Benefiting from TeamCity Reverse dependencies

Reverse Dependencies is the feature of TeamCity that allows building more complex build workflows with setting parameters from “parent” build down to their own snapshot dependencies. I’ve been looking for this functionality for a while and recently accidentally discovered how to make it working. Back then, I felt like I found a treasure 🙂

Example: one of the builds can be run with code analysis turned on – for using the results in the “parent” code analysis build (i.e. with SonarQube).  But you only need it when manually triggering a SonarQube build, in any other case (i.e. code checked-in to the repo) you don’t want TC to spend time on running Code analysis. The code analysis is turned on with a System property system.RunCodeAnalysis=TRUE in the “child” build.

And here is the trick  – the “parent” wants to set a property of the “child” build but can’t access it outside of the scope of own parameters. How would you do it in a common way? Maybe, create two different

How would you do it in a common way? Maybe, create two different builds – where one has the system.RunCodeAnalysis always TRUE and trigger it from the SonarQube build.

In this case, you end up having two almost duplicated builds that only exist because the “parent” can’t set properties of a “child”.

Reverse dependencies are here to help

With Reverse dependencies, it can!

This feature is not intuitively simple, and it doesn’t support TeamCity auto-substitution (as with using %%). So, you need to be careful with naming. This is how it works:

In the “parent” build (let’s call it SonarQube), you set to TRUE a parameter named

reverse.dep.PROJECT_NAME.PARAMETER_NAME

Here, PARAMTER_NAME is the exact name of a parameter that you want to rewrite in the “child” build. I.e. “system.RunCodeAnalysis”.

For this to work, you need to have a snapshot dependency to the “child” build enabled. In the “child” build you simply set system.RunCodeAnalysis=FALSE

When someone triggers the “parent” build. First, it rewrites the default (existing) value of the specified parameter (system.RunCodeAnalysis) in the “child” build with TRUE and starts this build.

In this case, you can use one build definition for sharing different tasks that couldn’t be done with one “core” build previously. A great use case is setting up a build with an automated TC trigger in which you can set parameters of a “child” build. Let’s say, you want to deploy Nightly to a specific environment using the same build definition that all developers use for building their projects.
To do so, you can set up a build with a trigger that builds a specific branch and also sets a target environment parameter through the Reverse dependency.

When using Reverse Dependencies, a handy way to check the actual values submitted to a build si the “Parameters” tab in the executed build – it shows which values were assigned to parameters, you can make sure that Reverse dependencies work as expected.

Caveats

  1. Reverse Dependencies are not substituted with actual parameter names from “child” builds – it is easy to make a mistake in the definition.
  2. When a project name is changed, you also need to change it manually in all Reverse dependencies.
  3. Try not to modify the build flow with Reverse Dependencies, touching only features that don’t affect build results in any way – otherwise you will get non-deterministic build configuration, in which the same build produces totally different artifacts. The best way to use it – is to specify some parameters which will be used by external parties, like setting einvrionemnts for Deployment or Publishing services, getting code analysis results etc.
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