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New developers joining a project will often find that the project won't build cleanly on their machine, and hours of time will be sunk into setting up the project so work can start. This is sad and expensive for all concerned.

This is a particular menace in agencies (or anywhere with lots of small projects) where a large team of developers need to jump between projects. Tools like Vagrant and Docker can help but aren't the panacea they first seem to be [*].

Counter this by using continuous integration to build your project from scratch. Then any changes that break the build process (such as database schema changes not applying correctly) will be spotted early. New team members will be dishing out high-fives when their development environment is built and primed with sample data sixty seconds after cloning the repo.


It should be trivial to get a project working locally. At Tangent, projects use a makefile for common tasks. Setting up a working version of the project is as simple as:

$ make

It's helpful if you can template new projects to embed good practices like this. We frequently use Django and maintain a boilerplate Django project for this purpose. It includes a makefile along these lines:

# Build a working version of the project
build: clean virtualenv database

# Delete all temporary or untracked files
    -find . -type f -name "*.pyc" -delete
    -rm -rf www/public/media/*

# Update the virtualenv
    pip install -r www/deploy/requirements.txt

# Create a database populated with data
    python www/manage.py reset_db --router=default --noinput
    python www/manage.py syncdb --noinput
    python www/manage.py migrate
    # Load any project fixtures to pre-populate the initial database
    python www/manage.py loaddata fixtures/*.json

    cd www && py.test

ci: test database

Witness the ci target which runs the test suite and builds the database, effectively smoke-testing that the migrations apply correctly and the fixtures load (which is where we've historically had pain).

We use Travis for CI and our template .travis.yml looks a little like this:

language: python

  - '2.7'

  - make virtualenv

# Use the same database as used in production
  - psql -c 'CREATE ROLE test_role login createdb superuser;' -U postgres
  - psql -c 'CREATE DATABASE test_db OWNER test_role;' -U postgres

  - make ci

which means that, by default, all new projects will be built from scratch as part of continuous integration. You should do this.

Django-specific issues

For the record, here's some of the build issues we've encountered in Django projects (both internal and external) Most stem from South migrations, which worked fine when applied piecemeal by the incumbent team but fail when run on a blank database. For instance:

  • Migrations fail to apply as there are dependencies between migrations which haven't been captured. This is easily solved by employing South's support for dependent migrations (eg adding depends_on to the relevant migration class).
  • Migrations fail as they import models directly rather than using the reconstituted models that South provides. This is a beginner mistake really but still quite common. Fortunately, it's trivial to fix.
  • Migrations import and call functions that are no longer defined (but did exist when the migration was originally written).
  • Migrations create instances of models from other apps where South's serialised version is out of sync with the database schema. This can be tricky to fix as you can get circular dependencies between migrations. Often you'll need to rewrite migrations to create models in the migrations of their own apps.

Andrew Ingram has written up an excellent summary of common South pitfalls.

[*] For instance, it's not trivial to share folders with a Docker container on OSX. See https://gist.github.com/codeinthehole/7ea69f8a21c67cc07293

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Published at DZone with permission of David Winterbottom, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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