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Working Offline

Running pipelines locally allows offline usage.

This is by design, however existing pipelines, especially when written for a remote service like Bitbucket, might not work out of the box and need some preparation.

This is not inherently hard and this document shows hand-on advice how to do it.

A build is best run locally and a stable one should not depend (always) on remote resources so that it has less brittle dependencies and executes fast on the many re-iterations.

Running the build locally and with no connection to the internet is a simple test for that.

The pipelines utility as well as the pipelines YAML file-format have plenty of properties to support a more independent and faster build.

In this document, read about more general considerations and also find some specific examples for offline usage of pipelines incl. containers and what to do with remote files, dependencies and packages.

General Considerations

Pipelines are based on Docker containers. Their images need to be pulled if not stored locally.

Local Docker Containers

Before going into offline mode, make use of --images and the shell:

$ pipelines --images | while read -r image; do \
   docker image pull "$image"; done;

If there are specific Docker container images in a project, build all images before going offline as these at some place at least depend on a base container and resources in such container definitions that are very likely not to exist locally.

That is because building Docker images most often make use of remote resources that are unavailable when not connected to the internet.

Remember: Pipelines always prefers locally stored containers. As long as they are available, no internet connection is required to use them.

Build Dependencies

Pulling Docker images might not suffice to run a pipeline with pipelines completely offline.

For example when fetching build dependencies with tools like npm or composer, these can not be installed when offline.

First of all pipelines is relatively immune to such an effect if these dependencies were already installed within the project. As pipelines makes a full copy of the project into the pipeline container, dependencies might already be available.

However this might not always be the case and then offline usage would be broken. A build might also use different than the development dependencies to build and therefore would need to fetch while offline.

Caching of Build Dependencies

Caches within pipelines can be used to cache build dependencies. Add caches to your pipelines by giving them a distinct name (all caches are shared on a per project basis) and run the pipelines before going offline to populate the cache.

When the build utilities support a cache to fall back to when being offline, this is an easy way to not only make pipelines faster by sparing network round-trips, but also to make them work with no internet connection.

Read more about caches in Working with Pipeline Caches.

Remote Build Services

Despite all the offline capabilities, when a pipeline step fires webhooks or uploads build artifacts to remote services, this can not be done offline.

The remote service is a hard dependency of the pipeline then.

A prominent example for that are for example deployment steps as most often they need to interact with remote services.

Depending on your build needs, this may be a showstopper.

To not be completely blocked from building in an offline situation, this can be handled by separating artifacts creation from uploading them in pipeline steps of their own.

Pipeline artifacts can be used to make build artifacts from one step available in the following steps.

pipelines then can run those pipeline steps specifically which are not affected when being offline with the --step argument and artifacts afterwards inspected within your project.

Test Offline Usage

As there is no guarantee that using pipelines offline works out of the box, it is useful to give it a test-run before entering a true offline situation.

This can be done by actually going offline and do the development work including running the pipelines needed for it if being offline is not your standard way to work (hard to imagine for some persons nowadays, give it a try if you think so as it can be very interesting how hard you're affected by that with benefits working online as well).

Special Offline Requirements

For some containers it might be standard to modify their base-images' environment on a pipeline run. For example, a PHP image is optimized for a build pipeline step by installing composer and system packages like unzip and git.

While it could be better to actually build dedicated build-images of their own and have them at hand already in the pipeline step, while developing intermediate results might be achieved differently. Before introducing too much into generic base container images too early, it is often preferable as these things tend to change a lot in the beginning to do the groundwork in a less fixed fashion, for example by extending a pipeline step script first.

As pipelines is a development utility, find more specialized offline configurations following.

Individual HTTP Caching

Obtaining files via http while building can be common, e.g. when installing more specific tools or libraries.

One example of that within the pipelines project itself is the composer install script. That is a simple shell script wrapping the composer installation.

As it normally acquires the composer installer from Github, it won't work offline (and would always need to download the composer installer and composer itself).

The whole process can be short-circuited within the pipeline script already by not calling the composer installer script when composer is already installed:

    - command -v composer || lib/pipelines/
(unless the composer command is installed, install it)

It would already be installed for example if the --keep option is in use as the container would be re-used with all the file-system changes.

The --keep option most certainly is not applicable when working offline (despite it could help in some situations).

Instead the individual http caching is in the script lib/pipelines/ itself.

The solution is simple. The script changes the working directory into a http-caching directory ~/.cache/build-http-cache and unless files are already available they are downloaded relative to this working directory.

In the pipelines file the cache is defined and all downloads get automatically cached:

    build-http-cache: ~/.cache/build-http-cache

More is not needed to cache things. A simple shell script can help in maintaining the procedure.

This is just exemplary. Composer offers its own docker image. Also the package manager of the Linux distribution may also have Composer available as a package. So take this example with a grain of salt. It is more an example how HTTP caching can be done than how it should be done.

Strategically it is most often better to prepare build containers and have their lifecycle well defined on project level.

Cache Alpine APK Packages

In Alpine based container images, the apk package manager commonly is in use. By default these dependencies can not be cached with predefined Pipeline caches as there is no such apk-cache predefined.

To nevertheless make use of apk add <package> within a pipeline while being offline, the folder /etc/apk/cache needs to be cached by defining a cache (here apk) and using it:

          - apk add bash
          - /bin/bash --version
          - apk
    apk: /etc/apk/cache

Once the apk cache is populated, the pipeline runs offline despite the bash package is installed in the pipeline script. This first of all works without further ado, after some time, apk tries to re-connect for getting a fresh package index. This will cost some 2-3 seconds, as apk does this two times, see the try again later messages, but as the package is found in the cache, adding the package works without any error:

ERROR: temporary error (try again later)
ERROR: temporary error (try again later)
(1/4) Installing ncurses-terminfo-base (6.2_p20200523-r0)
The --no-cache Option

Do not use apk add with the --no-cache argument. It effectively prevents storing the files into the cache. Then, when offline, apk(1) can not select the package and gives an error message showing that apk failed to select the package. This is different to a Dockerfile that keeps a layer size down. This is normally not the case within a pipeline.

Tested with alpine releases 3.12.0 and 3.13.5.


Cache Python pip install

Enriching a Python based pipeline with pip install (see as well Installing Packages in the pip manual) can be cached up to full package downloads (which is a requirement when working offline).

A common example is the use of a requirements.txt file, it works likewise with package names:

$ pip install --user -r requirements.txt

Next to the pre-defined pip cache, to use pip offline fully, the installed packages need to be cached, too.

To not cache all Python packages (that would include all those a pipeline container image already contains which would be bulky) pip offers the --user flag to install the packages into the user-site. That is a separate location, by default beneath the $HOME directory, to install to (see as well User Installs in the pip manual).

This "user-site" directory can be obtained with the following python command:

$ python -m site --user-site

This needs to be obtained in concrete with the actual pipeline container image, e.g. the docker image for the mkdocs-material based build that pipelines is using to build the HTML docs which is in use for this example:

$ docker run --rm --entrypoint /bin/sh squidfunk/mkdocs-material \
    -c 'python -m site --user-site'

The output already shows the site-packages directory which is the cache directory. The $HOME part of it can be abbreviated in pipelines with the tilde (~) or $HOME:

    pip-site-packages: ~/.local/lib/python3.8/site-packages
(define a pipeline cache for pip site-packages, here the user is "root")

With such a pip site packages cache in use, the pip install command can run offline already.

This is not complete for all packages. Some pip packages install more, for example commands into ~/.local/bin. These need another cache just for that folder:

    pip-site-packages: ~/.local/lib/python3.8/site-packages
    localbin: ~/.local/bin

That done, for the example of a tailored build with the mkdocs-material image, the python based pipeline runs flawlessly offline (with all the benefits of running much faster locally even when online).