Java Infrastructure Part 0 – The Long Way

I’ve been programming for a long time and worked with a lot of different companies. I’ve seen a range of architectures, organisations and processes. I started coding before the Agile Manifesto was signed, so I’m old enough to remember that projects were sometimes still successful under waterfall – but that’s another story.

Writing classes and putting applications online are easy enough. Most companies are working on well-understood problems. Despite this, two issues tend to emerge. The first is maintenance. A lot is written about refactoring and managing software, but it rarely works in practise. No matter how clever the devs, code tends to end up more complicated than it needs to be and change becomes difficult.

The second issue is linked to the first, and that is infrastructure. It’s easy enough to write a new piece of code and put it live. It’s so easy that a lot of people focus on writing features for a new application. Deployment tends to be figured out in the closing weeks of the project. After all, the first deployment is relatively straightforward. The problem comes as things grow more complicated.

Once a piece of software is live and has users, it’s hard to switch the deployment strategies.The Internet is now sufficiently established that it’s not  appropriate to shut down the system every time you need to make a change. The first few deployments are simple, quick. As the system grows, it takes longer and longer to redeploy by which time there are a lot of other things competing for attention.

Adding infrastructure to a large project is a challenge. One doesn’t want to risk breaking those obscure sections of config files, placed there to handle one specific situation. Obsolete sections are left in the config because nobody is quite sure if a line does something or not. In the end, only one or two long-established developers are able to change the infrastructure. After they leave things become even more difficult.

What I want to do with this series – both on my blog and on github – is to build up a generic piece of software with simple Java code, but to build a rich infrastructure around it. I think there is a lot to learn from this – and at the end I’ll have a good base to work from with my own future projects. I hope to learn about making infrastructure flexible, which, as I’ve said above, it a rare thing.

Java is easy, but being a professional developer requires much more: version control, continuous delivery/deployment, build management, monitoring, IDEs, logging frameworks, email management etc, etc. This is what I’m going to focus on.

Some years back, I studied deconstruction for my MA. At the start of the course, the Professor read a short Kafa story, the Next Village:

My grandfather used to say: Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that -not to mention accidents- even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey.”

After reading those sixty-six words, the Professor sighed. “We could spend all ten weeks on that piece”. I’m not planning to be quite that meticulous, but this is going to be quite detailed. Based on the notes I’ve made so far, no code gets compiled until Part 3.

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