from the file system and reload the files as needed.

Here the big issue was locked files when the “file changed” was triggered.

This meant that changed files were placed in a queue, and a timer running in the background pulled files from the queue and reloaded them. If a file is locked, then put it again in the queue.

Monday 20 September 2010

Forked is a database change management library, used by us at weListen to track the changes made to a database in the scope of a project and apply them as needed. It takes a folder full of ordered files containing the change scripts in sql and applies them as needed to a given database. It tracks which changes have been applied in a special table.

We’ve used for quite some time, and were mostly happy with it, except when using it from the command line on the servers. The msbuild task worked well to obtain and apply the changes, but the command line application added extra information to the output that needed to be trimmed before applying it to the server.

Well, it annoyed me enough to fork it from its home at sourceforge to a new place at github.

I refactored to projects a bit, to exclude a direct dependency on NAnt, and added a Dbdeploy.Powershell assembly with 3 commands:

  • Export-DbUpdate, which outputs the scripts that need to be applied. Can write the scripts directly to a file;
  • Push-DbUpdate, which applies the changes to the database (still has a bug when using with SQL Server, as I need to split the resulting script into batches);
  • Select-DbUpdate outputs information about which sets need to be applied;

All of these commands take a path to a config file describing the database type, connection string and table name to store the changelog, and the directory where the actual changesets exist.

Also, instead of mucking about with NAnt as the build script host, I’m using psake. I really can’t stand using xml to describe build steps anymore.

To use it just download the release, and in powershell “import-module Dbdeploy.Powershell.dll”.

Monday 6 September 2010

Anatomy of a command

Creating an IronPython command to launch the command prompt isn’t much, since you can have a shortcut to do just that.
You might have noticed that the command subclasses “BaseIronPythonCommand”. This is an abstract class that implements the basics and just leaves the Name and the Execute method for you to implement:
There’s also an interface you can implement directly (IIronPythonCommand) if you want to assume control of everything.
BaseIronPythonCommand’s implementation is quite simple. Most of it is boilerplate for a Blaze plugin, leaving only the name and execution to be done in the script:

GetName is the name used to invoke the command. It should be something unique and descriptive. A long name is good, and you can teach Blaze a shortcut to it by typing the shortcut and selecting the command on the dropdown box. This teaches blaze about the shortcut.
GetDescription returns a description for the command, to be shown on the line below it on the interface.
AutoComplete returns a completion for the given string. This means you can transform “off” into “office” inside your command.
Execute tells the command the user has selected it. The command returns either a program to execute in the form of a path concatenated with the arguments, null if the command has executed itself.
Any one of these can be implemented in ironpython, although for basic commands you only need to implement GetName (or a property called Name) and Execute.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Tutorial: How to create your own plugins for Blaze-IronPythonPlugins (BPP)

On the first post in this series I presented Blaze IPP, which allows for scripting of a launcher using IronPython. Here I tell you how you can write your own plugins from scratch. It will be a short post.

First of all, I assume you’re already running Blaze with the plugin installed.

Let’s create a new directory under “Plugins” to store our new plugins. This way if any future upgrade on IPP brings an ironpython file with the same name, your plugin will not be overwritten. We’ll call it LocalIronPythonPlugins:


Now, configure IPP to also monitor that directory. Call Blaze, right click on it and in the “settings” open the “Plugins” tab. Select “IronPythonHostPlugin”, “Configure” and add the newly created directory (you can either browse to it with “b” or you can paste the path into the text box):


Now that we have a clean directory to work with, let’s create a file called “OpenCommandLine.ipy”. Open it and add the following code:

As you can probably guess, this will create a new command named OpenCommandLine, and when you select it it will open a new command prompt. IPP is clever enough to know that if a command returns a string, it is a program to be executed.

This is just a simple example to get you started. Since this is IronPython, you can use the entire .Net framework and fetch things from the web, open the registry, connect to a remote host or start a service, to give a couple of examples.

Monday 30 August 2010

Creating plugins in IronPython for Blaze, an application launcher.

Everyone loves the start menu from Windows Vista/7, but compared to Launchy, Quicksilver or any other application launchers it’s a bit anemic. No wonder, since it’s just a search over your start menu and indexed locations.

But even any one of those is a bit lacking in support for runtime extensibility. You can create plugins, but it involves C (or Objective-C in the case of Quicksilver) and restarting the app. Not very friendly for those cases where you just want to pick up the currently selected object and throw it over an scp connection autocompleted from your favorites.

Enter Blaze + IronPythonPlugins. Blaze is a .Net application launcher for Windows that includes a learning facility that tries to complete repetitive tasks for you. IronPythonPlugins is a plugin itself for Blaze that hosts simple plugins written in IronPython.

If you want to try it just download the latest version from here. It includes a version all ready to use. Start the app, call it with Ctrl+Alt+Space and try a couple of plugins:

  • Open windows explorer, select a text file, call blaze and type “edit with notepad2”. If you have notepad2 in your path, it will be launched with the selected file opened.
  • If you use putty (the ssh terminal), “putty <name of session>” will launch putty with that session. Here session is autocompleted, so if you have a session called “”, typing “putty home<tab>” will autocomplete to “putty”.
  • Type “random-text <number>” and your clipboard will have up to <number> random letters. Useful to generate test data.

There are a couple more plugins in the “Plugins\IronPythonPlugins” directory, so if you’re interested in how it’s done, open them in your editor of choice. In the next few days I’ll do a couple of posts on how you can create your own plugins without having to guess from the already existing ones.

If you want to change anything edit the file, save it and Blaze will automatically pick it up, together with any other .ipy file in that directory that has changed. If you open Blaze’s configuration page for the plugin, you can add other directories to search for .ipy files. Useful to keep your personal plugins separated from the “official” ones.

Sadly errors are still only sent to a System.Diagnostics.Debug, so if you edit a file and can no longer use it, open DbgView, edit the file again to force blaze to reload it and be on the lookout for output starting with “Error with file”. There will be a stacktrace telling you what you did wrong.

So, try it, have fun and comment on it. I’d love to hear what other people think of it.

Friday 9 April 2010

Toggling with an IEnumerator and yield.

Instead of using a state variable to jog around and check what is the state of a window, why not just use an infinite collection?

public partial class Admin : Window
        private IEnumerator _toggler;

        public Admin()
            _toggler = Toggler().GetEnumerator();

        public void Toggle()

        private IEnumerable Toggler()
            while (true)
                yield return new object();
                yield return new object();

I wonder if this is a good pattern, or just me being "clever".

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Using ironpython to generate nhibernate mapping files from a fluent configuration

I admit, this is a bit of a goldberg machine, but here's the context:

In my current project we need to store a bunch of events related to some 20 entities. Those events are the same for all entities, and they all need to be stored in the database. We use NHibernate to handle the "talk to the database" part, and fluent-nhibernate to configure the mappings via conventions for the most part. There are some entities which are either manually mapped or have specific overrides for particular cases (manually mapping some entities and automapping others is a mistake I think I'll avoid in the future).

For the most part this setup does wonders. We can add and change our entities and the mappings are generated without we thinking much of it. Since development speed has a larger priority than runtime speed in this project, we don't have much problems with the default mappings that are generated.

Except in the case of those events. Since the events are the same for all the entities, the event classes are open generics. Now, nhibernate can't map open generics, but can map closed generics, which is how we do it. We just iterate through all the types in the assembly that correspond to our entities and map those with fluent. The problem then becomes one of performance. As of now there are about 500 generated classes, and those take a while to discover and map. Since we're using fluent nhibernate to configure it in runtime, this means that each time the app is restarted there's a small downtime (on the scale of about 1 minute). While that's not much for an app in production, while developing one tends to restart the app a bit often. That's a problem in the day to day work.

I used our integration test suite to time the mapping, and on my pc it took about a minute to run. On the other hand, if we already have an .hbm file to feed to nhibernate, we can shave about 30 to 40 seconds. That's less than half the time for a simple trade-off of having to know when to generate the mappings.

To generate the mapping we could have created a new console project to just call the correct methods on our session provider factory, which would be a bit overkill. All we needed was to setup the environment and ask fluent for the mapping file.

And here is something that IronPython shines in.

Just create an .ipy file, add references to the correct assemblies, and since there's a clear separation of concerns (or so we hope), it's easy to configure fluent and ask it to generate the mappings for us. Most of the time you'll use .net code like you do in c# or vb.

There are only a couple of issues here:

- We need to remember to regenerate the hbm files when classes/mapping changes

- We need to remember to recompile both before and after regenerating hbms. Since we're loading the assemblies with ironpython outside of visual studio, the script doesn't know if the assemblies are stale or not.

Most of this can be avoided by having a build server rebuild the hbm files on its own and fail the build if they don't match with the latest in the source control. Of course, we could just have it commit the files, but that's one step I'm not fully comfortable with.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Notes and reflections about the second annual scrum meeting in Portugal

A month ago I attended the second annual Scrum Meeting in Portugal, and ended up taking some notes about two of the presentations.

Here they are, both for the team at weListen, and for the world at large.

Notes on "A Practical Roadmap to Great Scrum:A Systematic Guide to Hyperproductivity" presented by Jeff Sutherland

This was the presentation that changed the way I perceive scrum. Where before I saw scrum as an agile software development methodology like xp, now I see it as a management and process template. This means a team should use scrum and complement it with technical practices. Apart from that, the largest focus to me was on 3 velocity multipliers for teams and 2 required practices for hyper-productive teams.

The 3 velocity multipliers are ready, done and self-organization. Ready and done shield an iteration from churn. A story only enters development when it is ready, and by the end of the sprint it should be done. Ready means that the story is understood and sized by the team with input from the client, and done means the same story is tested and approved to be deployed. Self-organization ties nicely into the two required practices mentioned: talk about problems and fix the same problems.

Two classes of problems mentioned: bugs that take more than 8 hours to fix, and stories that take more than twice the calendar time than estimated ideal time. For each bug or story in this situation, do a root cause analysis to figure out the underlying problem. This can be multitasking (a dev assigned to several projects), final inspection or testing done too late or interruptions and form the basis of an impediment list for the team together with the product owner and scrum-master to solve.

There were several interesting data points mentioned. In a given company, the peak of productivity was measured on 60 hour work weeks in waterfall projects, and on 30 hour work weeks with double story points delivered. This means an productivity increase of about 3 to 4 times. Part of the presentation used Systematic, a dutch software company as the source for several data points for scrum teams. They noticed a linear scale in developer productivity for project sizes, going against Brook's Law, although I think the Law mentioned adding people to an already late project, and didn't mention scale. They apparently implemented scrum using Mary Poppendieck's lean tools as described in her book.

Some "required truths" about hyper-productive teams were discussed, and I found them interesting insights. The ones that stuck to my mind the most were:

  • Everyone must be trained in scrum. This is so that all the players follow the same playbook and the concepts and practices are well understood.
  • Backlog must be ready to implement before the sprint, and done by the end (tying into the concepts of ready and done mentioned earlier) .
  • Pair immediately on a task if there's only one person capable of handling it, to avoid bottlenecks in the throughput.
  • Short sprints (often just one week)
  • Servant leadership, where the product owner and scrum-master are a resource of the team, instead of using the team as a resource.
  • No multitasking. This one I'm a bit curious as to how realistic it is, considering maintenance work, and teams with many past projects.

Overall it was a very interesting presentation. There are several videos on youtube with Jeff Sutherland about scrum. This one is very similar to the one I saw.

Notes on "Scrum and TFS 2010" by Mitch Lacey

This was mostly a storytelling and demo about new features in TFS. I did end up asking Mitch about the importance of accounting for time originally estimated, time in task and time remaining for small and recent to scrum teams, as to me it seemed a bit too much bureaucracy for a small team. The answer was enlightening, since those numbers are particularly important for those teams as a way to surface problems (either with estimation, delays, interruptions or other causes). This means I might start looking into accounting for such numbers. "You can't manage what you don't measure". When a team gels and is proficient, the numbers may not matter as the team starts getting into the groove and noticing impediments becomes intuitive.

Sunday 24 January 2010

OCD and filenames, as pertaining to TV series

I like all my file names to be similar, and this applies to both mp3 and series. For mp3 I use the wonderful foobar2k to tag and rename files, but for series I ended up coding my own formatter. All this assumes a linux system (as is my home server, flatline)
First of all, to extract the video files from the rars:

find -name "*rar" -type f -exec rar e {} \;
This extracts all rars from under the current directory (and subdirectory) into the working directory.
If the files already come uncompressed, but are in subdirectories:
find -name "*mkv" -type f -exec mv {} . \;
Replace mkv with avi if that's what you've got.
Now, sometimes the files come in different formats. Some have [season][episode], others [season]x[episode], and I'd like for them all to be in the same [title]S[season]E[episode] format.
For that all you need is the following python script:

It can take 2 arguments: the directory where the file names are, and a title that overrides the one found in the file names. Hope this is helpful for someone else :)

Sunday 3 January 2010

Just replaced the fan on my laptop

For a couple of months my macbook's fan has been a bit on the fritz. Sometimes when the CPU got a bit hot it started making some noises and once in a while stopped working completely.

The repair would most likely cost me about 100€ (50 for the fan, 50 for replacing it), so I decided to look up if anyone sold those. Thankfully a store in Hong-Kong does, and they ship international (they're called eeshop). It took a while to get here (a month and a half, perhaps) but for 10€ that's not a big issue. I did ask after a while if it was supposed to take so long, and answer was prompt (apparently the postal office was swamped).

Opening the laptop was another issue. First attempt failed when some of the screws were a bit too small for the screwdrivers I was using, so today I went and bought a new set with a better grip. After removing the screws, I just had to take care to remove the connection for the trackpad and slide the keyboard left to remove it. Opening it gave me access to the internals as you can see on the left. Replacing the fan was a matter of just removing the connector, two screws and taking it off. The right screw was hidden under some cables, but gently pulling them off gave me access to remove it.

I do have to say, putting it all back again was a bit difficult, since on the right hand there are some "hooks" that you need to slide the keyboard plate into, and that wasn't trivial. Other than that it was easy.

And now my laptop doesn't scream anymore when hot! And it cost me just about 15€ plus an hour and a half. Yay.