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Revolutionizing C++ Development: A DevOps Odyssey

· 4 min read
Christopher McArthur

In the ever-evolving landscape of C++ development, challenges abound, but the journey to overcome them has a powerful ally: DevOps. The annual ISO committee's survey paints a vivid picture of the hurdles faced by C++ developers, but within these challenges lie opportunities for transformation through DevOps principles and cutting-edge technologies like Artifact Management, Infrastructure as Code (IaC), and Platforms as a Service (PaaS).

Unveiling the Challenges

The 2023 ISOCPP Survey echoes the sentiments of C++ developers grappling with key issues:

  1. Managing libraries my application depends on: 83%
  2. Build times: 81%
  3. Setting up a continuous integration pipeline from scratch: 72%
  4. Managing CMake projects: 67% (MakeFiles MSBuild)
  5. Setting up a development environment from scratch: 67%

DevOps as the Panacea

1. Dependency Management Challenges

DevOps, championing artifact management through tools like Maven, npm, and Cargo, unveils a canvas for addressing C++ dependency challenges. Specialized package managers such as Vcpkg and Conan offer a structured approach to managing libraries, automating retrieval and configuration. Ensuring the exact dependencies (both external open source or third-party and internal to a project) are consistently tracked and can be reproducibly installed is a well established best practice. Through modular software design and "microserviceslibraries", C++ developers can distribute builds to enhance parallelization and fostering a streamlined development lifecycle.

2. Monitoring and Feedback Loop

The heartbeat of DevOps is a robust monitoring and feedback loop, powered by tools like Prometheus and Grafana. For C++ developers, tracking performance metrics and build data is pivotal. Techniques such as analyzing data from gcc -ftime-report or clang -ftime-trace offer insights into the impact of changes, identifying trends enabling teams to proactively resolve issues. Increasing the granularity of the build graph and each step (configure, build, and test) can help isolate problems making the overall challenge less overwhelming. This continuous feedback loop ensures a seamless user experience and efficient CI operations.

3. Build Script Complexity

DevOps principles, particularly those of Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD), are catalysts for streamlining build processes. CMake, a cornerstone in the C++ ecosystem, simplifies build script complexities with features like Presets and Workflows. However, caution is advised against tightly coupling Build Scripts with Build Environments; Build scripts are software too and principals like cohesion and coupling still apply. Alternatively for a encompassing solution, innovative tools like Xmake, Meson and Bazel are introducing features for dependency management, build orchestration, and scalability. Make sure to have a clear delineation between build environments and their toolchain, global configuration variant, and target specific compiler flags when refactoring your code.

4. Deployable Build Environments

DevOps extends its embrace to traditional IT operations, where technologies like Infrastructure as Code (IaC) take center stage. Terraform and Ansible automate infrastructure provisioning and configurations with routine checks to prevent configuration drift, ensuring deployable build environments are robust and compliant. When reproducible builds are top of mind, having ephemeral build environments that can scale with elasticity is a key DevOps best practice to rely on. Leverage orchestration tools to ensure availability by provisioning the correct version controlled build environments. With the adoption of system package managers, a staple in the *Nix ecosystems with counter-parts like Chocolatey and WinGet on Windows, aligning with the ethos of reproducible builds. Ensure you treat your tools like dependencies with proper version control and artifact management.

Embracing the Future

As the C++ ecosystem navigates challenges, DevOps emerges as the guiding force, offering not just solutions but a cultural shift toward collaboration, automation, and continuous improvement. The synergy of Artifact Management, IaC, and PaaS technologies positions C++ developers on the cutting edge of a transformative journey. In this DevOps odyssey, the challenges of today become the stepping stones to a more efficient, scalable, and resilient tomorrow. Embrace the revolution, and let DevOps redefine your C++ development experience.