Being a developer is challenging. Not only do they have to work tirelessly to deliver on sometimes impossible deadlines, but they also have to work with a landscape of tools that is constantly evolving. To make this even more complicated, they often have to work within different development environments.
Let’s dig in and find out.
What Are Repeatable Development Environments?
Imagine you have to create very specific environments, in order to use the various tools that help you get your job done. You might do this with a couple of laptops, a desktop, and a tablet. That’s a great plan, but what happens when something goes wrong with one of those devices? Or what if you need to start from a clean slate? Do you reinstall the operating system and start from square one?
That’s time-consuming. It’s also not very reliable. What if you can’t remember every piece of software that was installed to make it possible to do your job?
There’s a much easier way.
With the help of virtual machines or containers, you can create the perfect development environment for a task; from the operating system to all of the software, languages, libraries, and frameworks. Once you’ve built the environment, you can deploy it as needed. And if built correctly, you will always have a base environment, one that makes it easy to start from a clean slate, while not having to install all of the basic components.
The easiest way of creating these repeatable development environments is (as I mentioned) via virtual machines or containers. With the first option, you create the virtual machine, install the operating system, and add all of the necessary tools for the needed environment. When you need to spin up a new, clean environment, you simply clone the virtual machine and start up the new clone.
Instant dev environment.
The same thing holds true with containers. The biggest difference here is that your developers will have to understand how containers work and how to build a containerized development environment that can be quickly spun up and used. For most developers, that’s not terribly challenging.
Another method of creating repeatable development environments is with tools like Python’s virtualenv. This tool creates isolated Python environments quickly, but (as you might expect) is language-specific. Of course, not every language offers such an option.
Benefits of Repeatable Development Environments
The benefits of repeatable development environments might not be the longest list you’ll ever read, but what it contains should be considered crucial to reaching levels of productivity to keep your business competitive.
The first benefit is just that, efficiency. Instead of having to deploy completely new desktops or laptops for a developer to have a clean slate to work with, you only need to clone a virtual machine and start it up. Instead of that process taking hours, it can be done in minutes (or seconds).
With this process in place, your developers can focus on developing and not building the environments they need to work.
This also has the benefit of being more cost-effective. Virtual machines and containers are exponentially cheaper than hardware. On top of that, VMs and containers are portable, so they can be deployed anywhere at any time. Your developers could be at home, working in the middle of the night, and only need to log into a server, deploy their environment, and get to work.
Reliability and Predictability
Reliability is key in an ever-moving world. When your developers know every time they spin up a development environment it’ll work, that’s priceless reliability. Your developers won’t have to bother customizing or configuring an environment to ensure it’ll work how they need it. Instead, every single time they start a repeatable development environment, they know it’ll behave exactly as they need it.
Along with that reliability comes predictability. When a developer spins up a repeatable development environment, they know it’s going to work. There’s no guessing. And not only do they know it’ll work, they know it’ll contain everything they need to get to work; every IDE, language, library, and framework is there.
Developers really appreciated reliability and predictability.
Mistakes Aren’t as Costly
When a developer makes a mistake in a repeatable developer environment, all they have to do is scrap the one they’re working on and fire up another. There’s no longer a concern that if something goes wrong, they’ve caused problems within their environment that will have to be fixed.
This means mistakes aren’t nearly as costly as they once were.
This is where virtual machines really shine. Developers can take snapshots of the VM. Should something go wrong, they only need to roll back to the previous snapshot and they’re back to where they were before things went awry.
Instant Access to Repositories
When you create your repeatable development environments, make sure you add to them any necessary repository access. With your GitHub, GitLab, or internal repositories pre-configured, your developers can start working immediately, pulling down code and creating commits.
If your developers are constantly struggling with time, because they are constantly building and rebuilding development environments, it’s time you ease their burden by using a system that makes it easy to deploy those environments quickly and repeatedly. You’ll save time and money.