Buckminster Project FAQ
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Software development is becoming software assembly, with components sourced from around the world and based on a wide range of implementation technologies. The Eclipse Plug-In Development Environment (PDE) does a great job of streamlining development componentized plug-ins and feature-sets. However, the PDE manages only those components implemented as Eclipse plug-ins. And Eclipse provides only limited support for materializing the project workspace per se — i.e. fulfilling all external and internal component dependencies.
Buckminster’s objective is to leverage and extend the Eclipse platform to make mixed-component development as efficient as plug-in development. The basic approach is to introduce a project-agnostic way of describing a development project’s component structure and dependencies, and to provide a mechanism for materializing source and binary artifacts for a project of any degree of complexity.
Buckminster is implemented as an Eclipse feature-set that adds to the following capabilities to the Eclipse environment:
- Complex dependency resolution, providing recursive resolution of dependencies leveraging existing Eclipse "Team Providers," with the addition of new retrievers, for exemplary purposes, covering source and binary artifacts that are not version-controlled in a traditional sense. Resolution will use a variety of versioning schemes and will be based on match rules similar to those found in the Eclipse plug-in framework. This allows comparison of current and prior dependency resolutions to support update impact analyses.
- Uniform component dependency format, using a component-type agnostic mechanism for describing components and their respective targets and dependency requirements. Most Eclipse projects, and many other component types, have some level of dependency information that can be leveraged. Extensions can be added to provide additional strategies for dependency pattern recognition.
- Intelligent retrieval mechanisms, leveraging the Eclipse "Team Project Set" mechanism by separating the bill of material needed for a given configuration from its actual materialization. This is important since dependencies may appoint software that is locally installed on one machine but lacking on another. The bill of materials is typically shared between team members, although the materialization information may vary.
- Flexible project workspace binding, allowing components materialized on disc to be bound to a workspace in different ways, including "Proxy Projects" consisting of links to physical artifacts and auto-generated Eclipse project information. These capabilities are helpful when sharing code or other artifacts that are not eclipse projects.
What is Buckminster?
Buckminster is a set of frameworks and tools for automating build, assemble & deploy (BA&D) development processes in complex or distributed component-based development. Buckminster allows development organizations to define fine-grained "production lines" for the various stages in software production - unit testing, integration testing, field deployment, staged migration, etc. - and to automate the execution of corresponding processes.
What is Buckminster’s basic value prop?
Manual execution of BA&D processes can be hugely resource-intensive. The burden expands exponentially with the size and complexity of the development organization and component base and as the frequency of system change increases.
In and of themselves, many of the most important trends in software development - SOA, Web services, virtual development teams, offshoring & outsourcing – are actually making things much worse.
Buckminster’s value prop is straightforward. Buckminster drives down the overhead associated with modern software development – sourcing and materializing components, joining and sharing projects and maintaining and changing products.
What is the history of the Buckminster Project?
Buckminster results from well over a decade of multi-site component-based development experience in both large and small organizations. Initially, we just set out to solve the typical process problems we encountered working with monolithic code bases' patch problems, lengthy builds, version incompatibilities, difficulties tracing bugs and design flaws.
We explored component management capabilities of leading source code management (SCM) systems, and then eventually gave up and developed our own approach. Over the years, the problem become harder - more components, more repositories, more SCM systems, more sites, more resource constraints, etc. – and our understanding of how to solve it got both simpler and better. Four or five architectures later, we ended up with Buckminster.
What is the scope and ambition of the Buckminster Project?
Buckminster is a focused project with objectives with concentrated objectives. We aim to provide nothing more or less than the best tooling to resolve and materialize component structures of any degree of complexity.
More specifically, our mission is to create open source frameworks and tools that:
- complement the existing IDE and software CM domains
- support an integrated, comprehensive and low-overhead approach to BA&D aspects of software production
- provide support for large, distributed development organizations producing complex and frequently changing component-based systems.
What functional units does Buckminster comprise?
Buckminster currently comprises two key functional elements – component “materialization” and “action” management - that work together to automate complex, distributed component-based BA&D processes using both internal Eclipse build and the Ant tool for build tasks.
The key concept in Buckminster is an "assembly line" approach to maintaining a stepwise, action-based build process, with support for persistent and reusable component states at each step. The Buckminster framework is intended to support automation of nearly any conceivable BA&D process, from unit test to staged production migration.
What is OUTSIDE Buckminster’s functional scope?
Buckminster aims to be as complementary as possible to other environments and tools that provide valuable functionality. For example, Buckminster will not include functionality for:
- repository management (i.e. the storage of components) - Buckminster reads or writes (via actions) to repositories but does not specify a repository itself.
- versioned storage of artifacts - Buckminster complements CVS, Subversion, and proprietary SCM systems by adding an additional layer of management and control and potentially improving usability.
- development process management - Buckminster can be used as a service within a larger BA&D process, or to drive the overall process, as appropriate.
- tracking issues or bugs – Buckminster assumes some other system provides these capabilities. (However if you need to include release documentation as part of your build process, you can use Buckminster (or Ant) plug-ins to retrieve information, and the Buckminster action based assembly line to transform it to the shape wanted in the end result.
What exactly does Buckminster do?
Following is a summary list of the basic functionality Buckminster can support:
- Concise handling of configuration descriptions — Buckminster has a succinct, extendable and very flexible way to describe a given mix of components. It can describe use of volatile component mixes directly in a file system, as stable/unstable versions of components residing in an SCM tool, or as components available through the web.
- Version control tool integration — Buckminster can help extract components from an SCM tool based on the configuration description.
- Repository integration — In addition to integrating with version control tools, Buckminster also handles a growing and expandable set of other types of repositories such as download sites, Maven repositories, etc. This leverages existing repositories and technologies without having to impose a new structure on used components.
- Unique assembly line paradigm — Buckminster can manage a build/transformation of many components through an "assembly line", or sequence of steps. The process can be stopped after any step and restarted a different time or site, without loss of component state or other context. (One example would be a continuous process that pauses when an installation CD is burned and resumes when field installation begins.) Moreover, tracking information can be recorded to help backtracking in case of later problems.
- Minimized component coupling — Components follow simple rules that control their behavior. They can express dependencies, and be assured that Buckminster will run them separately in the correct order. By adherence to build rules, and support for build instructions by external reference, components remain location-independent. This allows the user/Buckminster to switch states in the background - for example, to present a pre-built state instead of materializing a source state and compiling. This cuts build times, and makes repeatability much more achievable.
- Minimize impedance mismatch between IDE and the rest of the software factory — While an IDE is an excellent tool for the developer, the needs of the rest of the software factory (automated (headless) builds and assembly, automatic (nightly) testing and other batch oriented tasks) often require two separately maintained structures. Buckminster bridges the two – the same materialization and build steps can be executed both in the IDE and in headless mode. When using separate environments it is difficult to catch such errors that are normally captured by the Eclipse internal build process when using general purpose batch oriented tools.
- Integration with Ant and Ant plugins — leverages the plethora of plugins for the popular Ant build tool, while providing an additional layer of management and control on top. Buckminster seamlessly integrates Ant tasks and plugins with Eclipse internal build tasks.
What products or technologies are most comparable to Buckminster?
Buckminster is relatively unique, and it generally complements existing tools rather than competes with them.
The most closely related tool is Maven, which has a broader functional scope but has more limited capabilities in Buckminster’s core domain of component resolution and materialization. The Buckminster and Maven teams are now collaborating, and Buckminster and Maven should become increasingly aligned and complementary over time. Ivy, is another related tool that is close to Buckminster and Maven in functionality.
What are the key technologies on which Buckminster depends?
Buckminster is implemented in Java on the Eclipse platform, and thus depends on a Java environment - with JDK 1.5 currently required as a minimum.
Important to note is that Buckminster has NO dependency on any specific implementation technology (i.e. language) for the components on which it operates.
Buckminster embeds two other open source projects: Ant, as one build engine along side Eclipse internal builders; and Log4j, for logging purposes. Depending on Ant tasks used, builds may have other dependencies.
What external components or systems does Buckminster require?
Depending on viewpoint, Buckminster requires a lot...or a little.
First, Buckminster requires some effort from users to become truly useful, although it is possible to start off small & simple. A detailed understanding is required in order to design and produce reusable components and create relevant assembly lines, etc.
Although not a formal dependency, use of some SCM system will be essential to attaining practical benefits from Buckminster in any significant development effort.
What SCM products does Buckminster support?
Buckminster uses a plug-in implementation for SCM system integration. Currently, Buckminster comes with handlers for a plain file system, URL-based repositories, CVS, Subversion and Perforce P4, as well as handling Eclipse update sites and Maven repositories. Additional repository handlers will be added over time.
Specialized handlers may be needed for development organizations using proprietary SCM systems wrappers, although such handlers generally should be straightforward to write.
Who is Buckminster for?
If you as an individual developer has asked yourself "Why am I doing this BA&D task manually again?", then you would probably benefit from using Buckminster. But Buckminster is more than a personal productivity tool. Buckminster was designed for large or complex development projects, measured in terms of number of developers, number of development sites, number of production installations, size of the component base and frequency and degree of component change, as well as frequency of running more complex build and configuration tasks.
Note that our definition of "large or complex" is qualitative, rather than tied to any specific numeric thresholds. The best litmus test for whether Buckminster is a fit is whether the development organization (or indeed the individual developer) believes that BA&D process efficiency is an issue. If it is, then we would hope that Buckminster can help.
How is Buckminster licensed?
Buckminster is available under the Eclipse EPL license.
Why is the project called "Buckminster"?
We like to name projects after architects. In Buckminster's case, this is R. Buckminster Fuller, a visionary who was best known for inventing the geodesic dome. Fuller was more interested in structural efficiency, mass-producibility and utility than in aesthetic content, per se. We felt this best fit the scope and vision of the Buckminster Project.
"When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." R. Buckminster Fuller.
For more on Buckminster Fuller, see http://www.bfi.org.