Out of Memory running SonarQube Analysis on a large projects

Whilst adding SonarQube analysis to a large project I started getting memory errors during the analysis phase. The solution was to up the memory available to the SonarQube Scanner on the my build agent, not the memory on the SonarQube server as I had first thought. This is done with an environment variable as per the documentation, but how best to do this within our Azure DevOps build systems?

The easiest way to set the environment variable `SONAR_SCANNER_OPTS` on every build agent is to just set it via a Azure Pipeline variable. This works because the build agent makes all pipeline variables available as environment variables at runtime.

So as I was using YML Pipeline, I set a variable within the build job

job: build
timeoutInMinutes: 240
variables:
- name: BuildConfiguration
value: 'Release'
- name: SONAR_SCANNER_OPTS
value: -Xmx4096m
steps:

I found I had to quadruple the memory allocated to the scanner. Once this was done my analysis completed

Getting confused over Azure DevOps Pipeline variable evaluation

Introduction

The use of variables is important in Azure DevOps pipelines, especially when using YML templates. They allow a single pipeline to be used for multiple branches/configurations etc.

The most common form of variables you see is are the predefined built in variables e.g. $(Build.BuildNumber) and your own custom ones e.g. $(var). Usually the value of these variables are set before/as the build is run, as an input condition.

But this is not the only way variables can be used. As noted in the documentation there are different ways to access a variable…

In a pipeline, template expression variables ${{ variables.var }} get processed at compile time, before runtime starts. Macro syntax variables $(var) get processed during runtime before a task runs. Runtime expressions $[variables.var] also get processed during runtime but were designed for use with conditions and expressions.

Azure DevOps Documentation

99% of the time I have been fine using just the $(var) syntax, but I recently was working on a case where this would not work for me.

The Issue

I had a pipeline that made heavy use of YML templates and conditional task insertion to include sets of task based upon the manually entered and pre-defined variables.

The problems that one of the tasks, used in a template, set a boolean output variable $(outVar) by calling

echo '##vso[task.setvariable variable=outvar;isOutput=true]true'

This task created the output variable could be accessed by other tasks as the variable $(mytask.outvar), but it was set at runtime it not available at the time of the YML compilation.

This caused me a problem as it meant that it could not be used in the template’s conditional task inclusion blocks as it as not present art compile time when this code is evaluated e.g.

- ${{ if eq(mytask.outvar, 'true') }} :
  # the task to run if the condition is met
  - task: Some.Task@1 
    ....

I tied referencing the variable using all forms of $ followed by brackets syntax I could think of, but it did not help.

The lesson here is that you cannot make a runtime value a compile time value by wishing it to change.

The only solution I could find was to make use of the runtime variable in a place where it can be resolved. If you wish to enable or disable a task based on the variable value then the only option is to use the condition parameter

  # the task to run if the condition is met
  - task: Some.Task@1 
    condition: and(succeeded(), eq(mytask.outvar, 'true'))
    ....

The only downside of this way of working as opposed to the conditional insertion is that

  • If you conditional insertion, non required tasks are never shown in the pipeline as they are not compiled into it
  • If using the condition property to exclude a task, it will still appear in the log, but it can be seen that it has not been run.

So I got there in the end, it was just not as neat as I had hoped, but I do have a clearer understanding of compile and runtime variables in Azure DevOps YML

How to export Azure DevOps Classic Builds and Release to YAML

This is another one of those posts so I can remember where some useful information is….

If you are migrating your Azure DevOps Classic Builds and Release to Multi-Stage YAML then an import step is to export all the exiting build, task groups and release as YAML files.

You can do this by hand within the Pipeline UI, with a lot of cut and pasting, but much easier is to use the excellent Yamlizr – Azure DevOps Classic-to-YAML Pipelines CLI from Alex Vincent. A single CLI command exports everything with a Team project into a neat folder structure of template base YAML.

I cannot recommend the tool enough

Getting my ThinkPad Active Pen working with my Lenovo X1 Carbon Extreme

I have had a ThinkPad Active Pen (model SD60G957200) ever since I got my Lenovo X1 Carbon Extreme.

The pen, when it works, has worked well. However, the problem has been that whether the pen and PC detected each other seemed very hit and miss.

Today I found the root cause. It was not drivers or dodgy Bluetooth as I had thought, but a weak spring inside the pen. It was not so weak that the battery rattled, but weak enough that the electrical circuit was not being closed reliably on the battery.

The fix was to replace the weak spring with new one out of an old ball point pen. Once this was done the pen became instantly reliable.

Wish I had spotted that sooner.

Updated 11 Nov 2020: I may have spoken too soon, it is back to it’s old behaviour today 🙁

However, I think it could just be the AAAA battery. Seems it is not a good idea to leave a battery in when the pen is not is use given the pen has no power switch.

Using GitVersion when your default branch is not called ‘master’

The Black Live Matter movement has engendered many conversations, hopefully starting changes for the good. Often these changes involve the use of language. One such change has been the move to stop using the name master and switching to the name main for the trunk/default branch in Git repos. This change is moving apace driven by tools such as GitHub and Azure DevOps .

I have recently had need, for the first time since swapping my default branch name in new repos to main, to use Semantic Version and the GitVersion tool.

‘Out of the box’ I hit a problem. The current shipping version of GitVersion (5.3.2) by default makes the assumption that’s the trunk branch is called master. Hence, throws an exception if this branch cannot be found.

Looking at the project’s repo you can find PRs, tagged for a future release, that address this constraint. However, you don’t have to wait for a new version to ship to use this excellent tool in repos with other branch naming conventions.

The solution is to create an override file GitVersion.yml in the root of your repo with the following content to alter the Regex used to find branches. Note that the content below is as a minimum, you can override any other default configuration values in this file as needed.

branches:
master:
regex: ^master$|^main$

With this override file the default branch can be either master or main.

You can of course use a different name or limit the Regex to a single name as you need.

How do handle PRs for Azure DevOps YAML Pipelines if the YAML templates are in a different repo?

Azure DevOps YAML base pipelines allow the pipeline definitions to be treated like any other code. So you make changes in a branch and PR them into the main/trunk when they are approved.

This works well if all the YAML files are in the same repo, but not so well if you are using YAML templates and the templated YAML is stored in a different repo. This is because an Azure DevOps PR is limited to a single repo. So testing a change to a YAML template in a different repo needs a bit of thought.

Say for example you have a template called core.yml in a repo called YAMLTemplates and you make a change to it and start a PR. Unless you have a test YAML pipeline in that repo, which is not a stupid idea, but not always possible depending on the complexity of your build process, there is no way to test the change inside that repo.

The answer is to create a temporary branch in a repo that consumes the shared YAML template. In this temporary branch make an edit to the repository setting that references the shared YAML repo to point to the update branch contain the PR

resources: 
repositories:
  - repository: YAMLTemplates
   type: git
   name: 'Git Project/YAMLTemplates'
# defaults to ref: 'refs/heads/master'
ref: 'refs/heads/newbranch'

You don’t need to make any change to the line where the template is used

extends:  
template: core.yml@YAMLTemplates
  parameters:
    customer: ${{parameters.Customer}}
    useSonarQube: ${{parameters.useSonarQube}}

You can then use this updated pipeline to validated your PR. Once you are happy it works you can

  1. Complete the PR in the YAML Templates repo
  2. Delete the temporary branch in your consuming repo.

How can I automatically create Azure DevOps Release Notes and how can I publish them?

A question I am often asked when consulting on Azure DevOps is ‘how can I automatically create release notes and how can I publish them?’.

Well it is for just this requirement that I have written a set of Azure DevOps Pipeline Tasks

  • Release Note Generator – to generate release notes. I strongly recommend this Cross-platform Node-based version. I plan to deprecate my older PowerShell version in the not too distant future as it uses ‘homegrown logic’, as opposed to standard Azure DevOps API calls, to get associated items.
  • Wiki Updater – to upload a page tot a WIKI.
  • WIKI PDF Generator – to convert a generated page, or whole WIKI, to PDF format.

So lets deal with these tools in turn

Generating Release Notes

The Release Note task generates release notes by getting the items associated with a build (or release) from the Azure DevOps API and generating a document based on a Handlebars based template.

  • The artefacts that can be included in the release notes are details of the build/release and associated Work Items, Commits/Changesets, Tests and Pull Requests.
  • Most of the sample templates provided are for markdown format files. However, they could easily be converted for other text-based formats such as HTML if needed.
  • The use of Handlebars are the templating language makes for a very flexible and easily extensible means of document generation. There are sample of custom extensions provided with the templates

Sample YAML for this task is as follows, not it is using an inline template but it is possible to also load the template from a file path

        - task: richardfennellBM.BM-VSTS-XplatGenerateReleaseNotes.XplatGenerate-Release-Notes.XplatGenerateReleaseNotes@3
          displayName: 'Generate Release Notes'
          inputs:
            outputfile: '$(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)\inline.md'
            outputVariableName: OutputText
            templateLocation: InLine
            inlinetemplate: |
              # Notes for build 
              **Build Number**: {{buildDetails.id}}
              **Build Trigger PR Number**: {{lookup buildDetails.triggerInfo 'pr.number'}} 

              # Associated Pull Requests ({{pullRequests.length}})
              {{#forEach pullRequests}}
              {{#if isFirst}}### Associated Pull Requests (only shown if  PR) {{/if}}
              *  **PR {{this.id}}**  {{this.title}}
              {{/forEach}}

              # Builds with associated WI/CS ({{builds.length}})
              {{#forEach builds}}
              {{#if isFirst}}## Builds {{/if}}
              ##  Build {{this.build.buildNumber}}
              {{#forEach this.commits}}
              {{#if isFirst}}### Commits {{/if}}
              - CS {{this.id}}
              {{/forEach}}
              {{#forEach this.workitems}}
              {{#if isFirst}}### Workitems {{/if}}
              - WI {{this.id}}
              {{/forEach}} 
              {{/forEach}}

              # Global list of WI ({{workItems.length}})
              {{#forEach workItems}}
              {{#if isFirst}}## Associated Work Items (only shown if  WI) {{/if}}
              *  **{{this.id}}**  {{lookup this.fields 'System.Title'}}
                - **WIT** {{lookup this.fields 'System.WorkItemType'}} 
                - **Tags** {{lookup this.fields 'System.Tags'}}
              {{/forEach}}

              {{#forEach commits}}
              {{#if isFirst}}### Associated commits{{/if}}
              * ** ID{{this.id}}** 
                -  **Message:** {{this.message}}
                -  **Commited by:** {{this.author.displayName}} 
                -  **FileCount:** {{this.changes.length}} 
              {{#forEach this.changes}}
                    -  **File path (TFVC or TfsGit):** {{this.item.path}}  
                    -  **File filename (GitHub):** {{this.filename}}  
              {{/forEach}}
              {{/forEach}}

How to Publish The Notes

Once the document has been generated there is a need for a decision as to how to publish it. TThere are a few options

  • Attach the markdown file as an artefact to the Build or Pipeline. Note you can’t do this with a UI based Releases as they have no concept of artefacts, but this is becoming less of a concern as people move to multistage YAML.
  • Save in some other location e.g Azure Storage or if on-premises a UNC file share
  • Send the document as an email – I have used Rene van Osnabrugge Send Email Task for this job.
  • Upload it to a WIKI using my WIKI Updater Task
  • Convert the markdown release note document, or the whole WIKI, to a PDF and use any of the above options using first my WIKI PDF Exporter Task then another task.

I personally favour the 1st and 4th options used together. Attachment to the pipeline and then upload the document to a WIKI

A sample of suitable YAML is shown below, uploading the document to an Azure DevOps WIKI. Please note that the repo URL and authentication can trip you up here so have a good read of the provided documentation before you use this task.

  - task: richardfennellBM.BM-VSTS-WIKIUpdater-Tasks.WikiUpdaterTask.WikiUpdaterTask@1
          displayName: 'Git based WIKI Updater'
          inputs:
            repo: 'dev.azure.com/richardfennell/Git%20project/_git/Git-project.wiki'
            filename: 'xPlatReleaseNotes/build-Windows-handlebars.md'
            dataIsFile: true
            sourceFile: '$(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)\inline.md'
            message: 'Update from Build'
            gitname: builduser
            gitemail: 'build@demo'
            useAgentToken: true

But when do I generate the release notes?

I would suggest you always generate release notes every build/pipeline i.e. a document of the changes since the last successful build/pipeline of that build definition. This should be attached as an artefact.

However, this per build document will usually too granular for use as ‘true’ release notes i.e. something to hand to a QA team, auditor or client.

To address this second use case I suggest, within a multistage YAML pipeline (or a UI based release), having a stage specifically for generating release notes.

My task has a feature that it will check for the last successful release of a pipeline/release to the stage it is defined in, so will base the release note on the last successful release to that given stage. If this ‘documentation’ stage is only run when you are doing a ‘formal’ release, the release note generated will be since the last formal release. Exactly what a QA team or auditor or client might want.

In conclusion

So I hope that this post provides some ideas as to how you can use my tasks generate some useful release notes.

Fix For: ‘The pipeline is not valid error: Unable to resolve latest version’ on an Azure DevOps YAML pipeline

The Issue

I have an Azure DevOps multi-stage YAML pipeline that started giving the error `The pipeline is not valid error: Unable to resolve latest version for pipeline templates: this could be due to inaccessible pipeline or no version is available` and failing instantly.

image

The Solution

This is not the most helpful message, but after some digging I found the problem.

The pipeline used another pipeline as a resources

resources: 
pipelines:
- pipeline: templates
source: QueuesAndFunctionsDemo-CI
branch: master

This referenced build had failed, so there was no successful build resources to load, hence the error.

Once the problem with this reference build was fixed the error message went away and I could trigger my build

Exporting Release Notes and WIKIs as PDFs using a new Azure DevOps Extension that wrappers AzureDevOps.WikiPDFExport

A common question I get when people are using my Release Notes task for Azure DevOps is whether it is possible to get the release notes as a PDF.

In the past, the answer was that I did not know of any easy way. However, I have recently come across a command line tool by Max Melcher called AzureDevOps.WikiPDFExport that allows you to export a whole WIKI (or a single file) as a PDF. Its basic usage is

  • Clone a WIKI Repo
  • Run the command line tool passing in a path to the root of the cloned repo
  • The .order file is read
  • A PDF is generated

This is a nice and simple process, but it would be nice to be able to automate this process as part of a build pipeline.

After a bit of thought, I realised I had much of the code I needed to automated the process in my WIKIUpdater extension as these tasks are based around cloning repos.

So I am please to say I have just released a new Azure DevOps extension WikiPDFExport that wrappers Max’s command line tool. It does the following

  • Downloads the latest release of the WikiPDFExport tool from GitHub to the build agent (the exe is too big to include in the VSIX package)
  • Optionally clone a Git based WIKI repo. As with my WikIUpdater tasks, you can pass credentials for Azure DevOps or GitHub
  • Generate a PDF of a single file or the whole of a Wiki folder structure (based on the .order file) that was either cloned or was already present on the agent

A sample of the YAML usage of the task is as shown below. For full documentation see the extensions wiki pages for general usage and troubleshooting and the full YAML specification

- task: richardfennellBM.BM-VSTS-WikiPDFExport-Tasks.WikiPDFExportTask.WikiPdfExportTask@1 
  displayName: 'Export Single File generated by the release notes task'
  inputs:
    cloneRepo: false
    localpath: '$(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)'
    singleFile: 'inline.md'
    outputFile: '$(Build.ArtifactStagingDirectory)\PDF\singleFile.pdf'
- task: richardfennellBM.BM-VSTS-WikiPDFExport-Tasks.WikiPDFExportTask.WikiPdfExportTask@1
   displayName: 'Export a public GitHub WIKI'
   inputs:
     cloneRepo: true
     repo: 'https://github.com/rfennell/AzurePipelines.wiki.git' 
     useAgentToken: false
     localpath: '$(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)\GitHubRepo' 
     outputFile: '$(Build.ArtifactStagingDirectory)\PDF\publicGitHub.pdf'
- task: richardfennellBM.BM-VSTS-WikiPDFExport-Tasks.WikiPDFExportTask.WikiPdfExportTask@1
   displayName: 'Export a private Azure DevOps WIKI'
   inputs:
     cloneRepo: true
     repo: 'https://dev.azure.com/richardfennell/GitHub/_git/GitHub.wiki' 
     useAgentToken: true
     localpath: '$(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)\AzRepo' 
     outputFile: '$(Build.ArtifactStagingDirectory)\PDF\Azrepo.pdf'

So hopefully this new extension will give teams another way to present their release notes, whether it be an export of a whole WIKI or just a single page.