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Programming IT Technology

A Proper Environment for Web Development? 66

Posted by Cliff
from the a-sane-and-careful-way-to-code dept.
umdenken wonders: "I'd like to know how others on Slashdot do their server-side web programming. We have dozens of Perl CGI scripts, and are currently doing development by editing these production scripts in place on the web server (!). Our sysadmins have finally installed an SVN client on the server (Solaris), and have offered to create a new virtual host that we can use as the development server. What are some of the practices you use for organizing this kind of set up?"
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A Proper Environment for Web Development?

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  • - Several web browsers (IE, FF, Opera...)
    - Emacs of vi (depending on which side of the flame war you fight for)
    - a W3 validation tool
  • Virtualisation (Score:5, Informative)

    by mccalli (323026) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:58PM (#17382222) Homepage
    Even with a virtual host, you'll still be hitting the production hardware. Sounds like an ideal use for virtualisation here - mimic as much of the production environment as possible (OS versions, web server versions, application container versions etc.) and have a go with that.

    Subversion is definitely a stride forward - well worth using and getting used to, it's good that you have a client there. You should be able to fix your config scripts such they they recognise the environment (prod, dev, uat) and can be deployed directly from a tag in svn. A tag of course, not the trunk. Given the constraints it sounds like you're up against, I would definitely be looking to virtualise at least three environments - one dev, one system test, one UAT. You may have multiple dev virtual machines depending on your needs.

    Cheers,
    Ian
    • Re:Virtualisation (Score:4, Informative)

      by mikemulvaney (24879) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:21PM (#17382422)
      Don't use virtual hosts at all. If you can't get another machine, then at least run another copy of the web server on a different port. Then your production address would be something like http://server/whatever [server] and the development would be http://serverport/whatever [serverport].

      You are going to have to restart your web server in development more often than you would like to in production. You don't want to bounce production every time you change a module, right?
      • by mccalli (323026)
        Don't use virtual hosts at all.

        Agreed, and I should have clarified - by virtualisation I mean full machines, such as VMWare instances. Not Apache virtual hosts. Ideally I'd get separate hardware for UAT and dev/system test but it sounds like the constraints the submitter is under won't allow for that. That's why I'm suggesting falling back on virtual machines as a good second base.

        Cheers,
        Ian
    • by JahDread (457290)
      A tag of course, not the trunk. Thats an interesting point to me... Anyone care to explain why? Aren't tags forever static? Seems like my websites are constantly changing, so why would I deploy from a tag instead of a branch or trunk? Just curious.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mccalli (323026)
        It's to gain defined release states, with defined roll-back points. The trunk will contain simply what's being worked on at any given moment - it may well not be in a deployable state (probably isn't). A branch...well, sort of. You'd create the tag to get your defined release point, the branch off that tag for any bug-fix releases prior to merging that branch back to the trunk. Any bug-fix releases made from that branch would also get their own tag.

        Cheers,
        Ian
      • You do some development, once it's at a point where you want to release, tag it, switch production to the tag (svn switch), if something wasn't quite right (Murphy's Law) svn switch back to the last tag you used.
  • by KermodeBear (738243) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:11PM (#17382330) Homepage
    In my experience, I have found that it is best to have four environments: Production, Pre-Production, Testing, and Development. Every environment is isolated and has the same hardware and software.

    Developers do their development in one environment (if possible, each developer should be isolated), and when their code is written it goes to a testing server where it can be hammered by your QA/Testing team.

    When it passes QA, it goes into Pre-Production, which is what your Production environment should look like when you push your changes live. Any kind of external integration can test against this environment, since it is as close to your production environment as possible.

    Then, you have your production environment where everything is live.

    It is VITAL that each environment is set up the exact same way, or as close as possible, to every other environment. Each one should have its own separate hardware running identical software versions - unless you are testing software upgrades, in which case you FREEZE THE CODE, update Development, then QA, the Pre-Production, then Production (testing everything, everywhere), and THEN resume writing your code again. It is incredibly frustrating for a developer when code works on servers A, B, and D, but breaks on C and E due to non-matching hardware and software.

    It is also important that your developers and qa team have access to fresh, live data if at all possible. It is easier to develop when you have real data to develop with; Plan on updating your QA and development data once a week.

    If you have a set up like this, then development, testing, and deployment will be very smooth. It can be a bit of a pain to set up at first, especially if you are not used to the idea, but once you have something like this I promise that you will never go back.

    Other people may recommend different set ups, but the basic idea is the same. Keep the developers separate from the testers, keep everyone separate from production. The pre-production just makes deployment easier - push code that passes QA to pre-production, then when the time comes, just rsync the files over.
    • by Phillup (317168) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:22PM (#17382430)
      It is VITAL that each environment is set up the exact same way, or as close as possible, to every other environment. Each one should have its own separate hardware running identical software versions - unless you are testing software upgrades, in which case you FREEZE THE CODE, update Development, then QA, the Pre-Production, then Production (testing everything, everywhere), and THEN resume writing your code again. It is incredibly frustrating for a developer when code works on servers A, B, and D, but breaks on C and E due to non-matching hardware and software.

      I like for the pre-production and production environments to be as close as possible.

      But...

      I like the dev and testing environments to be different from each other... and from the production environment.

      I've found that doing this helps me shake out some "dependencies" that I may not have thought about.

      Taking care of those "dependencies" helps me write code that is easier to move to another environment if the customer wants to upgrade their systems.

      YMMV
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I like the dev and testing environments to be different from each other... and from the production environment.

        Simple solution that mostly works: run a lot of the dev stuff on your desktop. Depending on your environment, that can isolate developers from each other and free up a test server for 'more stable' code.

      • I like the dev and testing environments to be different from each other... and from the production environment.
        I've found that doing this helps me shake out some "dependencies" that I may not have thought about.


        That's okay, but the problem is that those "dependendies" aren't being revealed until the product breaks in production. And by then the damage has already been done.

        I can see merit to having a different configuration for the QA/test environment than for the development environment, but you need to b
        • by Phillup (317168)
          That's okay, but the problem is that those "dependendies" aren't being revealed until the product breaks in production. And by then the damage has already been done.

          Actually, they break in pre-production. That is why it is supposed to be exactly like the production system...
    • The parent is spot on, although maintaining completely separate hardware systems is probably too expensive for simple projects. First, I can give you two very important advices:
      • do not allow developers to make modifications directly to the live server. Nothing should be able to avoid going through testing.
      • do not manipulate the files on the server directly. At work I use the following system: each site is kept in subversion and a custom script (with a simple web frontend) synchronise the web server with a
    • by Steepe (114037)
      Decent. The way we do it is...

      First off, our developers are either Java (resin engine) or .net
      Pretty much the only perl that gets written is by me and the other sysadmin. We do still have one ancient PHP app, I'd LOVE to nuke it, but development resources to rewrite it .....

      Java developers run Linux kickstarted and set up to our environment (build system, installs required packages, sysadmins control the yum repository) they run dev on their own boxes, with their own java engines and apache.

      Test mirrors pr
    • by ePhil_One (634771)
      It is also important that your developers and qa team have access to fresh, live data if at all possible. It is easier to develop when you have real data to develop with; Plan on updating your QA and development data once a week.

      In some environments this is a serious security risk, since production data can contain SSN's, medical or other "private" data, etc. Use at your own risk.

    • Plan on updating your QA and development data once a week.

      It's better if you simply give your developers the ability to update their development databases at will (perhaps by restoring from a weekly snapshot). I know several times I've set up some complex (and sometimes 'illegal', constraint-wise) data relationships to ferret out a particularly evil bug, and it can take time to recreate those. Plus, in a dynamic development environment, updating the database can require updating your code base as well (tables get added/merged/split/converted to views), which ca

    • by jetlagQ (611731)
      All good practices. I would add that with subversion you can branch the code for any significant work and deploy from the branches to the dev machines. I say machines because in a shop with lots of concurrent development (messy but needed if you have tight financial and regulatory deadlines) you will want a different branch and dev machine for each concurrent effort. then as projects finish up they can be merged into release codelines and then tested on the test machine(s) from those codelines/branches. as
    • Thank you, Someone who feels development should be equally painless on like us developers as on end users. Yeah this is like my dream set-up. And yeah its worth the money & time to setup those environments!
  • My perspective... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Yakman (22964) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:12PM (#17382332) Homepage Journal
    I hope you're not doing anything important. Although chances are if you're using Perl CGI it's probably not.

    Most web development environments I've been exposed to have a development, UAT (User Acceptance Testing) and production environment. Alternatively your development environment can be local and you can stick a "system testing" environment in between dev and UAT. Your UAT environment should mirror production, and before you apply any changes should have whatever code is currently in production.

    You do your development, and if it's being done locally you integrate your changes with everyone else's in system test and do your automated testing and so forth. Once the developers/testers are happy a release is packaged up and deployed to UAT. You should probably run your automated tests again here for a sanity check.

    The end users (business or whoever) do their testing in UAT, and if they're happy (and this is important) you take the same package you applied to UAT and apply it in production.

    In some environments the developers aren't the same people with access or rights to apply changes in produciton, so you've got different groups performing different roles, but you get the idea.

    Disclaimer: this is just my experiences of corporate web development, your mileage may vary, but I believe this sort of setup is pretty common (with differences here and there).
    • by Phillup (317168)
      Although chances are if you're using Perl CGI it's probably not.

      Unless you meant "instead of mod_perl"... I call troll.

      Hell, I call troll anyway...

      Let the language wars begin!

      ;-)
    • by grcumb (781340)
      I hope you're not doing anything important. Although chances are if you're using Perl CGI it's probably not.

      Oh puh-lease. Perl is used for important things all the time. I mean, Slashdot is written in Perl!

      Okay, seriously: It's not clear whether you're referring to Perl or CGI as inappropriate for serious work. I agree that CGI deserves that status, but not Perl.

      • by Yakman (22964)
        I assumed when the OP said "Perl CGI" that it was legacy sort of CGI scripts like those form mailers and things from back in the early 90s. I don't do Perl, so I don't know what the state of affairs is as far as Perl web development goes, that was just the first thing that came to mind.

        I was thinking as compared to say an MVC Java application where they're editing their business objects directly on the server.
  • If you find a bug on the test server but can't reproduce it on the production, don't assumed that it's not there. My boss made that mistake since he couldn't reproduced the bug for a new tool on the test server and he approved the release candidate. The art department was consistently crashing the production server the next morning by using the new tool as described in my bug report. The production server was off line for three days as the programmers had to do a thorough code rewrite that cost the company
  • by wmshub (25291)
    I use JSP, which makes it a little bit easier to use "good practices" since you can't just edit the files on the web server.

    Instead I build up a .war file (with ant), which as a side effect also verifies that all source is committed into subversion, then it tags it all so I can always see exactly what went into the current release on the web server. Then I install the .war on the test server. Test. Then remove the current webapp from the release server. Then, as quickly as I can, install the .war that was t
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by gsandie (753576)

      (There should be a way to tell tomcat to install a new webapp *on top of* an old one, then undeploy the old one, removing this "gap" where no webapp is present...anybody know how to do this?).
      We use JBoss which lets you hot deploy the new wars in thie way. JBoss comes with Tomcat built in, might be worth checking it out. :)

    • I use JSP, which makes it a little bit easier to use "good practices" since you can't just edit the files on the web server.

      That's a feature/flaw of your servlet container configuration, not of JSP itself. Websphere, for example, can allow JSP templates to be edited and recompiled on-the-fly.
      • Ofc you can just edit the fiels on the web server, also with tomcat.
        But it makes no sense if hey are deployed via a .war file and not as individual files.

        JSP as part of J2EE defines that it is/must be possible to edit JSP files and let them automatically recompiled.

        angel'o'sphere
  • by riceboy50 (631755) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:34PM (#17382536)
    In my opinion, there is a point at which complexity outstrips any gains from separation. Just keep it simple; dev, staging, production.
  • One setup that works (Score:5, Informative)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:42PM (#17382594)
    I'll tell you how our entire setup works, and hope it helps:

    A. Development Box
    B. Test Server
    C. Production Server

    A. Development Box

    Every developer has Apache (or IIS respectively) and PHP/SQL on his box. People without experience can just install one of the premade packages that exist (like XAMPP or whatever its name was). This setup is isolated from the outside and responds only to 127.0.0.1 and the virtual domains. Each virtual host in Apache is a separate project.

    Server Side Developers work in Eclipse PHP IDE with SubClipse, designers/client side work in Dreamweaver/Photoshop with SVN4DW & TortoiseSVN.

    B. Test Server

    This is used for few purposes: devs can checkout a revision and run it there on a "real" server to test, QA (well we have no dedicated QA.. it's a small team) can test on this server too.

    If everything is ok it goes to...:

    C. Production Server ...

    That's it, it works really well though, everyone has his own server that can run files right of his PC, and this helps a lot in quick development. Showing to clients is as easy as checking out a revision on the test server.
    • by szembek (948327)
      Yup, this is the solution.
    • by achacha (139424)
      You missed a critical part: production should be 2 identical environments. One is currently running and the other is the fallback/deployment.

      Lets say you have 1 machine in production (not likely but makes it easy). Machine A is serving all the traffic. Machine B is out of the "loop" via load balancer. You deploy your staging code to machine B and run some smoke tests. Once all is go with Machine B, the load balancer flips or slowly migrates traffic from A to B (can do all or stage it by percentage of u
  • Dev / Testing / Staging-Acceptance-PreProduction / Production

    Each developer should get their own virtualhost on the dev server that can mimic production (apache virtualhosts if possible, or use vmware), that they can upload and self-test to. Use wildcard dns for hostnames like username.dev.company.com.

    Depending on how many paralell things are tested, you might want more testing systems. Testing boxes should be mirrors of production software-wise (or at least as close as you feel comfortable).

    Staging/Prepr
  • PXE and Kickstart (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adamy (78406) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:48PM (#17382672) Homepage Journal
    Big Fan of PXE and kickstart for deploying development machines and Yum/Apt for deploying code.

    1. Use PXE as a way to get an install running as quickly as possible. Do a minimal install to get the machine up and on the network.
    2. Use Yum, Apt or Yast according to your distro to install everything required to support your development and application stack.
    3. Your code should be done as a package (RPM/Deb). Yes, even for web stuff. If you customize your Apache install, that should be a package, too.
    4. Use Subversion. CVS makes me sad, because it isn't Subversion.
    5. Have a build environment that pulls your code out of subversion and builds it for QA. A package that is built here is what will be pushed live.

    The bottom line is make it as easy as possible to reproduce your environment.

    And back everything up over the network to a server in another state. Prefereablle, two different servers, at least one on another coast.
  • I run a PHP server on my Mac and use that to test my pages. None of my normal pages need anything else. When I do have to use live data I ensure that what I am doing is non-critical, if it is I'll duplicate the data I need and run it in a seperate area.
  • how we do it (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:50PM (#17383088)
    This is Unix/OSX-centric, and I've been doing this for years and showing others the way:

    * My code always has a standard layout (bin, conf, src, lib, and so on). No exceptions, because you never know when that little script will become a big app (this happens to me at least once a year).

    * Use good coding practices: unit tests, continuous integration, whatever

    * The code is checked into CVS/Subversion/Darcs, whatever. Use branches and so forth intelligently (dev on the trunk, release branches which are bugfix only, whatever). Make it "obvious" where the latest stable code always lives, so that someone besides yourself can deploy it.

    * I have a script which will deploy the app to any server with rsync (excluding CVS, config, test, and dev files). There is also a flag that will "pull" the files from the server, in case of an emergency fix that was done directly on the server.

    * There's a "config" directory with all system-dependent configs. No passwords or other stuff is hard-wired into the app.

    * As others have described, you have your various "dev" machines, a "staging" server (identical to production but non-critical), and a "production" server. NEVER WORK ON THE PRODUCTION SERVER EXCEPT IN EMERGENCIES. Also, resist the temptation to install extra stuff on the staging server like some do (MRTG or Nagios or whatever). The staging server must be identical to the production in all respects.

    If you do this properly, all you have to do to work is the following:

    1) go to your laptop or other dev environment and check out the code.
    2) review the REQUIREMENTS file for any packages you might need to install
    3) adjust the app config files appropriately
    3) code, test, checkin, code, test, checkin, .....

    Then when you're ready to update the code on the server, first sync to the staging server and test as needed (user tests, whatever). Virtual hosts can work this way too (I've done it this way, for instance "foo.com" is the app and "dev.foo.com" is the staging version, on the same machine).

    Once everything is working, push to the production servers (my script will also restart anything that's needed .. by the way, use daemontools to supervise your daemons, anything else like crappy pidfile-based startup scripts are unpredictable). Ideally someone OTHER THAN YOURSELF should be able to mindlessly follow some simple instructions to accomplish this step. Design your procedures with this in mind.

    I also agree with the poster above who said it's good to have different OS or environments on your dev machines, to catch any hidden assumptions. I dev on Linux and OSX and push to FreeBSD usually. Use conditional code as appropriate, and sparingly.

    Ideally, you can take a blank server, install the OS, install the REQUIREMENTs, push the app, config the app, run a setup script, and go. No undocumented requirements. No weird "procedures". Just "push button install".

    You should also get into the habit of making apps "learn" as much about their environment as possible. For instance, in my Ruby, Perl, PHP code, I use the __FILE__ variable or equivalent to determine the install dir, that way I don't have to configure it. A common library sets up all the necessary paths based on that.

    Write your code to be flexible and backwards-compatible. For instance, if you need to move some data files around or change database fields, write code that detects the old version and does the update at startup time. A little extra work, but oh-so-automatic.

    Once you get this working, you'll never want to work any other way. Being able to check out and deploy your code ANYWHERE in just a few steps is a very powerful feeling. Heck, just being able to check out in a different directory on your dev machine is useful. Having separate release branches are awesome when the client reports a bug but you've already started the big changes for 2.0 .. OR when you get a SECOND client who will run an older version of t
  • The process has evolved slowly over time to cope with different numbers of clients / developers / environments. We have somewhere around 15-20 client production environments to support at different versions.

    Developers are expected to document how to test their change before they commit.

    Every week we build from trunk and deploy to an Integration Test environment.

    Developers are then expected to re-test their change to ensure it's all in there and playing nice with any other changes.

    The build is then deplo

  • by lorcha (464930)
    That was the most ghetto setup I've heard of in a long time.

    For Apache and perl CGI, why can't every developer have his own Apache instance on his own development workstation? Use Subversion, and away you go.

    You have a simple architecture. I don't see why you need to be more complex than this.
  • I am working on a Drupal site. Fortunately, I am doing the Web programming so the revision control stuff works for me. It seems that for the content creators it is a bit harder. In the development environment there is going to be a bunch of cruft that you will not want in production, and the production site never sleeps. So what are the best practices for keeping track of new stuff, dumping it out of several tables and then merging it back into the production site.
  • by editing these production scripts in place on the web server (!).

    Yeah. That exclamation point does not begin to describe what a Bad Idea this is.

    Here's what you should do first, this is similar to what we are doing with one of our setups (note, I am thinking cheaply here - this won't be the "best practice" but it will be good enough): Get two more servers. Put Solaris 10 on both of them.

    Call the first one your development/integration machine and create a bunch of Solaris 10 zones on it, one for each de
  • by scottsk (781208)
    I have used GNU Emacs since I did my first web page in '93 or '94 or whenever. Other tools have come and gone. Emacs works more or less the same on all plaforms. You can use the same muscle-memory keystrokes to edit any file. It hasn't changed since the 70s (you can boot up ITS in an emulator and Emacs' keystrokes are basically the same ones). It supports every new language that's come along like Java and PHP. It isn't going to get bought out, the next version isn't going to be ruined by "improvements", tur
  • I have a related problem:

    I work in a small dev team that produces a specialized server that exposes some of its functionality via a web-UI. The dev-team is fantastic, and does everything right (and still uses CVS!)

    Outside of my team we have some people in a pre-sales role, and part of their job is putting together quick customer-specific demos online for potential customers. It drives me nuts that if I have to go in and fix an issue, then my changes will be overwritten if the presales team decide to tweak t
  • Under an umbrella on a beach in the cayman islands.

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