Chapter 22. Large-Scale Changes

Think for a moment about your own codebase. How many files can you reliably update in a single, simultaneous commit? What are the factors that constrain that number? Have you ever tried committing a change that large? Would you be able to do it in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency? How does your largest commit size compare to the actual size of your codebase? How would you test such a change? How many people would need to review the change before it is committed? Would you be able to roll back that change if it did get committed? The answers to these questions might surprise you (both what you think the answers are and what they actually turn out to be for your organization).

At Google, we’ve long ago abandoned the idea of making sweeping changes across our codebase in these types of large atomic changes. Our observation has been that, as a codebase and the number of engineers working in it grows, the largest atomic change possible counterintuitively decreases—running all affected presubmit checks and tests becomes difficult, to say nothing of even ensuring that every file in the change is up to date before submission. As it has become more difficult to make sweeping changes to our codebase, given our general desire to be able to continually improve underlying infrastructure, we’ve had to develop new ways of reasoning about large-scale changes and how to implement them.

In this chapter, we’ll ...

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