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Developer’s Perspective on Containerized Development Environments : A Case Study and Review of Gray Literature

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Title: Developer’s Perspective on Containerized Development Environments : A Case Study and Review of Gray Literature
Author(s): Kuisma, Ilkka
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Tietojenkäsittelytieteen osasto
Discipline: Tietojenkäsittelytiede
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2019
Context: The advent of Docker containers in 2013 provided developers with a way of bundling code and its dependencies into containers that run identically on any Docker Engine, effectively mitigating platform and dependency related issues. In recent years an interesting trend has emerged of developers attempting to leverage the benefits provided by the Docker container platform in their development environments. Objective: In this thesis we chart the motivations behind the move towards Containerized Development Environments (CDE) and seek to categorize claims made about benefits and challenges experienced by developers after their adoption. The goal of this thesis is to establish the current state of the trend and lay the groundwork for future research. Methods: The study is structured into three parts. In the first part we conduct a systematic review of gray literature, using 27 sources acquired from three different websites. The sources were extracted for relevant quotes that were used for creating a set of higher level concepts for expressed motivations, benefits, and challenges. The second part of the study is a qualitative single-case study where we conduct semi-structured theme interviews with all members of a small-sized software development team that had recently taken a containerized development environment into use. The case team was purposefully selected for its practical relevance as well as convenient access to its members for data collection. In the last part of the study we compare the transcribed interview data against the set of concepts formed in the literature review. Results: Cross-environment consistency and a simplified initial setup driven by a desire to increase developer happiness and productivity were commonly expressed motivations that were also experienced in practice. Decreased performance, required knowledge of Docker, and difficulties in the technical implementation of CDE’s were mentioned as primary challenges. Many developers experienced additional benefits of using the Docker platform for infrastructure provisioning and shared configuration management. The case team additionally used the CDE as a platform for implementing end to end testing, and viewed the correct type of team and management as necessary preconditions for its successful adoption. Conclusions: CDE’s offer many valuable benefits that come at a cost and teams have to weigh the trade-off between consistency and performance, and whether the investment of development resources to its implementation is warranted. The use of the Docker container platform as an infrastructure package manager could be considered a game-changer, enabling development teams to provision new services like databases, load-balancers and message brokers with just a few lines of code. The case study reports one account of an improved onboarding experience and points towards an area for future research. CDE’s would appear to be a good fit for microservice oriented teams that seek to foster a DevOps culture, as indicated by the experience of the case team. The implementation of CDE’s is a non-trivial challenge that requires expertise from the teams and developers using them. Additionally, the case team’s novel use of containers for testing appears to be an interesting research topic in its own right. ACM Computing Classification System (CCS): Software and its engineering →Software creation and management →Software development techniques

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