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Software Configuration Management

We live in an age marked by a tremendous influence of technology in virtually every aspect of our life. IT (Information Technology) is reigning supreme and computers have become inseparably intertwined with our daily lives. Software companies are keeping themselves busy with the development of myriad pieces of software that control, or are related to, various aspects of our work and life in general. Software development is big business nowadays. From small pieces of software to large-scale applications – software comes in all shapes and sizes. So where does software configuration management figure in the scheme of things? Well, it’s the solution that ensures that the software is developed smoothly and without unnecessary delays.

Having said that, let me add that we have just about scratched the surface of the entire concept of software configuration management. It is a rather technical concept that may be difficult to comprehend for those who are not from a technical background, or even for newbies who have just started out to understand it. It is not self-explanatory and usually requires a formal introduction to the subject. For the uninitiated, finding oneself facing a computer with a Open Source Code Data configuration software open in front, can be quite an intimidating experience indeed!

To start understanding software configuration management, one is required to have some degree of familiarity with C++ or Java, as well as a basic working knowledge of Linux or Unix. Configuration management, in the broadest of terms, can be defined as managing changes. When there are multiple people working on the same piece of software, it becomes essential to have a software configuration management system in place to allow for harmonious work on a simultaneous basis. Configuration management makes it easier for computer systems to evolve with the incessant changes in software and computer technology. Constant upgrades to newer computer systems and networks have become unavoidable. Such upgrades however, often results in error and damages to the system. Configuration management technology prevents the occurrence of such problem by recording the details of changes that are done to the components and devices of a computer system.

The essence of software configuration management can be better understood if we look at a typical scenario that involves two people trying to work on the same file simultaneously from two different terminals. Let us suppose that in a local network system, you are working on a Word document. As you continue working on the document, it is accessed by another user from a different terminal. However, he’d be able to open a Read-Only version of the same file. In other words, he would not be able to make any changes to the document. In order to do so, you need to stop working on the document and close the file on your terminal. Most networks devoid of a software configuration management system would not allow multiple sets of changes to be made to the same file due to security reasons. Even if it did, there is always the possibility of two users accessing the same document, make two sets of changes and causing the last set of changes to overwrite all the previous ones.

Software configuration management systems work in such a way that there is always a central database of files which users can access to check them, make alterations, save them – all in a non-destructive mode. Every generation of changes made to a particular file is kept in the system’s archives to enable easy retrieval of an old version as and when the need arises. Some of the attributes of any software configuration management system are concurrency management, versioning and synchronization. These collectively allow for multiple versions of the same to exist side-by-side. All changes and alterations made to a specific file are closely monitored by the system and maintained in its memory. So, no change ever gets lost and if a point comes in the developmental cycle when an earlier stage needs to be reverted to, a software configuration management system easily lets you do that.

Concurrent management is a key feature. It basically allows multiple users to work on the same file simultaneously, and merges the changes by checking the updated files against the root files residing in the database. This is done by running a series of complex algorithms. Versioning is another very useful feature. It works by archiving copies of each file in the database. This lets users to recall any previous version of a file. Each file version is stored in the system along with such details as who checked the files, when it was done, what the changes were and so on. Last but not the least, synchronization is the process of a user submitting his file to the database so that the software configuration management system can update the master file for subsequent use.

Software configuration management makes effective teamwork possible. As software systems get more complex, the need for such a system will only continue to grow.
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