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How to Confidently Not Break Server Startup

Introducing Tilt CI

Does this story sound familiar?

You commit a change. You push it to CI. All tests pass. You merge. The change deploys to staging.

Then your Ops team notifies you that all the staging servers are down. But don’t worry, they’ve already reverted your change!


Oh, the war stories I could tell you about staging servers that failed to start. I remember one bug where the code assumed process IDs were pseudo-random, and of course each new server process would get a unique process ID. Or another where a Javascript bundler changed where the generated files lived in the prod builds. Or the struggles to adapt how each generation of compiled language invents a new way to package static resources.

But after years of failure, I’m optimistic.

Kubernetes is becoming a shared standard for running multi-service apps in prod. Lots of teams are getting Kubernetes into lots of different environments, including CI.

Does that mean we have the tools to test, in CI, that all the servers in our app can start?

Introducing tilt ci

To test our Kubernetes app in CI, we need two big pieces.

We need a new kind of build system that knows how to watch runtime and verify your server is healthy.

We need a way to spin up short-lived clusters from scratch.

We’re going to briefly walk you through each piece.

tilt ci Command

Tilt now has a new command: tilt ci.

If tilt up is for an interactive multi-service development environment, tilt ci is for testing that same environment in CI.

When you run tilt ci, Tilt will:

  1. Read your Tiltfile
  2. Build and push all the container images
  3. Deploy the servers
  4. Wait until the servers are healthy
  5. And exit on success!

If it encounters any unrecoverable errors, Tilt will quit immediately.

If you want to customize how Tilt defines “healthy”, Kubernetes lets you define readiness probes that let you provide your own definition.

And when you need checks beyond what you can express in readiness probes, use a local_resource with arbitrary commands to run against your server.

Ephemeral CI clusters

You can run tilt ci against any cluster, even a production one like AKS or GKE.

But for testing on CI, we recommend Kind.

When you start Kind with a local registry, you have an entirely self-contained cluster environment. No secret keys for a private container registry. No service accounts. No hosted inscrutable magic. Just you and your cluster.

For specific details on how to get a Kind cluster set up on your own CI environment, see:

See it in Action

tilt ci is available in Tilt v0.13.0 and higher.

We’re not just advocates for the local Kubernetes dev club. We’re also clients! 👨‍🦲

Every change in our repo creates a new Kind cluster and runs the latest build of Tilt against it.

We recently developed guides for servers written in:

All of them use tilt ci with a Kind cluster to test that the servers start up. With each Tilt release, we create a Tilt Docker image that contains Tilt and Kind for use in CI. Check out the guides if you need a working example!


Already have a Dockerfile and a Kubernetes config?

You’ll be able to setup Tilt in no time and start getting things done. Check out the docs! 

Having trouble developing your servers in Kubernetes?