In software engineering, a release is a new or modified software and the process of its creation. A release constitutes a fully functional version of the software, and it is the climax of the software development and engineering processes. While alpha and beta version launches may also be called alpha or beta releases, in the singular form, release generally refers to the final version of the software. You may also see releases referred to as launches or increments.
Recently, Software engineering has shifted from project-based to product-based offerings. In this framework, the release is not the end goal of development, but rather a transition point for support and revision. The software development process came to more closely resemble the product cycle in which products are supported, improved, and repeatedly relaunched over a long lifetime.
As software systems, software development processes, and resources become more distributed, they invariably become more specialized and complex. Today, software engineering is a fast cycle of developing, testing, deploying, and supporting new versions of software for increasingly complex platforms. With frequent updating of software, coordination of the development and release of software versions represents an ever more challenging task.
Organizations improve the quality, speed, and efficiency of building or updating software by focusing on release management. This is the process of planning, designing, scheduling, and managing a software build through the stages of developing, testing, deploying, and supporting the release. It ensures that release teams efficiently deliver the applications and upgrades required by the business while maintaining the integrity of the existing production environment.
Release management is part of the larger IT discipline of change management, which deals with the inherent turbulence of software development, where stakeholder requirements seem endlessly fluid and the landscape of compliance and regulation continues to shift. To navigate this environment, software engineering processes must be well synchronized, and release management helps achieve this.
While Release Management focuses on the transitions from development to testing and release for a single project or a collection of related projects, Enterprise Release Management (ERM) is focused on the coordination of individual releases within a larger organization. An organization with multiple application development groups may require a highly orchestrated series of releases over multiple months or years to implement a large-scale system. ERM involves the coordinated effort of multiple release managers to synchronize releases in the context of an IT portfolio.
To be classified as successful, the release must meet the following objectives:
(a) Deployed on time
(b) Deployed on budget
(c) Have no or negligible impact on existing customers
(d) Satisfy the requirements of new customers, competitive pressure and/ or technological advances.
Objectives and Benefits of Release Management
Done effectively, release management increases the number of successful releases by an organization and reduces quality problems. Productivity, communication, and coordination are improved, and the organization can deliver software faster while decreasing risk. These improvements mean the team can repeatedly produce quality software with shorter times to market, which allows the company to be more responsive to the operating environment.
Release management also helps standardize and streamline the development and operations process. The team implements auditable release controls, thus creating a repository for all releases throughout the life cycle. Having a single, well-documented process that must be followed for all releases increases organizational maturity. Increased standardization and the focus on product allow teams to draw more useful lessons from experience and apply them in future releases.
Operations departments appreciate the increased coordination with developers because there are fewer surprises. There’s also more of an opportunity to resolve configuration issues between the development and operating environments. In short, release management breaks down team barriers across multiple functions in an IT organization. As a result, you can improve product delivery holistically.
What is Release the Management Process?
The specific steps of release management will vary depending on the unique dynamics of each organization or application. Nevertheless, the following sequence is the most common.
Release management starts with requests for new features or changes to existing functions. There’s no guarantee that all requests made will eventually translate into a new release. Each request is evaluated for its rationale, feasibility, and whether there’s a way to fulfill it by reconfiguring the application version already in production.
This is the most important step in a release’s evolution. It’s here that the release’s structure is defined. A robust plan ensures the release team stays on track and that requirements are satisfied. Create or reuse a workflow or checklist that can be referred to by stakeholders throughout the release process. The workflow should detail not just scope and milestones but responsibilities.
Plan and assign infrastructure-related tasks
Hardware, licensing, and anything else related to keeping the structural integrity of your products and processes intact are key ideas in this phase. Your release and operations should work together in this step. Keep an eye out for conflicts between active and upcoming projects. Also, use this phase to sort out the relationships between software and hardware to speed up the ordering and pairing processes in the future.
Design and Build
This is the programming phase where the requirements are converted to code. The release is designed and built into executable software.
Once the release is deemed ready for testing, it’s deployed to a test environment where it’s subjected to non-functional and functional testing (including user acceptance testing or UAT). If bugs are found, it’s sent back to developers for tweaking then subjected to testing again. This iterative process continues until the release is cleared for production deployment by both the development team and the product owner.
The release is implemented in the live environment and made available to users. Deployment is more than just installing the release. It entails educating users on the changes and training them on how to operate the system in the context of the new features.
Post-deployment, the release moves to the support phase where any bugs are recorded that will eventually necessitate a request for changes. The cycle thus begins again.
Manage and learn from releases
Like any great software development campaign, there is always room for improvement, which is why this critical phase is last but not least in the release management process. Engineers, team leads, and stakeholders must evaluate a variety of factors— the key ones are process, policy, and metrics. Release management is an evolving process, so taking the time to learn from each project makes it easier to perform better next time.
Agile release planning
Organizations that have adopted agile software development are seeing much higher quantities of releases. Agile release planning is an approach to product management that takes into account the intangible and flexible nature of software development—as part of this approach, teams plan iterative sprints across incremental releases.
In other words, instead of trying to develop every proposed feature in one large, regimented project, the Agile software development life cycle breaks down the development process into stages called releases. In this context, releases are essentially periods of time set apart to work on a limited scope of the overall project. An Agile release plan maps out how and when features (or functionality) will be released and delivered to users.
Despite its name, Agile release planning is highly structured. Each step is carefully outlined and measured to create high-level project calendars for teams to follow. Release maps will vary slightly between organizations, but the general elements will include:
- The proposed release(s) for the project
- Plans for each release
- Subsequent iterations for the release(s)
- Plans for each iteration
- Feature development within an iteration
- Individual tasks necessary to deliver a feature
With the increasing popularity of agile development, a new approach to software releases known as Continuous delivery is starting to influence how software transitions from development to a release. One goal of Continuous Delivery and DevOps is to release more reliable applications faster and more frequently. The movement of the application from a “build” through different environments to production as a “release” is part of the Continuous Delivery pipeline.
Release Management Tools
Release managers are beginning to utilize tools such as application release automation and continuous integration tools to help advance the process of Continuous Delivery and incorporate a culture of DevOps by automating a task so that it can be done more quickly, reliably, and is repeatable.
More software releases have led to increased reliance on release management and automation tools to execute these complex application release processes. The velocity of this process has accelerated recently, to the point where several years ago Amazon passed the mark of 50 million code deployments a year — more than one per second.
Release management tools are concerned with the development, testing, deployment, and support of software releases. The software release cycle from development to deployment and support has become an increasingly complex process and with the growing popularity of agile methodologies within the last 10 years, releases are becoming much more frequent and the cycle is very compressed. The responsibility of software engineering departments to keep up with the relentless pace of the release cycle has led to a strong need for automation, simplification, and faster solutions.
Increasingly, the release lifecycle includes automated processes like test automation, deployment automation, and even feedback automation where needed fixes are gathered automatically and fed back into the development pipeline. They are generally considered a new yet important discipline within the field of software engineering. Continuous delivery, DevOps, and agile software development practices have become more used within software development and are known to rely on release management tools to aid in the release of applications becoming more frequent and fast.
Release Management Tools Features
Release management tools generally include the following features:
- Automation capabilities
- Key integrations
- Communication tools
- Web-based portal
- Lifecycle visibility
- Security & Compliance
- Customizable dashboard
- Application tracking & deployment
- Multi-cloud deployment
Release Management Tools Comparison
Company Size. Whether you’re a small, mid-size company or enterprise may determine the release management tool you decide to go with. Ansible, for example, may be serviceable for several types but is mainly used for enterprises.
Amount of projects. Some vendors are ideal for serving companies that take on a lot of projects at a time. Octopus Deploy is an example of a system ideal for companies that deploy multiple applications across multiple environments.
Ease of use. Using a release management tool for simplification of software release means having a system that isn’t overly difficult to understand or learn. It’s also worth noting choosing a vendor that offers a good support system that is responsive and personable rather than talking to robots or following a script.
Git Version Control system and Software release management
Version control is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. For the collaboration among a team of developers, Centralized Version Control Systems (CVCSs) were developed. These systems (such as CVS, Subversion, and Perforce) have a single server that contains all the versioned files, and a number of clients that check out files from that central place. For many years, this has been the standard for version control. However, this setup also has some serious downsides. The most obvious is the single point of failure that the centralized server represents.
This is where Distributed Version Control Systems (DVCSs) step in. In a DVCS (such as Git, Mercurial, Bazaar or Darcs), clients don’t just check out the latest snapshot of the files; rather, they fully mirror the repository, including its full history. Thus, if any server dies, and these systems were collaborating via that server, any of the client repositories can be copied back up to the server to restore it. Every clone is really a full backup of all the data.
Version control allows you to keep track of your work and helps you to easily explore the changes you have made, be it data, coding scripts, notes, etc. With version control software such as Git, version control is much smoother and easier to implement. Using an online platform like Github to store your files means that you have an online back up of your work, which is beneficial for both you and your collaborators.
Git is software for tracking changes in any set of files, usually used for coordinating work among programmers collaboratively developing source code during software development. Its goals include speed, data integrity, and support for distributed, non-linear workflows.
Git thinks of its data more like a series of snapshots of a miniature filesystem. With Git, every time you commit, or save the state of your project. Most operations in Git need only local files and resources to operate — generally no information is needed from another computer on your network. This means you see the project history almost instantly.
Each file on GitHub has a history, making it easy to explore the changes that occurred to it at different time points. You can review other people’s code, add comments to certain lines or the overall document, and suggest changes. For collaborative projects, GitHub allows you to assign tasks to different users, making it clear who is responsible for which part of the analysis. You can also ask certain users to review your code. For personal projects, version control allows you to keep track of your work and easily navigate among the many versions of the files you create, whilst also maintaining an online backup.
The files you put on GitHub will be public (i.e. everyone can see them & suggest changes, but only the people with access to the repository can directly edit and add/remove files). You can also have private repositories on GitHub, which means that only you can see the files.
You can think of a repository (aka a repo) as a “main folder”, everything associated with a specific project should be kept in a repo for that project. Repos can have folders within them, or just be separate files. You will have a local copy (on your computer) and an online copy (on GitHub) of all the files in the repository.
Releases in GitHub are the one-stop solution from GitHub to provide software packages in binary files along with their release notes for every release of the software. Binary files are a great way to give the user a version of the software in the form of code until a particular point. So, if you require the binary file of an XYZ software version 2.5, which is currently on version 3.1, you can quickly get it through GitHub.
Git has three main states that your files can reside in: modified, staged, and committed:
- Modified means that you have changed the file but have not committed it to your database yet.
- Staged means that you have marked a modified file in its current version to go into your next commit snapshot.
- Committed means that the data is safely stored in your local database.
The working tree is a single checkout of one version of the project. These files are pulled out of the compressed database in the Git directory and placed on disk for you to use or modify. The staging area is a file, generally contained in your Git directory, that stores information about what will go into your next commit. Its technical name in Git parlance is the “index”, but the phrase “staging area” works just as well. The Git directory is where Git stores the metadata and object database for your project. This is the most important part of Git, and it is what is copied when you clone a repository from another computer.
The basic Git workflow goes something like this:
- You modify files in your working tree.
- You selectively stage just those changes you want to be part of your next commit, which adds only those changes to the staging area.
- You do a commit, which takes the files as they are in the staging area and stores that snapshot permanently to your Git directory.
To create a local repository in Git, or the shortened version of it, repo. All you do is go to the directory which you want to be the root or topmost directory of the repository and then type git-init. And this will initialize a new repository for you. This will tell you that it has created a new doc/git folder for you but since dot git starts with a period, it will normally be hidden unless we tell LS to list all the files.
To enable a new file to be tracked by Git, or add the file to our repository can be done using the Git add command. The Git add command has a lot of options and ways you can use it but the simplest way is to type git add and then
the full name of the file to be added.
This can be checked by the git status command and we will see the new file is under the changes to be committed
section and it is shown in green. If by chance, we added a file that we didn’t want to by accident, git is coming off to give us the command that we would use to remove the file from the index. Or list the files to be added or
modified in the repository, that command is Git rm dash cached, and then the file name or names.
Now, we can use the command git commit to actually save the changes that we’ve made to the working index of
our repository with the git add command.
gitlog command lets you look at the log of commits that has been done to the repository.
Different operating systems use different characters to mark the end of a line. Linux, Mac OS, Unix and pretty much all other operating systems other than Windows use what is called line feed character, whereas, Windows uses two characters CRLF, the carriage return character followed by the line feed character. Therefore, Git has features designed to allow the automatic inversion of end of line characters for you when working on a Windows machine. This can be done with a system-wide setting, via a .gitattribute file.
Git Has Integrity
Everything in Git is checksummed before it is stored and is then referred to by that checksum. This means it’s impossible to change the contents of any file or directory without Git knowing about it. This functionality is built into Git at the lowest levels and is integral to its philosophy. You can’t lose information in transit or get file corruption without Git being able to detect it.
The mechanism that Git uses for this checksumming is called a SHA-1 hash. This is a 40-character string composed of hexadecimal characters (0–9 and a–f) and calculated based on the contents of a file or directory structure in Git. A SHA-1 hash looks something like this:
In addition to the code, software release notes are also there. Which, in turn, includes details of the addition of new features or other improvements. So if you want to know about the software without actually installing the software, you can read these notes. Additionally, the release feature helps people all around the world to look at how the software has grown with time and use their binary file as well.