Improving the development cycle for back-end development

My first web project was based on the LAMP stack. We used NetBeans on Windows as the code editor for writing PHP. Once the code was written, it was transferred to a remote Linux server to be served by Apache or to be run as PHP unit tests. So, the workflow consisted on coding on Windows, and then using a file transfer program such as FileZilla or WinSCP to move the PHP script to the Linux server, where it could be tested. If the original code needed to be changed after testing, we would follow the same cycle of updating the code on Windows and then moving it to the remote Linux server for testing.

We used Subversion on Windows for source code control. So, code was checked on from the repository into a Windows directory for editing.

Recently, I started a new back-end project for a different client. As this was a new project, I was able to start over with a fresh approach. It looked to me like the previous approach of developing on Windows and testing on Linux was less than optimal.

When I started the new project, I set up a LAMP stack on my computer. This time I decided to develop on NetBeans on Linux. This allowed me to test on my local Linux environment, when was running Apache 2, MySQL and PHP.

At first, I followed a similar approach to the first project. For the new project, we use Git as the source code control system. So I cloned a copy of the back-end repository to its own folder in my home directory.

Initially, I left the Apache Document Root at its default of “/var/www” and copied my PHP code there for testing. After testing I would have to move my updated PHP scripts back to their folder in my home directory so I could check them in to the Git repository.

It soon became obvious that this was a time consuming and error prone process as I had to remember which files were updated during the edit/test cycle. As we use the Laravel 4 PHP framework and follow its directory structure, it created a mental burden to remember what files had been updated, so they could be moved back to the local repository for staging and committing.

The solution was to update the Apache Document Root to point to my local repository. This would mean that there would be no need to move files back and forth, and a simple scan in Git Gui would indicate what files had changed and would need to be committed to the remote repository.

So, I made a copy of my /etc/apache2/sites-available/000-default.conf which defines the default website for Apache on Linux Mint.  In the new file (e.g. mysite.conf),  I updated the DocumentRoot directive to point to my local repository,disabled the default site, enabled my virtual site and restarted Apache.

The script to enable my new virtual host is below.

sudo a2dissite 000-default && sudo a2ensite mysite

After I restarted Apache, I attempted to load my Laravel website loaded. However, the Laravel public folder was not visible. This was crucial as my PHP code depended on Laravel. Further investigation showed that the public folder had it own .htaccess file. When I disabled this file (by re-naming it), the public folder became visible again in the browser.

This solved my immediate problem, but I still wanted my Laravel routing to work. As the problem was with .htaccess,  this implied that mod_rewite need to be enabled. Therefore the solution lay in the Apache  AllowOveride directive. This had to be changed from the default of None to FileInfo for Laravel. I added the following code to mysite.conf, and restarted Apache and all worked as intended.

<VirtualHost *:80>
…
…
          DocumentRoot  "/home/myuser/myproject/my_backend_repository"
        <Directory "/home/myuser/myproject/my_backend_repository">
          Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
            # changed from None to FileInfo
            AllowOverride FileInfo
            Order allow,deny
            allow from all
         </Directory>
…
…
< /VirtualHost >

While there is some configuration involved, there are important advantages to using this approach over my original approach of using local editing and remote testing mentioned at the start of this blog entry.

First of all the check-in cycle is much simpler as the code is never moved out off the local repository for testing. It is easy to know what files have changed, so the correct updates are always checked in.

Secondly,  as testing is done through the local Apache server, there is no need to use file transfer to move the code from the local machine to the server. This improves workflow.

Next, development can proceed even without an Internet connection to the remote server. This can be handy is there are any networking problems.

Finally, it is also nice that the response time from the local server is always immediate.

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I work as an Developer/Operations Engineer and this is a technical blog sharing my knowledge.

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Posted in Web Development
One comment on “Improving the development cycle for back-end development

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