July 20, 2018

Using Linux Containers to Manage Embedded Build Environments

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Yan Vugenfirer
Watch Yan Vugenfirer's presntation on Rebuild, which uses Linux containers in the build management process of embedded IoT development.

Linux container technology has been proposed by companies like Resin.io as a simpler and more secure way to deploy embedded devices. And, Daynix Computing has developed an open source framework called Rebuild that uses Linux containers in the build management process of embedded IoT development. At the 2017 Open Source Summit, Daynix “virtualization expert” Yan Vugenfirer gave a presentation on Rebuild called “How Linux Containers can Help to Manage Development Environments for IoT and Embedded Systems.”

Vugenfirer started by reminding the audience of the frustrations of embedded development, especially when working with large, complex projects. “You’re dealing with different toolchains, SDKs, and compilers all with different dependencies,” he said. “It gets more complicated if you need to update packages, or change SDKs, or run a codebase over several devices. The code may compile on your machine, but there may be problems in the build server or in the CI (continuous integration) server.”

Rebuild offers an easier way to manage build environments by leveraging the power of Linux containers, said Vugenfirer. “Rebuild allows seamless integration between the containers and your existing build environment and enables easy sharing of environments between team members. We are mapping the local file system into the container in order to preserve all permissions and ownership when working with source code. The code is stored locally on our file system while we work with different environments.”

Based on Ruby 2.0+ Gem and Docker, Rebuild supports Linux, Windows, and Mac OS environments. It’s available in free and commercial versions.

The software lets you run multiple platforms on same machine and gives you the assurance that it will run the same on the build or CI servers as it does on your development workstation, said Vugenfirer. The developer can choose whether actions performed on the build environment change the original.

Build management designed for teams

The software is particularly useful for sharing environments between team members. It provides a “unified experience,” and offers features like track versioning,” said Vugenfirer. Other benefits include easier technical support, as well as the ability to “reproduce an environment in the future with different developers.” Rebuild also “eases preparation for certification audits for medical or automotive devices by letting you show what libraries are certified,” he added.

Developers control Rebuild via the Rebuild CLI interface, which “acts as a gateway for scripts on CI or build servers,” explained Vugenfirer. Below that in the architecture hierarchy sits Docker, and on the base level is the Environments Registry, which works with Docker to manage and share the container images. Rebuild currently supports DockerHub as the default, as well as Docker private registry and Daynix’s own Rebuild Native Registry.

Developers can use existing scripts to build the software by simply prefacing it with the “rbld run” command. “You don’t need to know about Docker or Docker files,” said Vugenfirer.

Daynix CTO Dmitry Fleytman joined Vugenfirer to give a demo of Rebuild that showed how to search a registry for available environments such as Raspbian, Ubuntu, BeagleBone, and QEMU. He then deployed the Raspbian environment and issued a Run command to compile source code. There’s also an interactive mode alternative to issuing a single run command. In either case, the process “needs to be done only once for each environment version,” said Vugenfirer.

Although you can run an environment without modifying it, you can also do the opposite by using the “rbld modify” command, which lets you update packages. Other commands include “rbld commit” for a local commit and “rbld publish” to share it. You can also revert changes with “rbld checkout.”

Rebuild lets you create a new environment from scratch using the file system or build on a base image from one of the distros in environment repository. After using the “rbld create” command, you can then modify, commit, and publish it.

Future plans for Rebuild include adding role management for the Rebuild Native Registry to assign who can create an environment vs. simply running them. Daynix also plans to add more registries, provide IDE extensions, and offer more tracking of environment usage. They have just begun working on Yocto Project integration.

More information can be found in the conference video below:

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