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Chasing a failed test in CI/CD pipeline

You have broken the CI/CD pipeline

😨 You have broken the CI/CD pipeline

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time investigating a test that started to fail in CI/CD pipeline after I have merged a pull request. When a test starts failing in CI/CD, the faces of the people with commits that triggered that CI/CD run go to a public dashboard, visible by the whole R&D team. My face was there 🤦. Not a great feeling. I’ve assigned the failing test to myself. I’ve put the label I'm on it on the test.

💻 It works on my machine

The test was not new, and it was doing some odd stuff in the arrange part of the test in order to setup some behavior in the database related with nested transactions. My pull request was making changes in the database, including a new version of a stored procedure that is being called in that test. I thought it could be something on the stored procedure itself. The curious thing is that I couldn’t reproduce the error in my machine when I was running the test inside Visual Studio, or even using the same runner app that CI/CD pipeline was using.

🕵️‍♂️ Investigation

After spending some time troubleshooting I got the conclusion that the problem was not in the database changes. So what could it be? With the help of my team, I understood that in CI/CD pipeline the tests run against a release build. Not only release, but also a build with an obfuscation process in place. So the next step was to run the test in the exact some conditions. And guess what - the test started to fail in my machine. It should be the obfuscation process, I thought. Let’s remove obfuscation out of the equation - the test was still failing with just a release build without obfuscation.

Next step was to try to understand the differences between the Build and Release configuration. We also checked what were the differences at the .Net Intermediate Language (IL). Nothing relevant from these differences that could explain the behavior of the test.

One member of my team then have tried to apply the NoOptimization attribute to the test method. Then the test started to pass again 💥.

public void Test_method_here() {
  // ... test code goes here

From the documentation we can see what the NoOptimization means

The method is not optimized by the just-in-time (JIT) compiler or by native code generation (see Ngen.exe) when debugging possible code generation problems.

With this change, my face was not anymore on the public dashboard. But I was not happy with the fix. This code was just a test, but it’s not hard to imagine that some production code could have the same issue. The NoOptimization could be only masquerading the real issue. It seems that the JIT compiler is doing something different for the release build. I plan in my next post to explain what the test was doing, why it was failing in release, and how I have fixed it without the need to rely on compiler services options.

Published Mar 14, 2021

Cloud Solutions and Software Engineer. Married and father of two sons. Obsessed to be a continuous learner.