At iThink 365 we use Dev Ops processes to build and deploy our software built with Hi-Code. We have standardised our approach for building and deploying our .NET, Node.js, React, and Angular based solutions into Microsoft Azure.
I love Dev Ops as it gives me and the team confidence that we can build and deploy software to our customers without remembering all the detail. The approach reduces stress, and we can deploy new versions of our solutions in a repeatable and consistent manner. This saves us a lot of time, stress and energy.
I was keen that we apply Dev Ops processes to our Power Platform development teams. So, we embarked on a journey to organise our processes. They are not perfect, but we have been working and using the approaches that are discussed for the 12 months.
This blog post represents the first in a series of blog posts which delves into the delivery of Power Platform solutions using Dev Ops. We currently use Azure Dev Ops for our source control. Therefore, the build and release pipelines which we will describe are for Azure Dev Ops rather than GitHub Actions.
If you want us to look at Github actions, leave a comment and I will see about creating a version for Github.
I keep saying Power Platform solutions but really, I am talking about Power Apps and Power Automate delivery.
The blog series has the following articles:
- Introduction to Power Platform Dev Ops post (this post)
- Setting up Azure Dev Ops and Power Platform for Dev Ops deployment.
- Setting up Build and Release Pipelines to deploy Power Platform Solutions.
- How the Power Platform Build and Release pipelines work.
- Hints, Tips, Tricks, and Gotchas. (coming soon)
So, let’s get started with some background and explanation of some terms first.
Difference between Build and Release
I have a bit of a pet peeve about how the terms Build and Release are used. Often, I see approaches which I believe should be part of a release process being included in the build process. This is regularly seen with SharePoint Framework projects where build processes deploy content into Azure Blob Storage.
To me, build is the process that builds the artifacts. These might be compiled code, assets, configuration templates. These artefacts are then held within Azure Dev Ops as assets associated to the build pipeline. To show you what I mean let’s look at the screenshot below which holds assets published as part of that instance of the build.
The build creates the assets, sets the version number of the assets and packages them up so that these assets can be released together.
Now to me release processes are purely about deploying the artefacts that have been built by the build process. The release process may and will apply configuration settings for the environment. This is so that the solution once it has been deployed works correctly in that environment.
Configuration will be talked about further but is achieved by taking those build assets and replacing tokens in configuration files within the build assets and then deployed to the environment. Configuration items include items such as database connection strings, SharePoint list identifiers, URLs for talking to back-end APIs.
The point is that build is the creation of the assets and should not deploy anything into an environment. The release process should oversee deploying and pushing assets into the environment.
Power Platform Solutions – Managed and Unmanaged
Solutions are packages of Power Platform customisation such as tables and forms and they are used to group an application and the assets as one package. Solutions enable the application and all its dependencies to be deployed together.
There are two types of Power Platform solutions,
The difference between the two is that an Unmanaged solution can be changed (customized) when it is deployed into another environment. An unmanaged solution is seen as something that is still in development.
Managed solutions are used to deploy a solution that is complete. These solutions are deployed to a Test or Production environment, and it cannot be changed once it is deployed. However, if the solution allows customisations of the assets it contains, they can be used in another solution and customised inside that other solution.
For more information, check out this Microsoft documentation on solution concepts.
The last concept that I would like to cover is Environments. These are a way of having separated containers for running your applications.
At iThink 365, when we build solutions for ourselves, we use three environments for our applications. These are:
When we are working on our customer solutions then we have four environments which are:
- Development (iThink 365 Dev)
- Testing (iThink 365 Dev)
- UAT (Customer)
- Production (Customer)
The UAT and Production environments in these cases are held within the client’s Power Platform tenant.
Solutions flow through from Development -> Testing -> UAT -> Production.
This approach allows us to be confident that we can make changes to the solution in development. Whilst ensuring testing can take place without being impacted by ongoing development or developers being affected by the testing process.
This approach allows us to build up the confidence of the client.
In our next article, I will show you how to get setup in Azure Dev Ops to build and deploy your Power Platform solutions.