It’s been great month of development for Kernl! We saw continually increasing traffic, a new cohort of customers, and some great work around making continuous delivery easier to use.
Dropdown Branch Selection for Plugins & Themes – As part of the push to make continuous deployment easier for our customers, you no longer need to type branch names into Kernl. When you select a repository to build the branch selector automatically populates with the branches that are available in the source system. This will hopefully cut down on confusion and instances of typing the branch name wrong.
Github & Gitlab: Deploy Keys & Webhooks – Easily the most exciting feature from this last month of development is the ability for Kernl to fully manage your deploy keys and webhooks on Gitlab and Github. What this means is that when you create, update, or delete a plugin/theme, we automatically manage the deploy keys and webhooks in the source system. The goal is that you don’t have to touch any of the settings in your repository to make Kernl work. The process is currently opt-in (you’ll see the checkbox). We had hoped to get Bitbucket working this month as well, but it didn’t make the cut. Our goal is to have this working sometime in September.
Documentation Updates – As hard as we try to keep Kernl’s documentation up to date sometimes we miss things. Pictures get out of date, 3rd party interfaces change, and any number of other issues crop up. It took some time but we went through and checked the documentation for accuracy and up to date pictures.
Bug Fixes & Other
- A bug in our Memcached client was causing degraded performance occasionally. It appears that the client would sometimes drop it’s connection and be unable to re-connect. This has been resolved.
- The plugin/theme latest-version endpoint now includes a “downloadUrl” field.
- Minor updates to the marketing page to make pricing clearer.
March was a light month for Kernl development for a couple of different reasons. The first is that I was on vacation for 10 days, and the second is that I bought and moved into a new house. Now that things are settling down development is ramping up again. There were still a few things that got completed though:
– Lots of great stuff accomplished on Feature Flags. They are not ready for prime time yet, but I’ve started dog-fooding them and so far things are working out great.
– There was a bug in the changelog.json code where the last version would always be one behind in certain situations.
– A regression was fixed where you couldn’t deploy from branches.
– I wrote a blog post about my experience building Kernl for the Freemius blog.
It came to my attention that the way BitBucket handles deployment keys has changed. Until recently the same deployment key could be shared across multiple repositories. That rule has been changed and now each repository requires a unique deployment key. So what does this mean for you? You’ll need to take a few steps to make sure that your “push to build” functionality continues to work as you expect it to.
- I’ve deployed changes that allow you to add unique deployment keys to all of your repositories. For those of you with a lot of repositories this is going to be pretty tedious, but in the end it will give you greater access control to your repositories. Documentation for adding deployment keys can be found at https://kernl.us/documentation#deploy-key , but you likely won’t need it. Just go to “Continuous Deployment” and then click “Manage Deployment Keys” (if you don’t see that button, hard refresh).
- Starting tomorrow (February 21, 2017) at 7pm EST, access with the old Kernl deployment key will be cut off. From this point forward only the new deployment keys will be able to access your repository.
- After February 21, 2017 @ 7pm EST you can delete the old Kernl deployment key from your repositories. If you do it before then your builds will fail.
Sorry for the short notice and inconvienience of this change, but it’s necessary to make sure that all customers are able to deploy continuously with Kernl. If you have any questions or concerns about this change, please reach out. And once again, sorry for this inconvience!
It’s been a long time since the last Kernl update blog, so lets get right into it.
- GitLab CI Support – You can now build your plugins and themes automatically on Kernl using GitLab.com! We’ve had support for GitHub and BitBucket for a long time, and finally figured out a good way to make things work for GitLab. See the documentation on how to get started.
- Slack Build Integration – If you are a slack user, you can now tell Kernl where to publish build status messages.
- Replay Last Webhook – Sometimes when you’re running a CI service with Kernl it would be useful to re-try that last push that Kernl received. You can now do that on the “Continuous Integration” page.
- Repository Caching – We now do some minor caching of your git repositories on the Kernl front end. The first load will still reach out to the different git providers, but subsequent loads during your sessions will read an in-memory cache instead.
- Better Webhook Log Links – Instead of displaying a UUID, the webhook build log now displays the name of the plugin or theme.
- Miscellaneous Upgrades – Underlying OS packages and Node.js packages were upgraded.
- Payment Bug Fixes – There were a few minor bugs that kept showing up if someone’s credit card expired. This fix hopefully allows for a more self-service approach.
- Minor copy changes – A few changes were made to the wording on the Kernl landing page.
- It’s been a few months since Ubuntu 16.04 LTS came out, so I’ll be spending significant amounts of time upgrading our infrastructure to the latest LTS version.
- If our load balancer goes down right now, everything goes under. A floating IP address between two load balancers will solve that issue and provide high(er) availability.
- Better insights into purchase code usage and activity.
With summer in full-swing here in the United States, development on Kernl has been slowing down to accommodate much busier schedules than during the rest of the year. This doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy though.
Infrastructure, Bugs, and Miscellaneous
- When the server throws a 500 error, it renders the correct template. Prior to this fix Kernl would render a 404 page, which made it very hard to tell when you encountered an actual problem.
- We now have a robots.txt file!
- Kernl’s Mongo infrastructure has been moved to Compose.io. Having a professional DBA manage Kernl’s database helps me sleep easier at night and provides customers with a more performant and stable backend.
- The landing page for Kernl was taking over 1 second to load for many people. Caching was added, and we now have the number down to under 100ms on average.
July is a busy month outside of Kernl, so I don’t expect much to get done. The current plan is to take it easy in July and then come back with renewed vigor in August.
The past month of work on Kernl has seen a lot of great infrastructure improvements as well as a few customer facing features that I’m pretty excited about.
Customer Facing Features
- Direct Uploads to AWS S3 – When Kernl was originally created all file uploads were stored directly on Kernl’s servers. As we grew, this became an unsustainable solution, so the process changed to just use Kernl’s servers as temporary holding space before putting the file on S3. This month we made this process even better by having files upload directly to S3. For you, this means faster uploads and less time waiting to get updates out to your customers.
- Expiring Purchase Codes – You can now create purchase codes that expire on a specific date. This allows you to sell your updates over time, instead of having to give them away for free for the life of the plugin or theme.
- Max Download Purchase Code Flag – You can configure a purchase code to only allow a certain number of update downloads. This will help resolve any issues with customers sharing purchase codes amongst themselves or across multiple installations.
- plugin_update_check.php Bug Fixes – There was an edge-case bug where some code in this file would collide with an old version of WP-Updates plugin update check file. This happens when a customer has your plugin and also has a really old version of somebody else’s plugin installed. This update takes care of that collision permanently.
- Client-side JS Errors – A few minor miscellaneous bug fixes were performed on the front-end of Kernl.
- MongoDB – The month started off with Kernl’s database moving to it’s own server. This was a temporary step that aimed to make the move to a highly available setup easier.
- Mongo Replica Sets – After the first MongoDB move, the next step was to make the setup highly available. Kernl now has 3 Mongo databases (1 master + 2 replicas). In the event that the master database goes down, Kernl automatically fails over to one of the replicas with no downtime.
- Memcache – Memcache was moved to it’s own server to make it easier to increase the number of items that Kernl caches over time. This piece of the setup doesn’t need to be highly available. If for some reason it goes down, Kernl will continue to operate fine.
- Nginx – Nginx is used by Kernl both as a front-door to the application as well as load balancer between the app servers. This was moved to it’s own server which allows it scale up when we need additional capacity. In the future (hopefully soon), we’ll use a floating IP address to give this portion of the infrastructure the ability to fail over to a backup Nginx server.
- Multiple App Servers – Kernl’s app servers can now scale horizontally. We’re currently running 3 app servers which Nginx load balances traffic to. This setup allows us to add app servers easily as our traffic grows.
- Automated Deployment – Kernl can now be deployed with a single command.
- Caching the repository list that you see when you set up CI builds.
- Get a rich text editor set up on the installation and description fields.
- Theme change logs.
- Wrap up infrastructure work.
- Sign in / Sign up with BitBucket & GitHub.
- Slack Integration.
- HipChat Integration.
Since last month I’ve been working hard on getting a few features out the door. They are:
- All new files are now hosted on S3 – Part of the work to make Kernl highly available is to get files hosted elsewhere. When you upload a new version to Kernl, or push a change via webhooks, the deliverable now lives on S3. Existing versions were a bit complicated, so thats going to be a task for May.
- SSL and domain renewed – The SSL cert and domain for Kernl were renewed this month. This should have been a completely transparent change.
- Editable version fields – For plugins, you can now edit a few fields on a version once it has been created. This was a pre-requisite for getting changelogs implemented nicely.
- Plugin changelog API – You can now programmatically add, get, and remove changelog entries from you plugins. Documentation on this feature is available at https://kernl.us/documentation/api#changelog-api and full examples are available at https://github.com/vital101/Kernl-API-Examples
- Plugin changelog tab – The changelog tab in the plugin detail update window is now populated automatically and looks like the wordpress.org version.
So whats on backlog for May?
- Moving the legacy version files to S3.
- Moving the database to its own server + adding a replica.
- Moving Memcache to its own server.
Over the past 4 months we’ve been making a lot of progress on many different fronts with Kernl. After 4 new features, 5 feature updates, 3 infrastructure changes, and numerous bug fixes, Kernl is better than ever. Check out the detailed info below, and leave a comment or reach out if you have questions.
- Purchase Code API – A long requested feature has been the ability to add and remove purchase codes from Kernl via an API. This has always been supported, but there wasn’t any documentation or examples of how to do it. We now have detailed documentation for the Purchase Code API available at https://kernl.us/documentation/api.
- WebHook Build Log – For customers using BitBucket and GitHub integration, it could be frustrating to figure why your build failed. To help with that, we added a WebHook Build Log on the continuous integration page. It can be found at https://kernl.us/app/#/dashboard/continuous-integration
- Envato Purchase Code Validation – Another often requested feature was the ability to validate against Envato purchase codes. You can read about how to use and enable this functionality at https://kernl.us/documentation#envato-purchase-code-validation.
- Caching – Since the beginning of the year, Kernl’s traffic has more than doubled and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. To keep response times and server load down, update check results are now cached for 10 seconds. What this means for you is that after you upload a new version or make any changes in the ‘edit’ modal, Kernl will take a maximum of 10 seconds to reflect those changes on the update check API endpoints.
- PHP Update Check File Timeout – In the plugin_update_check.php and theme_update_check.php files that you include in your plugin and themes, the timeout value for fetching data from Kernl is set really high by default (10 seconds). If you want the update to fail fast in the event that Kernl is down, you can now configure this value using the remoteGetTimeout property. Depending on how close your client’s server are to Kernl and how fast Kernl responds, you could likely lower this value significantly. You should exercise caution using this though. The documentation has been updated here and here to reflect the change. You will also need to publish a new build with the updated PHP files.
- Email Notification Settings – You can now enable/disable email notifications from Kernl. There are two types: General and Build. General email notifications are all emails Kernl sends to you that aren’t build emails. Build notifications are the emails you receive when a webhook event from BitBucket or GitHub triggers a build. You can modify these settings in your profile.
- Failed Build Email Notifications – You will now receive an email notification when your BitBucket/GitHub webhook push fails to build in an unexpected way. For instance if the version number in your kernl.version file doesn’t follow semantic versioning, the build would fail and send you an email notification.
- Indeterminate Spinner for Version Uploads – Depending on the size of your deliverable and the speed of your connection, the Kernl interface didn’t give a lot of great feedback when you were uploading a file. An indeterminate spinner now shows while your file is being uploaded. Copy has also been updated to reflect that this action can take a little while.
- Filterable Select on Repository Select Drop Downs – When trying to select a repository for continuous integration, it could be a real pain if you had lots of repositories. A filterable select field is now in place that allows you to search large lists easily.
- Capacity Increases – In mid March we had about 4 minutes of downtime in the wee hours of the morning while we upgraded our server capacity. Current capacity should hold until we double or triple our traffic levels.
- Mandrill to SendGrid Migration – Since the beginning of Kernl we used Mandrill as our transactional email provider. As I’m sure some of you know, Mandrill sort of screwed it’s customers by making their free low-volume plan cost $30 per month. Since this isn’t really something we wanted (or needed) to pay for, we migrated to SendGrid.
- Apache to Nginx Migration – As our traffic numbers started to rise, Apache started to fall over on us. A migration to Nginx as our reverse-proxy was high in the backlog, so instead of tweaking Apache we just did a quick migration to Nginx. With the default configuration, load levels dropped from 1 – 1.5 to 0.3 – 07 with no configuration tweaking. *high five nginx*
- Multi-tier Server Architecture – Kernl started out as a fun side project. As a side project, keeping things simple as long as possible is almost always the right choice. Now that Kernl has a growing number of paying customers, and those customers have lots of paying customers, it’s time for Kernl’s server architecture to grow as well. Over the next month or two, we’ll be teasing apart Kernl’s current infrastructure to support horizontal scaling and automatic failover in case any node in the stack goes down.
- Better Change Log Support – The current change log support on Kernl is… meh, at best. A big goal for the next month or two is try and get better change log support out the door.
- Analytics – Having some insights into your clients has always been a goal of Kernl. Doing this efficiently and cost effectively is tough, but we’re 60% there already. Infrastructure work has a higher priority than this right now, but getting this out the door in the next few months is a priority.
- Bug Fixes – As always, bug fixes come first.
When you log in to Kernl, near the top you see a few boxes with general stats in them. The ‘update pings’ stat is going to be off for awhile until the new analytics work is complete. This is due to the naive way that we currently calculate update pings not being compatible with how we cache. The ‘update downloads’ stat is still accurate since we do not cache the download endpoints.