Continuous Integration on Software Medical Device Projects, Part 5

What I am proposing in this article is something that I, personally, have never done. In my positions as a software lead, architect, developer and software quality analyst, I have worked only with a DHF as a particular folder with specific subsets of documentation within. This approach has always resulted in a documentation nightmare. I’ve used many version control, issue tracking and continuous integration tools, but I have yet to take the leap to reliance on CI as the source for DHF creation. So while this proposal makes sense, it takes a bit of a leap from the traditional DHF mindset to attempt.

The screenshot (click to see full view) here shows what a (simple) project setup may provide in the way of such packaging. It is up to the team to determine how much or how little the CI handles, but it makes the most sense to allow it to do what computers do very well and what humans tend not to do as well: align things.

The CI Environment
The continuous integration build server should closely mimic the environment in which the final product will be deployed. By doing this, a level of confidence is achieved with regard to system compatibility prior to user acceptance and integration testing. It must also have access (through the version control and/or ECM system) to access all the design controls and documents necessary to build a complete DHF. To this end, I propose using a single version control system for everything. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to store source code in one version control system and documents in another. To do so makes importing of all necessary items difficult, if not impossible. There are a number of benefits to utilization of a continuous integration server during project design and development. Do not think of CI as a tool only for software builds. Integrated with the project version control system, it can serve as much more.

  • Changesets tied to builds
  • “Changeset” is really a Subversion term. For the purposes of this chapter, a “changeset” is what happens any time a user commits a change (be it source code, documentation, graphics, etc.) to the version control system. The CI build should be configured to execute (i.e., build and package) the project when it detects that there is a new changeset.
  • Frequent Builds, Status Update and Rapid Feedback
  • The CI build gives the development team prompt feedback on the build status. If compilation failed, tests fail or some requirement element cannot be packaged, the entire team is flagged immediately. To this end, the entire team will know that a particular check-in has broken something. This feedback will eliminate the fear that an unknown break could be so extensive that progress will come to a screeching halt. The near real-time feedback of the CI build saves valuable time (and stress!) throughout development (and even design).
  • Project Progress Tracking (tickets, tests, etc.)
  • Improved communication
  • Feedback (peer review) is triggered by every changeset, each of which is easily viewable
  • Less overhead for communication
  • Improved team understanding of others’ work
  • Jenkins-CI is used for continuous integration builds. The CI build server runs Ant build scripts and and reports results. It is expected that software developers follow the CI build server to make sure that any code commits do not break the CI build.
  • While the use of an IDE is expected, a development team must not rely on usage of the IDE-generated build scripts for any project.
  • If using Apache Ant for a project build, the development team should create (minimally) these build targets: clean, build, dist, test
  • Ant build scripts are no different than other project code in that they must be written clearly, follow standards and commented. Developers are expected to maintain build scripts. Any code commit that requires a change to the build must include those changes upon commit. This includes addition of a class, library, package, path, etc.

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