Cloud Native Buildpacks: an Industry-Standard Build Process for Kubernetes and Beyond.

April 3, 2019 Emily Casey

Cloud Native Buildpacks Unlock Developer Productivity

If you want to make your developers more productive with Kubernetes, you’re going to want to look at Cloud Native Buildpacks.

Cloud Native Buildpacks evolve a concept first pioneered by Pivotal and Heroku. The big idea behind buildpacks? Building containers from source code should be completely automated.

Why fiddle with containers built by hand, when you can just push your code and have the buildpack create the container for you? This way, you don’t have to sweat the runtime dependencies. And it’s push-button easy to update your container later. Just push your code, and buildpacks do the rest.

There’s an operational and security benefit too. Buildpacks build apps in a consistent, repeatable way. This consistency makes it easy to audit and control what’s running on your platform at any given time. You can assess your risk from a given CVE quickly, and remediate a patch moments later.

That’s why buildpacks are so popular with high-velocity development teams. Buildpacks transform application source code into a portable artifact that can run on Pivotal Application Service, or the open-source Cloud Foundry Application Runtime. Since their introductionHeroku users have benefitted from the simplicity, usability, and flexibility of buildpacks across millions of production apps.

We want as many developers as possible to benefit from buildpacks. To this end, we teamed up with Heroku to create Cloud Native Buildpacks.


Cloud Native Buildpacks bring the power of buildpacks to Kubernetes

The project aims to deliver a consistent platform-to-buildpack contract for use in more places. The interface defined by this contract is informed by learnings from maintaining production-grade buildpacks for years at both Pivotal and Heroku.

Today, the Cloud Native Buildpacks project is open for test/dev scenarios. The Cloud Foundry Buildpacks team has also released a selection of next-gen Cloud Foundry buildpacks compatible with the new project. With this release you can try buildpacks out on Pivotal Container Service (PKS) and Pivotal Application Service (PAS). Some of this technology is already integrated into Pivotal Function Service (PFS) when functions are built using the riff CLI.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this tech. The best place to start? The current state of buildpacks.


Buildpacks are fundamental to the Cloud Foundry “Day 2” experience

Currently, buildpacks function “under the hood” within Cloud Foundry (CF).

When you cf push your custom code, buildpacks automatically add in the framework dependencies and create an application “droplet” that’s ready to run on the platform. The droplet model allows Cloud Foundry to gracefully handle dependency updates. In-container OS package updates can be automatically performed for all the apps running on the platform without downtime or disruption. Application runtimes can be updated simply by pulling in the latest buildpacks and rebuilding a droplet. Buildpacks are a central component of the day-2 experience CF users love.

Now imagine an experience that expands on this idea, and builds an OCI image that can run on any platform? Locally, it might look something like this:

$ pack build myapp

That’s Cloud Native Buildpacks. We believe developers will love the simplicity of this single command to get a production quality container when they prefer not to author and maintain their own Dockerfile.

Read on for more details.


Cloud Native Buildpacks make a great idea even better

While traditional buildpacks are wonderful, Cloud Native Buildpacks are a big step forward for the industry. Here’s why:

  1. Portability via the OCI standard. Cloud Native Buildpacks produce OCI Images from source code. While the application droplet is tied to CF, OCI images are an open source container standard. This makes Cloud Native Buildpacks much more portable. Which is to say, they can be used by more abstractions like Kubernetes and Knative.

  2. Greater modularity. Cloud Native Buildpacks are modular. Engineers can enjoy a higher degree of specificity in their buildpack configuration experience. More practically, this will allow platform operators more control over how developers build their code at runtime.

  3. Speed. Cloud Native Buildpacks build exponentially faster due to advanced build caching, layer reuse, and data deduplication.

  4. Faster troubleshooting. Cloud Native Buildpacks can be used in a developer’s local environment. This helps troubleshoot production issues much faster.

  5. Reproducible builds. Cloud Native Buildpacks enable reproducible container image builds.

Sounds pretty good right? Now here’s how you can get started.


Get Started with Cloud Native Buildpacks

Ready to take Cloud Native Buildpacks for a spin? You can work with Cloud Native Buildpacks locally using the CLI (‘pack’). Give it a try, and share your feedback with us on Slack.

You’ll also want to check out the docs for a common demo scenario:

What does all this mean for Pivotal Cloud Foundry customers? We thought you might be curious about that.


Up next: Making Cloud Native Buildpacks ready for the enterprise

Cloud Native Buildpacks are wonderful tech. But like most open-source projects, it’ll need some polish to be plug-and-play ready for enterprise scenarios. That’s what Pivotal is exploring now. In fact, Pivotal is currently exploring three such scenarios: image promotion, operator control, and automated image patching. Let’s take a deeper look at how each area could be addressed with a Pivotal build service. The features discussed below, and any other forward-looking features, will be deployed if and when available.

Image Promotion—No Rebuild Required

The current CF app promotion process can be painful for developers. Today, developers must keep rebuilding the same droplet, a tedious process. Another pain point: underlying dependencies may not always align throughout the promotion process because apps may not be built using the same buildpack versions.  Pivotal is exploring a build service with a more intelligent approach to image updating. In this new world, developers would be able to promote images through environments, and eventually, across PCF foundations.

Automated Image Updates Makes Developers More Productive

Pivotal is also exploring a declarative configuration model. Tell the build service what you want your app to look like. Then, it would deliver new images to your registry whenever this configuration falls out of sync. If a new CVE is announced, new buildpack versions are made available and new images are built.

Operator Control

A useful build service would provide tighter operator control by restricting buildpack usage in the apps they supervise.

With a build service, operators could create build configurations for different groups of developers within the organization. These configurations would govern the buildpacks that any given dev is allowed to use. This is a better experience for operators; they can be more confident that their apps use secure, compliant dependencies. Developers would not have to worry about what they can, and can't, use. Instead, they would just focus on their source code.


To Remove Toil, Use Cloud Native Buildpacks

The best developers strive to eliminate toil from their lives. These engineers figure that if a task doesn’t add value, it should be automated so you don’t ever have to think about it again. With Cloud Native Buildpacks, developers can happily remove that much more toil from their jobs.



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About the Author

Emily Casey

Emily Casey is a Staff Software Engineer and anchor of the Cloud Native Buildpacks team at Pivotal. She spent 4 years working as a software consultant before joining Cloud Foundry R&D in 2016. She has a Bachelor’s in physics from the University of Chicago.

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