Improving the IPFS Release Process

by Steven Allen, Alan Shaw, David Dias, Molly Mackinlay, Eric Ronne, Agata Krych on 2019-08-14

go-ipfs is introducing a new release cycle and process to ensure more reliable and frequent releases!

go-ipfs-release-process-illustration

IPFS is growing and maturing. We’re seeing many more users in our network and have recognised the need to level up our release process to deliver a more production-ready product, on a regular schedule. We’re doing this because we shipped an unusual number of critical regressions in the last three releases (since fixed). We don’t want that to happen again, so we’re putting safeguards in place to maximize our chances of catching a regression before it reaches production.

Here’s what happened:

We found two root causes:

  1. An uptick in development pace with respect to previous quarters without matching improvements to our testing practices. Several large refactors touching key but poorly tested subsystems landed this year.
  2. A significant increase in the network size and production demands on go-ipfs without large-scale testing or network simulation infrastructure. In the past all production scale testing has been done by deploying a custom go-ipfs build to a bootstrapper or gateway and watching how it behaves.

To address these concerns, we’ve paused all non-bugfix go-ipfs releases as we improve our testing practices and build out our testing and network simulation infrastructure. This is important to ensure improved testing doesn’t become a secondary concern in the face of new features and pressing performance improvements.

However, even with our current testing practices, these regressions should have been caught by rigorous pre-release testing. A better release process (e.g. the ability to cut patch releases) would also have enabled us to quickly release fixes for these regressions, and would have enabled our users to quickly deploy these fixes without worrying about the potential impact of additional unrelated changes.

Therefore, in addition to improving our testing, we’re introducing a new release process (🙏🙌🎉) to ensure that releases have been tested in as many environments as we can, and that we can quickly release bug fixes without waiting an entire release cycle.

Release Process Changes

We’ve made three specific changes to the release process:

  1. To address the stability issues, we’ve introduced a new release process that involves extensively testing releases in a wide variety of production environments - including with early testers.
  2. To address the issue of slow releases, we’ve introduced a 6 week release cycle.
  3. To address the issue of slow bug fixes, we’ve switched to semver and introduced patch releases. The first patch release will be 0.4.22 and the next feature release will be 0.5.0.

New Release Process

The new release process includes 5 stages:

  1. Automated Testing - go-ipfs CI Passes.
  2. Internal Testing - go-ipfs is tested against IPFS infrastructure, internal testing and simulation tools, and Shipyard applications.
  3. Community Dev Testing - go-ipfs is tested by the community in dev environments.
  4. Community Prod Testing - go-ipfs is tested by the community in production environments.
  5. Release - go-ipfs is released.

If we merge any non-trivial fixes during the release process, we’ll start over at stage 0 with a compressed release process for the stages that have already been completed once.

We expect stages 1-3 to take a week each, on average - suggesting a 3 week period between cutting and launching a new release.

Stage 0 - Automated Testing

While we strive to keep master green, issues do occasionally slip through (usually due to faulty tests or unnoticed issues with CI). Before we even branch off a release, we expect master to be green.

This is the stage where we branch off a release candidate.

Stage 1 - Internal Testing

The first real stage of this process is internal testing. In this stage, the IPFS team will test the release candidate against applications in the IPFS Shipyard, on some new testing and simulation infrastructure we’re in the process of building, and on a subset of the IPFS project’s production infrastructure (bootstrappers and gateways).

This stage allows us to rapidly find, diagnose, and fix issues within a constrained sphere of control before asking the wider community to begin testing.

Stage 2 - Community Dev Testing

At this stage, we announce the impending release to the community and ask for beta testers. This stage exists to give a new IPFS release candidate some low-stakes testing on as many environments as possible.

This is also the first stage where we involve members of the early testers program. Here, we ask them to test the go-ipfs release in their dev infrastructure and work with us to resolve any issues.

Stage 3 - Community Prod Testing

Once the go-ipfs release candidate has been thoroughly tested in dev environments, we ask members of the early testers program to deploy the release candidate to a subset of their production environment. This stage gives us a chance to test on production workloads while retaining the ability to quickly roll back changes and fix any issues that might arise before the final release.

Stage 4 - Release

At stage 4, we make sure all the documentation has been updated, cut the final release, and announce it to the community.

Early Testers Program

We’re introducing an early testers program that allows groups using go-ipfs in production to self-volunteer to help with testing go-ipfs release candidates in development and production environments. While we invite the entire community to help test releases, members of the early testers program participate directly and actively in every release.

Early testers will deploy release candidates to dev and prod environments, giving us quick feedback on any regressions or performance changes they notice. This means we can get some quick feedback from heavy users before we cut the official release and these heavy users can work with us to make sure the new release doesn’t introduce any regressions into their systems.

This program currently includes:

Release Cycle

Baring any feature freezes, go-ipfs will now cut a new release approximately every 6 weeks. Specifically, we will aim to branch off a new release every 6 weeks and then run through the release process in an expected 3 weeks.

If the release process runs under or over the expected 3 weeks, the next release will aim to branch at the 6 week mark, regardless. That way, even if we don’t release on schedule, we can still maintain a 6 week release cadence.

Patch Releases

Given the increased structure and extensive testing in this release process, we need a way to quickly release fixes for critical regressions, should they arise. If we fix a critical regression in a go-ipfs release, we will create a patch release for this regression based on the current stable release.

This patch release will still undergo an abbreviated release testing process, but we expect it to take 2-3 days, rather than weeks:

  1. Less than a day for internal testing.
  2. 1-2 days for production testing by members of the early testers program.

Note: This release process does not introduce long term support releases. Patches will only be applied to the latest release and will not be backported. Furthermore, the next feature release will likely include additional bug fixes not deemed critical to fix in a patch release.

Semver

This release process finally switches go-ipfs over to semver. Like many pre-1.0 project, go-ipfs has reserved MINOR releases for large breaking changes or significant milestones. However, this means we can’t distinguish between true patch releases (bug fixes applied to the previous release) and feature releases (minor releases).

This means that until go-ipfs reaches 1.0:

As an historical tidbit, we held a somewhat romantic hope that 0.5.0 would mark feature completeness (“beta”) and that the next non-patch release after that would be 1.0. However, the next feature release, 0.5.0, does not mean anything special, and will not be a major milestone.

Communication

We have several communication points in this process:

Where To Learn More

If you’re interested in seeing this release process in action, we trialed the full (not patch) release process for the latest patch release (0.4.22): #6506.

If you’d like to read through the official release process, you can find it in docs/releases.md.

Finally, if you’re using go-ipfs in production and would like to join the the Early Testers program, please read docs/EARLY_TESTERS.md and submit a PR to join if interested.

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