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What is Build Automation?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 16, 2024
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Build automation is the technique used during the software development life cycle where software source code is complied into computer machine language code with an automation build script. This build automation process has become common practice with the evolution of complex software paradigms. As software has evolved from top-down structured programming into object oriented distributed modules, build automation has become a critical dependency in the management of those components.

There are several steps in the development life cycle for complex software applications. First, software code is developed, tested, and integrated into a standalone development environment. Once the code is completed by the developer, it is integrated into a shared environment, where it must interact with other software components that may be built by other developers. Before the code is integrated into a shared environment, several precautionary steps should be taken to ensure the newly developed code does not impact the code of other developers within the software development team.

Typically build automation is completed by using a scripting language that enables the developer to link other modules and processes within the compilation process. This scripting language encapsulates the manual tasks necessary to generate a quality software product. These tasks include documentation, testing, compilation, and distribution of the binary software code.

Build automation is well known as a best practice for generating software code as it provides the capability to ensure better quality software. The automating of code testing is the primary reason for this improvement. By forcing the execution of testing scripts prior to integration of code modules within the compiled code, the software project is likely to have fewer errors during the deployment cycle.

As build automation has advanced, so too have the scripting languages used by software developers for compiling source code. During the early years of build automation, many tasks were completed by dedicated build experts who ran build scripts from the command line of an operating system. Today, these build scripting languages are actually built into most integrated development environment (IDE) packages.

Another key benefit of build automation is the ability to track impacts to code based on historical compilations. A task within the build script includes generating a version number for the code. This version number allows the developer and testers of the software a reference point as to when a new error was introduced into the production environment.

Build automation has made the process of compiling software easier to manage within software development teams. This process increases productivity and ensures a higher quality software product by enabling reusable scripts for all software compilations.

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