Blog publishing with AppVeyor

Monday, January 16, 2017 | Posted in

One part of improving my career and increasing my professional reach is to post more to this blog about the work that I am doing and the code and skills that come from this work. Unfortunately at the moment writing is still more of a chore than it is a pleasure so that means that if I want to publish more I need to make it very easy for me to do so, otherwise the publishing process will just add yet another obstacle that I need to get past while producing content.

With me being a build engineer by profession the obvious solution was not to follow the sensible path of a managed system but to create some kind of build system to automatically build and publish my blog posts. Troy Hunt is right in that a managed system is far quicker and easier to use, thereby saving time that you can use for improvements elsewhere. In my case however I feel that there is something additional to be gotten from setting my blog up to be automatically build and deployed. To be specific additional learning experiences, more knowledge and a new blog post about how I achieved the goal. I hope that those things will make up for the extra work I have to do in maintaining my own blog.

So the goals for this project were

  • Build every time I push to the source repository on an independent environment so that I can be sure that I can always build my blog and nothing is dependent on my machine being available.
  • Publishing should involve a minimal amount of work done from my side. Ideally all I would have to do is commit my changes, merge them to the master branch of the source repository and then sit back and see the new post appear online.
  • No maintenance is necessary for what ever system I use to achieve this goal. When I build new versions of one of my libraries, applications or infrastructure resources I want full control over the build, test and deployment environments. For building my blog that is far less important because it is a simple process which does not require many different steps.
  • Finally it would be nice to make it interesting enough to get a blog post out of it.

After a few hours of tinkering that is where we are now, this blog post was build and published using a combination of AppVeyor as the build server and nBuildKit for the build and deploy scripts.

In order to achieve this the first step that I took was to set up the build scripts so that I could build on my local machine. Having a build that executes in the same way on a developer machine and the build server has many benefits.

  • Familiarity: developers understand what the build server does because it works exactly as on their machine.
  • Ease of debugging: it is easier to discover the source of any errors if you can execute the scripts on a developers machine because then you have have full access to the workspace which may not be the case on a build machine.
  • Ease of testing: even build scripts need to be tested. If this is done on a developer machine then the testing will most likely be able to be executed much quicker because there is less need to commit every change, push it to the server and wait for the build server to execute the build.

Configuring nBuildKit means copying the sample files to the root of the workspace and updating them with values relevant to the project.

In this case I updated the settings.props file, which contains the general information about the build, test and deploy processes, with product information.

I also enabled the automatic merging for the GitFlow process. This allows nBuildKit to automatically complete feature, hotfix and release branches when running on a build server so that each build also verifies that the final merge will be successful and the changes will not break anything after the merge.

The next file to update was the build.settings.props file, which describes what needs to be done during the build process, was updated. The first part of that was to define which steps should be taken during the build process.

  • Clear the workspace. While this is not necessary on a build server, after all a fresh workspace is used for each build, it is necessary on a developer machine because old artefacts may still be present.
  • Ensure that the build server has configured the workspace with the correct source control information. Many build systems do not perform a full clone at the start of a build but rather get only the minimal source control information in addition to the source files. This reduces time and IO demands, especially for repositories with extensive history. Different build systems have a different approach to what steps exactly are taken. The lack of source control information, e.g. the state of different branches, or the branch that the current commit is part of, is not a problem if the only step is to compiling code however issues can occur if the state of the local workspace is used to determine version numbers or VCS information. In those cases it is better to ensure that the workspace is in the same state as it was on the developers machine.
  • Gather VCS information like the current commit ID and the branch name. For my blog this information is embedded in the footer of every page to indicate which commit was build and what version of the blog you are looking at.
  • Complete the active GitFlow branch, if there is one, by merging the active branch to the appropriate target branches and adding tags if necessary.
  • Get version information with GitVersion. This is done after the merge process so that the version number is the release version.
  • Build the pages with Wyam.
  • Zip up the generated pages

The final change to the build.settings.props file was to enable the generation of the archive files by uncommenting the ArchivePackageSpecs section.

The last file to be changed was the deploy.settings.props file which describes what needs to be done during the deploy process. As with the build.settings.props file the first step here was to select the steps that should be taken during the deploy process.

  • Once again ensure that the build server workspace is configured with the correct source control information.
  • Gather version information in the same way as was done during the build process.
  • Push the archive files to AppVeyor.
  • Push the files contained in the archive file to the repository that contains the generated pages. This was simply done by enabling the DeployStepsPushToGitBranch deploy step and providing information about the repository and branch that the files should be pushed to. The commit message for this process currently comes from a text file in the root of the repository. Ideally there would be some way to discover a decent commit message, e.g. the name of the most recent post, however many different changes are pushed to the source repository so selecting the correct commit message is somewhat difficult.

By updating these three files we have provided nBuildKit with enough information to execute both the build and deploy processes.

Once the build scripts were complete and tested the only thing that remained was to configure AppVeyor. This can either be done through the UI or a YAML file. In this case I elected to use the YAML file so that all information describing my build and deployment process would exist in the repository.

In order to create the configuration file I copied the reference file and then removed all the bits I didn't need. The only tricky bit was setting up the AppVeyor environment so that the deploy process could push the final results back to GitHub. For that I added a deploy key to the target repository. The private part of this key was then encrypted and placed in the YAML file. Some before_deploy script magic allows the decryption of the key so that git can push the changes to the repository via SSH.

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