unit and acceptance testing, automation, productivity

Language Agnostic Automation Setup

A while ago a read a blog post by Parker Moore titled "Language-Agnostic Interfaces for Software Development".

Don’t let the title fool you, the concept here is simple: provide simple scripts in your repositories so – no matter the language or tools used – a newcomer to the code base can get started quickly and easily.

I found the idea interesting at the time, but only recently I came to appreciate it fully, and apply it on my personal and client projects.

The benefits of this approach are clearer when used on projects developed by a team rather than an individual. Co-workers don't need to know about the setup implementation details to use it, they just need to run a command from the terminal.

Compare explaining to someone that to distribute the latest beta they need to execute bundle exec fastlane test because we decided to use Fastlane, which is distributed as a Ruby gem, and its better to use Ruby tools via Bundler, with saying to them "run bin/distribute_beta".

Hiding these implementation and invocation details not only will simplify usage, but also make sure they do it properly. It's easy to forget to call Ruby tools via bundle exec, or miss some option when calling carthage update.

Another bonus of using a language agnostic setup is that if you change the implementation of the automation scripts their interface will stay the same. You'll be able to migrate from one tool to another, for example from barebones xcodebuild invocations to a more advanced Fastfile, without your teammates noticing.

Of all the teammates one in particular will be thankful for a language agnostic setup, the CI. If the way to run the test and any other automated action doesn't change, then neither will the CI setup.

How does it look like

Enough talking, let's look at some code. You can find a sample project configure with language agnostic automation scripts on GitHub.

The project has a bin folder in its root, with a number of executable scripts inside. Parker's original post has a scripts folder instead, I prefer to use bin, you should use what makes most sense for you.

Usually you would have scripts like:

  • bin/bootstrap
  • bin/test
  • bin/distribute_beta

The name of each script is self explanatory, and that's all someone needs to know to get started.

To prove my argument that having this kind of setup will save you time managing your CI I changed the implementation of the test script a couple of times, every time keeping the build green and with no change to the CI configuration. See it for yourself by looking at the commits and the builds.

I hope with this post and the example repo to have made you curious about the language agnostic automation setup and showed you how to get started.

Every project has its own story and automation requirements, there is no one-size-fits-all, you will have to find out what works best for you and your team.

I'd love to hear feedback on the idea, and if you're using it, how it's working out for you. Hit me up on Twitter @mokagio or leave a comment below.

Leave the codebase better than you found it.

PS: A note on "having to explain things" to co-workers

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Chinese proverb

I am a firm believer that understanding the internal of a system is the best way to use it properly and be productive with it. When I'm suggesting to use a language agnostic setup I'm not advocating for not having to explain how automation works to them, I'm just arguing that to get someone started one single command is better that a combination of commands. It is then up to you to find the time to explain the implementation details, either in person, with documentation, or why not with a blog post like this one. There's nothing better than learning something and sharing it with others.

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