In most cases, a software upgrade will cause problems. It’s a sad truth, because it means most development teams don’t enjoy working on them. But upgrades are often necessary, so there has to be a way to protect yourself from the fallout, right? In this article, we’ll look at why upgrades are so problematic, and how to handle upgrade-related problems and reduce risk, using the example of one of our clients.
Upgrades will cause problems
The first step is accepting that there’s no upgrade process that’s completely risk-free. Instead of thinking about avoiding these issues, you need to be focused on reducing their impact and dealing with them efficiently.
Why are we so pessimistic about this? Here are only a couple of reasons:
- Upgrading Ruby on Rails apps is problematic because the bigger an app becomes, the more small libraries have to be upgraded.
- Upgrading projects is demotivating to developers, because it causes many more bugs to pop up than the creation of new features. And most developers don’t enjoy a bug-fixing process that seems to have no end, as is often the case during upgrades.
- Upgrading your app will reveal the shortcomings in its past maintenance, as well as any cut corners related to code quality.
The right way to approach an app upgrade
If you know your app needs an upgrade, don’t worry. There are ways to minimize risk and come out the other side with better code quality. The first step is finding the right people to work on the upgrade. They need more than just simple development experience - it would be best if they had worked on a similar project before and knew what it entails. This will allow them to make a truly informed choice and maintain motivation for this kind of work.
Next, consider the ongoing development or maintenance of your project. You will need a proper testing environment for the upgrade, where you team will handle problems without affecting your users. It’s also crucial to create a detailed plan for the upgrade. It’ll guide your team through any confusion that arises out of unpleasant surprises in the code.
If there’s no one on your team who can handle one or more of these steps, talk to a trusted software development partner. iRonin’s experts have helped upgrade client’s apps many times, often starting with the planning stage. We know what to prepare for and how to do it.
The four major steps we use to ensure the success of our clients’ software updates are:
- Preparing resources for the upgrade - mainly, the right team of experts,
- Analyzing the risks,
- Planning the upgrade itself,
- Completing the upgrade from start to finish without affecting the client’s business negatively,
- Monitoring the app after the upgrade to make sure that everything works correctly.
Upgrading an e-learning platform from Rails 4 to Rails 5
Woospeak is a global training center and an ERP system that offers comprehensive online lessons for business clients. They needed to upgrade Ruby on Rails for their entire platform, which was live and supporting numerous users. We planned the upgrade in a way that would allow us to avoid affecting user experience. We also didn’t want to cause any delays in the project’s ongoing development.
We did not upgrade the entire platform at once. Instead, we updated the libraries one by one to minimize risk and have a clear picture of the situation at all times. We also identified major risk areas and chose a strategy for eliminating them. We planned for catching eventual errors in the production environment very quickly, to fix them before they would be able to affect users.
We improved the platform’s test coverage to make sure that all important features worked correctly. Next, we ran QA and code reviews to be 100% certain that the upgrade didn’t create problems anywhere in the app. Most importantly, a highly experienced Rails developer handled the upgrade and was able to predict what might go wrong. Our team coordinated the entire process, from explaining to the client that they needed the Rails update, to the deployment of Rails 5 and monitoring the outcomes on production.
Software updates are a complex art
When you need to change the code under a working solution, the experience can be terrifying. You have to face any negligence in the project’s maintenance and the size of its technical debt. Developers are usually tired of fixing bugs, and the upgrade process is all about handling errors, so team motivation may be low. You also have to understand the older code in the application - what it does, why it’s necessary (or not), and how careful you need to be with it.
Only avoiding upgrades is more problematic than the upgrade itself
The longer you wait to begin an upgrade, the more difficult it becomes. The effectiveness of your ongoing development process will decrease, and you won’t benefit from the excellent work of the community in terms of improving your code. As time passes, your team will feel more and more alone with their problems, and less motivated to give it their all. Also, frameworks and libraries get new versions for a reason - often they include major feature updates or security patches, and you don’t want to miss out on those.
If you need help with a software upgrade, let us know
We recently finished a challenging upgrade process for a complex, old app with significant technological debt. We have people on the team who know how to manage this sort of challenge and feel excited about doing so. And if your project uses Ruby on Rails, all the better - we know this technology in and out.
Remember - if you think you need a software update, don’t stall. It’ll only get more challenging as time goes on.
Ready to talk about upgrading your software application?
iRonin’s experts will be happy to help you prepare a solid upgrade plan, based on our extensive experience.
Chief Technology Officer
Open source fan and growth seeker with over a decade of experience in writing for both human beings and computers. I connect the dots to create high-quality software, valuable relations with people and businesses.