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Indispensable, Disposable Jenkins

Hannah Inman
July 17, 2017
This is a guest post by Mandy Hubbard, Software Engineer/QA Architect at

Imagine this: It’s 4:30pm on a Friday, you have a major release on Monday, and your Jenkins server goes down. It doesn’t matter if it experienced a hardware failure, fell victim to a catastrophic fat-finger error, or just got hit by a meteor - your Jenkins server is toast. How long did it take to perfect your Pipeline, all your Continuous Delivery jobs, plugins, and credentials? Hopefully you at least have a recent backup of your Jenkins home directory, but you’re still going have to work over the weekend with IT to procure a new server, install it, and do full regression testing to be up and running by Monday morning. Go ahead and take a moment, go to your car and just scream. It will help …​ a little.

But what if you could have a Jenkins environment that is completely disposable, one that could be easily rebuilt at any time? Using Docker and Joyent’s ContainerPilot, the team at HomePay has created a production Jenkins environment that is completely software-defined. Everything required to set up a new Jenkins environment is stored in source control, versioned, and released just like any other software. At Jenkins World, I’ll do a developer deep-dive into this approach during my technical session, Indispensable, Disposable Jenkins, including a demo of bringing up a fully configured Jenkins server in a Docker container. For now, let me give you a basic outline of what we’ve done.

Mandy will be presenting more on this topic at Jenkins World in August, register with the code JWFOSS for a 30% discount off your pass.

First, we add ContainerPilot to our Jenkins image by including it in the Dockerfile.

## ContainerPilot

ENV CONTAINERPILOT_SHA256 3cf91aabd3d3651613942d65359be9af0f6a25a1df9ec9bd9ea94d980724ee13
ENV CONTAINERPILOT file:///etc/containerpilot/containerpilot.json

RUN curl -Lso /tmp/containerpilot.tar.gz${CONTAINERPILOT_VERSION}/containerpilot-${CONTAINERPILOT_VERSION}.tar.gz && \
    echo "${CONTAINERPILOT_SHA256}  /tmp/containerpilot.tar.gz" | sha256sum -c && \
    tar zxf /tmp/containerpilot.tar.gz -C /bin && \
rm /tmp/containerpilot.tar.gz

Then we specify containerpilot as the Docker command in the docker-compose.yml and pass the Jenkins startup script as an argument. This allows ContainerPilot to perform our preStart business before starting the Jenkins server.

    image: devmandy/auto-jenkins:latest
    restart: always
    mem_limit: 8g
      - 80
      - 22
    env_file: _env
      - /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock
      - CONSUL=consul
      - consul:consul
      - "8080:80"
      - "2222:22"
    command: >

Configuration data is read from a Docker Compose _env file, as specified in the docker-compose.yml file, and stored in environment variables inside the container. This is an example of our _env file:

GITHUB_TOKEN=<my Github user token>
DOCKERHUB_PASSWORD=<my Dockerhub password>
DOCKER_HOST=<my Docker host, or localhost>
SLACK_TOKEN=<my Slack token>
BASIC_AUTH=<my basic auth token>
AD_NAME=<my AD domain>
AD_SERVER=<my AD server>
PRIVATE_KEY=<my ssh private key, munged by a setup script>

Jenkins stores its credentials and plugin information in various xml files. The preStart script modifies the relevant files, substituting the environment variables as appropriate, using a set of command line utilities called xmlstarlet. Here is an example method from our preStart script that configures Github credentials:

github_credentials_setup() {
    ## Setting Up Github username in credentials.xml file
    echo -e "Adding Github username to credentials.xml file for SSH key"
    xmlstarlet \
        ed \
        --inplace \
        -u '//com.cloudbees.jenkins.plugins.sshcredentials.impl.BasicSSHUserPrivateKey[id="github"]/username' \
        -v ${GITHUB_USERNAME} \

    echo -e "Adding Github username to credentials.xml file for Github token"
    xmlstarlet \
        ed \
         --inplace \
        -u '//com.cloudbees.plugins.credentials.impl.UsernamePasswordCredentialsImpl[id="github_token"]/username' \
        -v ${GITHUB_USERNAME} \

    echo -e "Adding Github token to credentials.xml"
    xmlstarlet \
        ed \
        --inplace \
        -u '//com.cloudbees.plugins.credentials.impl.UsernamePasswordCredentialsImpl[id="github_token"]/password' \
        -v ${PASSWORD} \

This approach can be used to automate all things Jenkins. These are just a few of the things I’ll show you in my Jenkins World session, which you can build on to automate anything else your Jenkins environment needs.

With software-defined Jenkins, pipeline infrastructure gains the same flexibility and resiliency as the rest of the development pipeline. If we decide to change our Jenkins configuration in any way – for example installing a new plugin or upgrading an existing one, adding a new global library, or adding new Docker images for build agents – we simply edit our preStart script to include these changes, build a new Docker image, and the Jenkins environment is automatically reconfigured when we start a new container. Because the entire configuration specification lives in a Github repository, changes are merged to the "master" branch using pull requests, and our Jenkins Docker image is tagged using semantic versioning just like any other component. Jenkins can be both indispensable and completely disposable at the same time.

About the author

Hannah Inman

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