Concurrent programming in Jenkins Job DSL Scripts

01 Nov 2015

Today I had given myself a fun exercise. Make generating Jenkins jobs faster by using concurrent programming. This is a speedup optimization to working serial code.

This is a bit of an advanced post if one hasn’t studied concurrent programming, Jenkins, Groovy, and Git. None the less I’m documenting this for myself. I’ll first try to define a few of these terms before getting into the meat of the post for readers who might not be familiar with those topics.

Definitions
  • Concurrent programming - is the practice of creating programs that make use of more than one processing core or thread. The advantage of working with threads is the ability to execute a block of long running code while the program is able to continue to work on other things. That is, it doesn’t have to wait for the long running code. It can check on it later. The process of developing programs that do this is commonly known as concurrent programming.
  • Jenkins - is a continuous integration server. It is typically used to regularly build software as it is being developed. I’ll likely write another post on this topic.
  • Job DSL plugin - A Jenkins plugin designed to automate creating jobs in Jenkins. It uses Groovy as its runtime.
  • Groovy - is a scripting language which runs on the Java Virtual Machine. It is a scripting language that is built into Jenkins and is used by the Job DSL plugin.

I recently read a few links which involve joining threads and thread locking in groovy. Thread locking is for creating safe sections of thread execution when modifying shared memory. This inspired me to improve my own code by playing around with threading in Groovy and Jenkins Job DSL scripts.

Deciding when concurrent programming is appropriate

Concurrent programming doesn’t magically speed up every type of program. You have to understand the problem you’re solving as well as its bottlenecks. A few common bottlenecks include: CPU processing, networking, memory. The best use case for concurrent programming is for executing a large number of small, unrelated, tasks which are self contained.

Defining the bottleneck

In the case of the Job DSL scripts the small, unrelated, and self contained task could include creating Jenkins jobs. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of Job DSL scripting generating jobs from GitHub repositories. This involves a lot of network calls to the GitHub API. The way I’m generating jobs is by generating one job per branch on a GitHub project.

In this case, the bottleneck is networking. Take for example, the rails/rails project. It has 38 branches in the project. 32 of those branches contain enough information to generate Jenkins jobs, according to my method. In my Job DSL script, I am making the following network calls.

  • Get project branch list.
  • For each branch, get a file listing.
  • If a file named .travis.yml exists in the branch, then generate a Jenkins job based on it (or skip it if required).

If 32 branches are able to be built (out of 38 total branches). That means we can tally up the number of network calls.

  • 1 network call for the project branch list.
  • 2 network calls for every branch capable of building (file listing and read the file).
  • 1 network call for every branch not capable of building (file listing).

The total network calls to generate all Jenkins jobs for the rails/rails project is 71 network calls (1 project + 2*32 build branches + 1*6 non-build branches).

Our bottleneck is the network.

Solving based on the bottleneck

Because our bottleneck is network and not CPU bound, we can create a large number of threads rather than limiting ourselves to the number of cores a system might have. Therefore, one way we could solve this is to create one thread per branch. Our program flow would then look something like this.

  • Get project data (i.e. list branches).
  • Create one thread per branch so they all execute concurrently. Each thread will be tasked with getting the file listing for that branch and potentially reading the contents of the .travis.yml file from that branch.
  • Join the threads together to finish the execution of the program serially.

Threading in Groovy

Let’s first flesh out a few concepts for threading in Groovy.

My first Groovy thread

Gareth Bowles wrote a nice Groovy script which shows an example, accomplishing two things: spawning a thread and joining it. What is interesting is that threads in Groovy can be spawned and started by passing closures. For example:

//serially executed code
Thread thread = Thread.start {
    //concurrently executed code
}
//serially executed code continues while concurrent code executes in the
//background.

//pause program and wait for thread to finish before continuing program
thread.join()

Because we can pass closures to start threads this means threading in Groovy is pretty easy!

Thread lock

I needed to create a thread lock variable. Which threads can use to “wait in line” to create Jenkins jobs in the Job DSL script. Chris Broadfoot wrote a nice article which includes a great example of how to implement a thread lock with a Thread. It is making use of a few advanced Groovy concepts: calling closures and modifying an imported class during runtime using metaprogramming. Here’s our thread lock:

import java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock
//create a lock for use in threads
ReentrantLock.metaClass.withLock = {
    lock()
    try {
        it()
    }
    finally {
        unlock()
    }
}
def lock = new ReentrantLock()

Threads can make use of lock.withLock {} by protecting sections of code and forcing it to serially execute amongst all threads.

Thread with a lock

Now that I know how to start a thread and know how to implement a thread lock let’s combine the two concepts.

import java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock

//create a lock for use in threads
ReentrantLock.metaClass.withLock = {
    lock()
    try {
        it()
    }
    finally {
        unlock()
    }
}
def lock = new ReentrantLock()

//serially executed code
Thread thread = Thread.start {
    //concurrently executed code
    lock.withLock {
        //serially executed code across all threads
    }
    //concurrently executed code
}
//serially executed code while thread runs in background

//wait for thread to finish before program continues
thread.join()

In this case, the closure is the {} argument following lock.withLock. It is executed using the it() method in the metaClass.withLock method definition. It obtains a ReentrantLock.lock() to lock the thread, it() executes the closure, and ReentrantLock.unblock() releases the lock so another thread can obtain the lock. We’re doing this to protect a section of the code so that more than one thread doesn’t modify the shared memory by forcing it to run serially.

Working with multiple threads

Based on the above information I decided the easiest way to work with multiple threads is to use a List of threads. That basically looks like the following.

//Let's say we have a list of tasks to be run
List<Thread> threads = []

//start one thread per task
tasks.each {
    threads << Thread.start {
        //concurrently executed code
    }
}

//wait for each of the tasks to finish
threads.each {
    it.join()
}

I created a List containing every thread. This means I needed to append an instance of each thread to the threads List. When I wanted to pause the program and wait for all threads to finish, I iterated over the threads list and joined each thread.

Concurrent Job DSL scripts

Now on to the good stuff. I’ve decided that the network is the bottleneck. I also gave myself the following constraints.

  • Shared memory modification needs to be locked. Any time shared memory is modified, the Job DSL script must be executed serially.
  • Network reads can be done concurrently.

Therefore:

  • Calls to the GitHub API can be done concurrently because networking is slow.
  • Creating Jenkins jobs should be done serially because this can be done relatively fast and involves modifying shared memory.
Serial Job DSL script

Our goal is to create one thread per branch and then join the threads before exiting the Job DSL script. In pseudo code, our program looks like the following.

//get branches
def project = 'github_org/github_project'
def branches = GitHub.branches(project)
//loop over each branch to create jobs
branches.each { branch ->
    def filelist = GitHub.listFiles(project, branch)
    if(!('.travis.yml' in filelist)) {
        //.travis.yml file not found so skip branch
        return
    }
    //.travis.yml file found so get the contents
    def contents = GitHub.getFile(project, branch, '.travis.yml')
    //generate Jenkins job based on the contents
    jenkins.generatJob(contents)
}
Concurrent Job DSL script

I used the threading concepts and solved the problem with the following pseudo code.

import java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock

//create a lock for use in threads
ReentrantLock.metaClass.withLock = {
    lock()
    try {
        it()
    }
    finally {
        unlock()
    }
}
def lock = new ReentrantLock()

//get branches
def project = 'github_org/github_project'
def branches = GitHub.branches(project)

//list of threads
List<Thread> threads = []

//loop over each branch to create jobs
branches.each { branch ->
    //create one thread per branch
    threads << Thread.start {
        def filelist = GitHub.listFiles(project, branch)
        if(!('.travis.yml' in filelist)) {
            //.travis.yml file not found so skip branch
            return
        }
        //.travis.yml file found so get the contents
        def contents = GitHub.getFile(project, branch, '.travis.yml')

        //force serial execution
        lock.withLock {
            //generate Jenkins job based on the contents
            jenkins.generatJob(contents)
        }
    }
}

//join all threads together
threads.each {
    it.join()
}

Don’t like pseudo code? Here’s the real code.

Conclusion

I enjoy exercises in concurrency and parallelism. I wasn’t solving any real problems with this post, but I definitely improved the amount of time Jenkins jobs are created for projects with large amounts of branches. In fact, the improvement is so great that there’s little difference between generating jobs for a project with one branch or with many branches (up to an uncertain point). For me, high performance programming is an itch I occasionally scratch. I may or may not make use of this in a production environment in the future. However, if I ever need to, then I’ve already got a proof of concept in this post. I find Jenkins quite fascinating because the extensibility in the plugin ecosystem allows you to do interesting things like this.

Happy Hacking!

Posted in Engineering with tags: Groovy, Jenkins, Job DSL Plugin, Programming


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