What is Release Engineering and why is it important ?

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Releasing software to production is a core aspect of the software development life cycle. How do you make sure that the development process is following the correct release engineering practices while developing the software for their customers? This is where release engineering comes into the picture. These industrial style practices not only contribute to the growth of a company but also are a key factor in enabling growth. In this article, I will talk about the fundamentals of release engineering.

What is Release Engineering?

According to Wikipedia, “Release engineering is a sub-discipline of software engineering that is concerned with the compilation, assembly and delivery of the source code into finished products or other software components associated with the software release life cycle. The output of release engineering is repeatable and gives predictable results, and scales easily. It is the difference between manufacturing software in small teams or start-ups and manufacturing software in an industrial way. Google Inc said that release engineering to software engineering is something similar to manufacturing to an industrial process.

The importance of release engineering and enabling the growth of a technology company has been repeatedly argued. The goal of release engineering to not to restrict any part of software development with a process overlay, rather it is often seen as a sign of organizational and developmental maturity. Below are the core aspects of software production in modern release engineering:

  • Identifiability: You should be able to identify all the necessary tools, environment, and other components that are required for making a product release.
  • Reproducibility: To guarantee operational stability, you should be able to integrate sources, data, third-party components, and deployment externals of a software system.
  • Consistency: The development, deployment, audit, and accountability for software components must have a stable framework to be consistent.
  • Agility: Always researching the repercussions of modern software engineering practices on the software cycle’s productivity. For example, push on green initiatives and continuous integration.

Role of a Release Engineer

Release engineering is often the integration hub for more complex software development teams sitting at the cross between development, quality assurance, project management,  and other engineering efforts like DevOps. In addition, release engineering teams are often considered as gatekeepers for certain critical products where their judgment forms a parallel line of authority and responsibility in relation to production releases. Below are some common roles of a release engineer:

  • A release engineer is responsible for frequently tracking all the changes made to a configuration management system or revision control system.
  • As a release engineer, you need to create and apply a version numbering scheme into the software and tracking that version number back to the specific source files to which it applies.
  • Producing or improving automation in software production is usually a goal of the release engineer.
  • A release engineer should gather, track and supply all the necessary tools that are required to develop and build a particular piece of software in order to reliably reproduce or maintain software years after its initial release to customers.
  • Almost all the software developers or software engineers perform all of the above roles in the course of their work in larger organizations, the specialty of the release engineer can be applied to coordinate disparate source trees, projects teams, and components. This helps in freeing the time of a developer to implement software features and frees the quality assurance engineers bandwidth to test the produced software broadly and deeply.
  • As a release engineer, you also have to provide software services to software development and quality assurance teams. The software provided may build tools assembly or other reorganization scripts that take compilation output and place them into a predefined tree structure and even to the authoring and creation of installers for use by test teams or by the software consumer. The services provided by a release engineer may include software builds, automated automation tests, integration results, reporting, and preparation for software delivery systems, for example, in the form of an electronic software distribution mechanism or electronic media.

Philosophy of Release Engineering

Self Service Model

There are many best practices and tools for release engineering which the product teams can use to run their own release processes. By using release engineering tools, there should be a minimum involvement of the engineers. All the product releases should be automated using the necessary tools.

High Velocity

The releases that are done quickly and frequently have very fewer changes in their versions. This frequent release approach helps in troubleshooting and testing the product quickly. Finally, all the new builds are tested and the best version of the new build is deployed to the production.

Hermetic Builds

Hermetic builds means dependent on a known set of inputs that are important for ensuring that the belts are reproducible. So in release engineering, the builds of the product are only dependent on the known version of compilers and dependencies required for the build.

Enforcement of Policies and Procedures

While doing a product release, security layers are required for a lot of operations like approving source code changes, specifying the actions to be performed during the release process, creating a new release, approving the integration proposal, deploying a new release, making changes to the build configuration, etc. With release engineering tools available, the site reliability engineers get a complete report of all the changes that was done in a particular release. This report will help in troubleshooting the issues that might occur in that release.

Final Thoughts

That was all the fundamentals about release engineering that you must know. As a release engineer, you should start small and keep your builds consistent. All the deployments of a new version product should be deployed on the production system with a click of a button. And then you should have some automated release qualification and monitoring system, they should automatically perform rollouts in case the latest release is not stable. Release engineering is not so straightforward, but it is much needed for every organization to deliver its products faster and of high quality.

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