Deploy Xamarin.Forms Apps to App Center from a Azure Multi-Stage Pipeline using Templates and Environments that Require Manual Approval

Wow, that title’s a mouthful, and I didn’t add in there that I’ve just pushed v0.2.0 release of the Pipeline Templates repository. In this post we’re going to add stages to a YAML based Azure DevOps pipeline in order to deploy a Xamarin.Forms application to AppCenter for testing. We’ll also be using on the of the latest features of the Azure DevOps YAML based pipelines, Environments, to insert a manual approval gate into our multi-stage pipeline.

Pipeline Templates v0.2.0

Before we get into talking about releasing apps to AppCenter I just wanted to reiterate that there is a new release of the Pipeline Templates repository with the following changes:

  • Added a new parameter, stage_name, to iOS, Android and Windows build templates. It has a default value, which matches the value previously specified on the stage element in the template, so won’t break any existing builds. This parameter can be set by the calling pipeline so that the stage is given a known name, which can then be referenced by other stages in the dependsOn element.
  • Added deployappcenter.yml template that can be used to deploy iOS, Android and Windows apps to AppCenter. For Android, if the application_package parameter is an .aab file, the calling pipeline will also need to supply keystore information. AppCenter doesn’t support .aab files, so the pipeline uses bundletool to generate and sign a fat apk, which is submitted to AppCenter.

Deploy to AppCenter

With a classic pipelines in Azure DevOps, you can setup separate build and release pipelines. However, YAML pipelines don’t differentiate between build and release pipelines; instead you can split a single pipeline into multiple stages (as we demonstrated in the previous post when we used different templates to create different stages in the build process).

To deploy apps to AppCenter we could simply create a template, similar to what we did with the build templates, that includes the tasks necessary to deploy to AppCenter, and then add new stages to our pipeline for each app we want to deploy. However, this would limit our ability to take advantage of some of the deployment specific features that are available in Azure DevOps. For this reason, the AppCenter template makes use of a deployment job in order to do the steps necessary to release an app to AppCenter.

Using the AppCenter Template

The following YAML pipeline provides an example of using the new AppCenter deployment template to deploy Windows (UWP), Android and iOS applications to AppCenter. Note that the ref element for the repository resource has been updated to point to the v0.2.0 tag.

resources:
  repositories:
    - repository: builttoroam_templates
      type: github
      name: builttoroam/pipeline_templates
      ref: refs/tags/v0.2.0
      endpoint: github_connection
  
variables:
  - group: 'Inspector XF Build Variables'
  
stages:
## Build stages excluded for brevity
- template:  azure/mobile/[email protected]_templates
  parameters:
    stage_name: 'Deploy_Windows'
    depends_on: 'Build_Windows'
    environment_name: 'Inspector-Alpha'
    artifact_name: 'inspector-build'
    artifact_folder: 'Windows_output'
    application_package: 'Inspector-XF-Windows.appxbundle'
    appcenter_service_connection: 'AppCenterInspectorCI'
    appcenter_organisation: 'thenickrandolph'
    appcenter_applicationid: 'Inspector-XF-UWP'
    appcenter_release_notes: 'Release from deploy pipeline'

- template:  azure/mobile/[email protected]_templates
  parameters:
    stage_name: 'Deploy_Android'
    depends_on: 'Build_Android'
    environment_name: 'Inspector-Alpha'
    artifact_name: 'inspector-build'
    artifact_folder: 'Android_output'
    application_package: 'Inspector-XF-Android.aab'
    appcenter_service_connection: 'AppCenterInspectorCI'
    appcenter_organisation: 'thenickrandolph'
    appcenter_applicationid: 'Inspector-XF-Android-Alpha'
    appcenter_release_notes: 'Release from deploy pipeline'
    secure_file_keystore_filename: '$(android_keystore_filename)'
    keystore_alias: '$(android_keystore_alias)'
    keystore_password: '$(android_keystore_password)'

- template:  azure/mobile/[email protected]_templates
  parameters:
    stage_name: 'Deploy_iOS'
    depends_on: 'Build_iOS'
    environment_name: 'Inspector-Alpha'
    artifact_name: 'inspector-build'
    artifact_folder: 'iOS_output'
    application_package: 'Inspector-XF-iOS.ipa'
    appcenter_service_connection: 'AppCenterInspectorCI'
    appcenter_organisation: 'thenickrandolph'
    appcenter_applicationid: 'Inspector-XF-iOS-Alpha'
    appcenter_release_notes: 'Release from deploy pipeline'

There are a couple of prerequisites that need to be setup in order for the deploy stages to work:

  • Each deploy stage specifies a depends_on property. This needs to correlate to the stage_name property specified on the corresponding build stage.
  • The artifact name, artifact folder and application_package properties need to match to the values used in the corresponding build stage.
  • A Service Connection needs to be established between Azure DevOps and AppCenter (in this case it was given the name ‘AppCenterInspectorCI’)
  • An application needs to be registered in AppCenter for each target platform. Each deploy stage needs the organisation (ie username or org_name) and applicationid (app_identifier). See the documentation on the AppCenterDistribute task for more information on how to find these values for your AppCenter apps.

Manual Approval with Environments

I mentioned earlier that using a deployment job would allow us to take advantage of deployment specific features. This is an area that’s currently under development and we’d expect to see more features lighting up in this area over time.

One feature that’s available today is the ability to add manual approval requirement to a deployment job. However, unlike in the classic pipeline where you’d create a manual approval requirement directly on the release pipeline, on a YAML pipeline you actually need to associated the deployment job with an environment and then add a manual approval on the environment.

You may have noticed that each of the deploy stages in the example YAML specified the environment_name property. This defines which environment you’re going to be deploying to. At this stage the only thing you can use this for in terms of deploying a mobile application is to require manual approval for the stage to continue. Let’s step through creating the environment and the approval requirement and you’ll see what I mean.

Create an Azure Pipelines Environment

Under the Pipelines tab, select Environments and then click the Create environment button in the center of the screen.

Next, provide a name for your environment and click Create. At this stage we don’t need to define any resources, so you can leave the default selection of “None”. The name that you specify for your environment has to match what you use as the environment_name property on the template.

Adding Manual Approval to the Environment

In order to add a manual approval requirement to an environment, simply open the environment (if you’ve just created the environment you’re already there). From the drop-down menu in the top-right corner, select Approvals and checks.

Next, click the + button in the top right corner.

Select Approvals, and then click Next

In the Approvals flyout you can specify a list of users and/or groups that need to approve a release to the environment. If you specify multiple users, each user needs to approve the release. If you specify a group, only one person in the group needs to approve the release.

In the Approvals flyout you can also specify a timeout; if the deployment isn’t approved for an environment within the timeout, the pipeline will fail.

Note: Currently there are no emails, or other notifications, sent to approvers. If you limit the timeout, once the specified period has elapsed if the environment hasn’t been approved, the pipeline fail and a notification will be sent out. The stage in the pipeline that failed can then be manually run and again, approval for the environment will be required.

Running the Build and Deploy Pipeline

Now when we run the pipeline, what we see in the portal is three different rows (one for each platform) with two stages (a build and deploy stage).

We’ve set the dependsOn element on each of the build stages to an empty array (ie []) meaning that they have no dependencies (btw the default is that stages will be done in the sequence that they appear in the YAML file, unless you indicate there should be no dependencies). Depending on how many build agents you have at your disposal the build stages may run in sequence, or in parallel.

Eventually, when each of the build stages completes, the corresponding deploy stage will light up indicating that it’s waiting for a check to be passed. There’s also a message box inserted into the interface to draw attention to the required approval.

Once all three of the build stages are complete, there are 3 approvals required; one for each of the deploy stages. The way we’ve structured the pipeline you have to approve the deployment for each platform.

If you wanted to require only a single approval for all three platforms you could inject an additional stage that was dependent on all three build stages. The approval would be required for this single stage, and then each of the subsequent deploy stages would be permitted to continue without further checks. The downside of this would be that you would have to wait for all builds to fail before you could deploy the app to any platform.

Summary

In this post we’ve looked at using a pipeline template for deploying Xamarin.Forms applications to AppCenter for testing across Windows (UWP), iOS and Android. In actual fact, and what I didn’t point out earlier, the deploy template can be used for any iOS, Android or Windows (UWP) app, not just a Xamarin.Forms application.

I also walked through setting up an environment so that you could add a manual approval step to the deployment process. Whilst the YAML pipelines don’t yet have all the features of the classic release pipeline, you can see from the way that the components connect and the UI that’s built in the portal that the foundations have been laid for future features to be built on.

3 thoughts on “Deploy Xamarin.Forms Apps to App Center from a Azure Multi-Stage Pipeline using Templates and Environments that Require Manual Approval”

  1. I’m alllllmost done setting this up! 🙂

    BUT there are two pipeline errors I’m hitting in the AppCenter deploy part I just can´t figure out.

    I have been trying all kinds of stuff without luck.

    1.
    This error is in “Download Artifacts”
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender will correlate events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender did not correlate any events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…

    Artifact multiplier-build was not found for build properties -> Android Manifest -> Package name).

    I set the Android Package Format to bundle (in Android project -> properties -> Android Options)

    What am I doing wrong here?

  2. Something went wrong and only half of my question got posted… second try…

    I’m alllllmost done setting this up! 🙂

    BUT there are two pipeline errors I’m hitting in the AppCenter deploy part I just can´t figure out.

    I have been trying all kinds of stuff without luck.

    1.
    This error is in “Download Artifacts”
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender will correlate events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender did not correlate any events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…

    Artifact multiplier-build was not found for build properties -> Android Manifest -> Package name).

    I set the Android Package Format to bundle (in Android project -> properties -> Android Options)

    What am I doing wrong here?

  3. Lets try this the third time…

    I’m alllllmost done setting this up! 🙂

    BUT there are two pipeline errors I’m hitting in the AppCenter deploy part I just can´t figure out.

    I have been trying all kinds of stuff without luck.

    1.
    This error is in “Download Artifacts”
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender will correlate events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…
    Information, ApplicationInsightsTelemetrySender did not correlate any events with X-TFS-Session 07554f2d-…

    Artifact multiplier-build was not found for build (this line is red on error but I don’t know if the other two at top are relevant or not.)

    2.
    I get this error in “Use Bundletool to extract and sign APK”

    Running Java with args -jar d:\a\2\bundle.jar build-apks –bundle=d:\a\2/multiplier-build/Android_output/com.MyOrg.MyApp.aab –mode=universal –output=d:\a\2\fatapk.apks –ks=d:\a\_temp\my_android_keystore.keystore –ks-key-alias=*** –ks-pass=pass:***
    Bundle extract complete
    Unzipping fat apk
    Exception calling “ExtractToDirectory” with “2” argument(s): “Could not find file ‘d:\a\2\fatapk.apks’.”
    At D:\a\_temp\9f8766c7-323f-4c41-a6cf-042079c24b46.ps1:13 char:1
    + [System.IO.Compression.ZipFile]::ExtractToDirectory(‘d:\a\2\fatapk.ap …

    I have this in my yml
    application_package: ‘com.MyOrg.MyApp.aab’

    where ‘com.MyOrg.MyApp’ is my android package name (in Android project -> properties -> Android Manifest -> Package name).

    I set the Android Package Format to bundle (in Android project -> properties -> Android Options)

    What am I doing wrong here?

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