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ALM in OutSystems: configuration management

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  • The discipline of configuration management originated in the US Department of Defense during the 1950s to handle changes to their hardware systems. The DoD developed policies, procedures, techniques, and tools to evaluate proposed changes, track their status after implementation, keep their system inventory up-to-date, and maintain the required support documentation.

    When configuration management was first used for software development, it also dealt primarily with hardware: mainframes, punchcards, and magnetic tapes. Only with advances in software engineering and programming methods did configuration management begin to cope with code: access, authorization, automation, deployment, versioning, and reliability.

    It is not surprising, then, that adapting a discipline meant for tanks and planes for massive computing systems—and then refining it for Agile development methods built on DevOps and CI/CD—required a major redefinition of what configuration management means for modern enterprise software.

    In the same way that OutSystems has its own take on classical software development—replacing coding gruntwork with AI-assisted development and integration hassles with one-click compilation and integration—it has also reimagined configuration management.

    Built on a streamlined deployment process that includes an automated versioning system, OutSystems gives complete control over configuration management of critical systems in every environment in your factory, including database connections, site properties, batch jobs, web-service endpoints, and business processes—all of which can be modified without changing source code or redeployment.

    Versioning

    Keeping track of system component versions has always been the core concern of configuration management, and it remains of critical importance for software development today, especially where large teams work on many interdependent pieces of code that must be merged before release—a process often called “integration hell.”

    In an OutSystems factory, developers working in tandem are encouraged to frequently publish their changes, “publish” being a one-click process that validates and merges code using a combination of automation, AI, and analytics.

    The Service Center console (https://<environment_name>/ServiceCenter) gives every module an incremental version number as it is published. These versions can be accessed by going to Factory>Modules, clicking a published module, and viewing the Versions column.

    published version

    In the module detail screen, you can see the module’s Version number (A), the date and time it was Uploaded (B), and the developer (C) who published it.

    Clicking Publish (D) in the row of any earlier version replaces the browser output and rolls the code back in Service Studio for further development from the previous state of the app.

    Similar rollback functionality is also available in Service Studio in the Module>Open Other Version menu.

    Version tagging

    When an OutSystems development team achieves a milestone, they generally create a snapshot of the application by tagging it with a major and minor version number and a description of its new features. This tagged app is then ready for deployment in LifeTime, the OutSystems unified console for all environments in your infrastructure.

    A tagged app can be also used to rollback to a previous version in case a critical bug is detected.

    To tag an app, go to LifeTime (https://<environment_name>/Lifetime), search for the app you wish to tag, and then click it.

    The application screen shows that changes have been made in the development environment, as indicated by the + mark by both the version number and the link to the app in Service Center. Click Tag Version.

    tag app version

    Type a new Version number and a meaningful Description, and then click Tag Version.

    tag app version details

    The dropdown control at the top of the Deployment pane gives a list of the module’s publication history.

    Deploy a tagged app

    To promote a tagged app from Development to Quality, open LifeTime (https://<environment_name>/Lifetime) and click the Deploy button between the current environment and the one to which it is to be promoted.

    set up deployment plan

    In the Deployment Plan screen you are prompted to select an app for deployment.

    A Deployment Plan may consist of a number of related or dependant apps that are deployed at the same time.

    When the app has been selected, click Add to Deployment Plan.

    choose apps for deployment

    In the next screen, click Validate Now.

    deployment plan dropdown

    At the end of the validation process the available deployment options change from blue to green. Click CONTINUE to initiate immediate deployment or the Deploy dropdown for additional options.

    continue deployment

    After adding any relevant Deployment Notes, click Deploy Now to continue.

    deploy now

    LifeTime verifies the deployment process, retrieves the application from version control, analyzes the impact on running business processes, generates the compiled code, analyzes the database, distributes the compiled application to front-end servers, and deploys the app to the new environment.

    See Deploy applications for more information, including additional steps required for mobile app deployment.

    For software factories using CI/CD methodology, OutSystems facilitates automatic deployment by integrating leading third-party orchestration platforms to build a continuous delivery pipeline.

    See How to build an OutSystems continuous delivery pipeline for information about automating deployment from development to production with a minimum of human intervention.

    Configuration management

    As apps are deployed from environment to environment, they carry with them the default configurations that were set up during development, which typically use mock data, such as sample databases and example web-service endpoints.

    Naturally, an app in the production environment must be integrated with real-world data before release. OutSystems allows you to override default values for the following configurations in every environment, as needed—all without modifying or redeploying code:

    Configuration management is handled in Service Center, which is opened in the environment where the modification is required. For a typical installation with three environments—development, quality, and production—the URL addresses would be something like:

    • https://<development_environment_name>/ServiceCenter
    • https://<quality_environment_name>/ServiceCenter
    • https://<production_environment_name>/ServiceCenter

    Typical scenarios for configuration management follow.

    Database connections

    OutSystems provides out-of-the-box capabilities to rapidly and efficiently integrate external databases, using a wizard-like tool that guides the developer through the entire process, including:

    • Setting up the connection properties and user credentials
    • Selecting a database and tables to import
    • Giving it a logical database name for binding to physical connections
    • Adjusting entity and attribute properties

    The developer then publishes the integration to the development environment. In Service Studio the integration’s logic database is then bound to the app’s database connection.

    Instructions for external database integration for industry leaders such as SAP and Salesforce can be found in Use Integration Builder. For other external databases see Integrate with an external database.

    Database integration is specific to the environment to which it is published, so, as apps are deployed to the next environment, LifeTime prompts the user to supply the logical database name required by the app’s database connection.

    Typically, mock data is used for development, so the sample database is replaced when the app is deployed to the quality environment. However, replacing an external database doesn’t require any additional coding. Instead, a new integration is created, using the new database connection properties and user credentials, and then adjusting the imported entity and attribute properties according to what is expected by the app’s database connection. By giving this new integration the same logical database name, it is automatically bound to the physical connection of the app after deployment.

    When the same external database is to be integrated in a subsequent environment, such as from quality to development, you can save time by clicking Copy from Source for a new configuration.

    copy from source

    Site properties

    Site Properties are global variables with constant values, such as a maximum application parameter, that are configured in Service Studio during development. These site properties can be changed for the target environment during the deployment process.

    After the initial deployment step has been completed click Configure application settings.

    configuration app settings

    In the next window the default site properties are displayed. Type in a new value for the target environment. The change is saved automatically. Click Continue.

    configuration app setting screen

    The changed site properties are now overwritten in the Quality environment. The original default values are used in subsequent environments unless you modify them during deployment.

    However, while this is the easiest way to modify default site properties for different environments, you do not have to redeploy an app should you decide to modify a value.

    For example, to change a site property at run time, open Service Center in the production environment (https://<production_environment_name>/ServiceCenter), go to Factory>Modules, click the published module, select Site Properties, and then click the site property that requires a configuration change.

    change site properties

    In the Site Property screen you can see the default value. Change the current value, as needed, and then click Apply. No redeployment is necessary.

    change site property currency

    Timers

    A Timer is a tool that periodically executes asynchronous logic at a scheduled time, such as sending a daily afternoon email to subscribers, or running a resource-intensive process—like archiving database records—every month when traffic is known to be low.

    In classical coding Timers are called batch jobs.

    A timer’s schedule, priority, and timeout are configured during development in Service Studio. Using the example of a daily email blast, it is impractical to wait all day to verify the timer’s functionality. For testing purposes, open Service Center in the development environment (https://<development_environment_name>/ServiceCenter), go to Factory>Modules, click the published module, select Timers, and then click the timer you wish to test.

    modify timer in qa

    With the timer selected, click Run Now. When it is finished you can view the Timer reports to verify that it is working as expected.

    run timer now

    Another typical scenario is to override default properties permanently in a single environment. For example, during QA testing it is inconvenient to wait an entire cycle just to see if a timer works as expected.

    In this case, open Service Center in the quality environment (https://<quality_environment_name>/ServiceCenter), go to Factory>Modules, click the published module, select Timers, and then click the timer which requires a configuration change.

    modify timer

    Change all of the timer parameters required for testing in the quality environment. No redeployment is necessary. When the app is promoted to the next environment the default timer parameters apply.

    modify timer parameters

    Web-service endpoints

    During development and QA, the functionality of exposed or consumed SOAP web services or REST APIs are often tested by using internal resources or one of the many end-to-end testing sites available for free use.

    Once an app has been deployed to production and becomes a candidate for release, example SOAP web services or REST APIs must be replaced with the real thing. This is easily done by opening Service Center in the production environment (https://<production_environment_name>/ServiceCenter), going to Factory>Modules, clicking the published module, selecting Integrations, and then clicking the service which requires a change in configuration.

    change soap web service

    Make the required changes in all exposed and consumed integrations as required. No redeployment is necessary. When the app is released calls go to and from the modified endpoints.

    Business processes

    A final configuration management deals with suspending a specific business process that has been developed and brought through to production, only to be held for a later release.

    In this case, open Service Center in the production environment (https://<production_environment_name>/ServiceCenter), go to Monitoring>Processes, and click the process you wish to halt.

    select business process

    In the Process screen click Lock Process. This process will not run until it is unlocked.

    lock business process

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