Once the decision has been made to halt development and begin release engineering, all currently unfinished projects are evaluated. This evaluation involves computing the time required to complete the project as opposed to how important the project is to the upcoming release. Projects that are not selected for completion are removed from the distribution branch of the source code control system and saved on branch deltas so they can be retrieved, completed, and merged into a future release; the remaining unfinished projects are brought to orderly completion.
Developments from CSRG are released in three steps: alpha, beta, and final. Alpha and beta releases are not true distributions--they are test systems. Alpha releases are normally available to only a few sites, usually those working closely with CSRG. More sites are given beta releases, as the system is closer to completion, and needs wider testing to find more obscure problems. For example, 4.3BSD alpha was distributed to about fifteen sites, while 4.3BSD beta ran at more than a hundred.
The first step in creating an alpha distribution is to evaluate the existing state of the system and to decide what software should be included in the release. This decision process includes not only deciding what software should be added, but also what obsolete software ought to be retired from the distribution. The new software includes the successful projects that have been completed at CSRG and elsewhere, as well as some portion of the vast quantity of contributed software that has been offered during the development period.
Once an initial list has been created, a prototype filesystem corresponding to the distribution is constructed, typically named /nbsd. This prototype will eventually turn into the master source tree for the final distribution. During the period that the alpha distribution is being created, /nbsd is mounted read-write, and is highly fluid. Programs are created and deleted, old versions of programs are completely replaced, and the correspondence between the sources and binaries is only loosely tracked. People outside CSRG who are helping with the distribution are free to change their parts of the distribution at will.
During this period the newly forming distribution is checked for interoperability. For example, in 4.3BSD the output of context differences from diff was changed to merge overlapping sections. Unfortunately, this change broke the patch program which could no longer interpret the output of diff. Since the change to diff and the patch program had originated outside Berkeley, CSRG had to coordinate the efforts of the respective authors to make the programs work together harmoniously.
Once the sources have stabilized, an attempt is made to compile the entire source tree. Often this exposes errors caused by changed header files, or use of obsoleted C library interfaces. If the incompatibilities affect too many programs, or require excessive amounts of change in the programs that are affected, the incompatibility is backed out or some backward-compatible interface is provided. The incompatibilities that are found and left in are noted in a list that is later incorporated into the release notes. Thus, users upgrading to the new system can anticipate problems in their own software that will require change.
Once the source tree compiles completely, it is installed and becomes the running system that CSRG uses on its main development machine. Once in day-to-day use, other interoperability problems become apparent and are resolved. When all known problems have been resolved, and the system has been stable for some period of time, an alpha distribution tape is made from the contents of /nbsd.
The alpha distribution is sent out to a small set of test sites. These test sites are selected as having a sophisticated user population, not only capable of finding bugs, but also of determining their cause and developing a fix for the problem. These sites are usually composed of groups that are contributing software to the distribution or groups that have a particular expertise with some portion of the system.
After the alpha tape is created, the distribution filesystem is mounted read-only. Further changes are requested in a change log rather than being made directly to the distribution. The change requests are inspected and implemented by a CSRG staff person, followed by a compilation of the affected programs to ensure that they still build correctly. Once the alpha tape has been cut, changes to the distribution are no longer made by people outside CSRG.
As the alpha sites install and begin running the alpha distribution, they monitor the problems that they encounter. For minor bugs, they typically report back the bug along with a suggested fix. Since many of the alpha sites are selected from among the people working closely with CSRG, they often have accounts on, and access to, the primary CSRG development machine. Thus, they are able to directly install the fix themselves, and simply notify CSRG when they have fixed the problem. After verifying the fix, the affected files are added to the list to be updated on /nbsd.
The more important task of the alpha sites is to test out the new facilities that have been added to the system. The alpha sites often find major design flaws or operational shortcomings of the facilities. When such problems are found, the person in charge of that facility is responsible for resolving the problem. Occasionally this requires redesigning and reimplementing parts of the affected facility. For example, in 4.2BSD, the alpha release of the networking system did not have connection queueing. This shortcoming prevented the network from handling many connections to a single server. The result was that the networking interface had to be redesigned to provide this functionality.
The alpha sites are also responsible for ferreting out interoperability problems between different utilities. The user populations of the test sites differ from the user population at CSRG, and, as a result, the utilities are exercised in ways that differ from the ways that they are used at CSRG. These differences in usage patterns turn up problems that do not occur in our initial test environment.
The alpha sites frequently redistribute the alpha tape to several of their own alpha sites that are particularly interested in parts of the new system. These additional sites are responsible for reporting problems back to the site from which they received the distribution, not to CSRG. Often these redistribution sites are less sophisticated than the direct alpha sites, so their reports need to be filtered to avoid spurious, or site dependent, bug reports. The direct alpha sites sift through the reports to find those that are relevant, and usually verify the suggested fix if one is given, or develop a fix if none is provided. This hierarchical testing process forces bug reports, fixes, and new software to be collected, evaluated, and checked for inaccuracies by first-level sites before being forwarded to CSRG, allowing the developers at CSRG to concentrate on tracking the changes being made to the system rather than sifting through information (often voluminous) from every alpha-test site.
Once the major problems have been attended to, the focus turns to getting the documentation synchronized with the code that is being shipped. The manual pages need to be checked to be sure that they accurately reflect any changes to the programs that they describe. Usually the manual pages are kept up to date as the program they describe evolves. However, the supporting documents frequently do not get changed, and must be edited to bring them up to date. During this review, the need for other documents becomes evident. For example, it was during this phase of 4.3BSD that it was decided to add a tutorial document on how to use the socket interprocess communication primitives.
Another task during this period is to contact the people that have contributed complete software packages (such as RCS or MH) in previous releases to see if they wish to make any revisions to their software. For those who do, the new software has to be obtained, and tested to verify that it compiles and runs correctly on the system to be released. Again, this integration and testing can often be done by the contributors themselves by logging directly into the master machine.
After the stream of bug reports has slowed down to a reasonable level, CSRG begins a careful review of all the changes to the system since the previous release. The review is done by running a recursive diff of the entire source tree--here, of /nbsd with 4.2BSD. All the changes are checked to ensure that they are reasonable, and have been properly documented. The process often turns up questionable changes. When such a questionable change is found, the source code control system log is examined to find out who made the change and what their explanation was for the change. If the log does not resolve the problem, the person responsible for the change is asked for an explanation of what they were trying to accomplish. If the reason is not compelling, the change is backed out. Facilities deemed inappropriate in 4.3BSD included new options to the directory-listing command and a changed return value for the fseek() library routine; the changes were removed from the source before final distribution. Although this process is long and tedious, it forces the developers to obtain a coherent picture of the entire set of changes to the system. This exercise often turns up inconsistencies that would otherwise never be found.
The outcome of the comparison results in a pair of documents detailing changes to every user-level command Bug Fixes and Changes and to every kernel source file. Changes to the Kernel These documents are delivered with the final distribution. A user can look up any command by name and see immediately what has changed, and a developer can similarly look up any kernel file by name and get a summary of the changes to that file.
Having completed the review of the entire system, the preparation of the beta distribution is started. Unlike the alpha distribution, where pieces of the system may be unfinished and the documentation incomplete, the beta distribution is put together as if it were going to be the final distribution. All known problems are fixed, and any remaining development is completed. Once the beta tape has been prepared, no further changes are permitted to /nbsd without careful review, as spurious changes made after the system has been diffed are unlikely to be caught.
The beta distribution goes to more sites than the alpha distribution for three main reasons. First, as it is closer to the final release, more sites are willing to run it in a production environment without fear of catastrophic failures. Second, more commercial sites delivering BSD-derived systems are interested in getting a preview of the upcoming changes in preparation for merging them into their own systems. Finally, because the beta tape has fewer problems, it is beneficial to offer it to more sites in hopes of finding as many of the remaining problems as possible. Also, by handing the system out to less sophisticated sites, issues that would be ignored by the users of the alpha sites become apparent.
The anticipation is that the beta tape will not require extensive changes to either the programs or the documentation. Most of the work involves sifting through the reported bugs to find those that are relevant and devising the minimal reasonable set of changes to fix them. After throughly testing the fix, it is listed in the update log for /nbsd. One person at CSRG is responsible for doing the update of /nbsd and ensuring that everything affected by the change is rebuilt and tested. Thus, a change to a C library routine requires that the entire system be rebuilt.
During this period, the documentation is all printed and proofread. As minor changes are made to the manual pages and documentation, the affected pages must be reprinted.
The final step in the release process is to check the distribution tree to ensure that it is in a consistent state. This step includes verification that every file and directory on the distribution has the proper owner, group, and modes. All source files must be checked to be sure that they have appropriate copyright notices and source code control system headers. Any extraneous files must be removed. Finally, the installed binaries must be checked to ensure that they correspond exactly to the sources and libraries that are on the distribution.
This checking is a formidable task given that there are over 20,000 files on a typical distribution. Much of the checking can be done by a set of programs set to scan over the distribution tree. Unfortunately, the exception list is long, and requires hours of tedious hand checking; this has caused CSRG to develop even more comprehensive validation programs for use in our next release.
Once the final set of checks has been run, the master tape can be made, and the official distribution started. As for the staff of CSRG, we usually take a brief vacation before plunging back into a new development phase.