Monday, March 3, 2014

A simple look at testing within ubuntu

Since just before the last LTS, quality has been a buzzword within the ubuntu community. We've come a long way since precise and I wanted to provide some help and prospective on what ubuntu's process for quality looks like this cycle. In simple terms. Or as reddit would say, "explain to me like I'm 5".

I'll try and define terms as we go. First let me define CI, which is perhaps the buzzword of this cycle, lest I lose all of you! CI stands for continuous integration, and it means we are testing ubuntu. All the time. Non-stop. Every change we make, we test. The goal behind this idea is to find and fix problems, before well, they become problems on your device!

CI Dashboard
The CI dashboard then is a way to visually see the results of this testing. It acts as a representation of the health of ubuntu as a distribution. At least once a day runs are executed, apps and images are tested and benchmarked, and the results are populated on This is perhaps the most visible part of the CI (our continuous testing efforts) that is happening within ubuntu. But let's step back a minute and look at how the overall CI process works within ubuntu.

CI Process
App developers hack on a bit of code, fixing bugs or adding new features to the codebase. Once the code is ready, a merge proposal1 is created by the developer and feedback is sought. If the code passes the peer review and the application's tests, it will then become part of the image after a journey through the CI train.

For the community core apps, the code is merged after peer review, and then undergoes a similar journey to the store where it will become part of the image as well. Provided of course it meets further review criteria by myself and Alan (we'll just call him the gatekeeper).
Though menacing, Alan assures me he doesn't bite

Lest we forget, upstream2 uploads3 are done as well. We can hope some form of testing was done on them before we received them. Nevertheless, tests are run on these as well, and if they pass successfully, the new packages will enter the archive4 and become part of the image.

Generating Images
Now it's time to generate some images. For the desktop a snapshot of what's in the ubuntu archive is taken each day, built, and then subjected to a series of installation tests. If the tests pass, it is released for general testing called Image (or ISO) testing. An image is tested and declared stable as part of a milestone (or testing event) and can become the next version of ubuntu!
Adopted images are healthy images!

On the ubuntu phone side of things, all the new uploads are gathered and evaluated for risk. If something is a large change, it might be prudent to not land it with other large changes so we can tell what broke should the image not work properly. Once everything is ready, a new image is created and is released for testing.  The OTA updates (over-the-air; system updates) on your ubuntu phone come from this process!

How you can help?
Still with me I hope? As you can see there's many things happening each day in regards to quality and lots of places where you can create a positive change for the health of the distro! In my next few posts, I'll cover each of the places you can plug in to help ubuntu be healthy everyday!

1. A merge proposal is a means of changing an applications code via peer review.
2. By upstream, I mean the communities and people who make things we use inside of ubuntu, but are not directly a part of it. Something like the browser (firefox) and kernel are good examples.
3. This can happen via a general sync at the beginning of the cycle from debian. This sync copies part of the debian archive into the ubuntu archive, which in effect causes applications to be updated. Applications are also updated whenever a core ubuntu developer or a MOTU uploads a new version to the archive. 
4. In case you are wondering, "the archive" is the big repository where all of your updates and new applications come from!

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