Release pipelines and release names

VSTS | TFS 2018 | TFS 2017 | TFS 2015


Build and release pipelines are called definitions in TFS 2018 and in older versions. Service connections are called service endpoints in TFS 2018 and in older versions.

A release pipeline is one of the fundamental concepts in Release Management for your DevOps CI/CD processes. It defines the end-to-end release process for an application to be deployed across various environments.

You start using Release Management by authoring a release pipeline for your application. To author a release pipeline, you must specify the artifacts that make up the application and the release process.

An artifact is a deployable component of your application. It is typically produced through a Continuous Integration or a build process. Release Management can deploy artifacts that are produced by a wide range of artifact sources such as Team Build, Jenkins, or Team City.

You define the release process using environments, and restrict deployments into or out of an environment using approvals. You define the automation in each environment using phases and tasks. You use variables to generalize your automation and triggers to control when the deployments should be kicked off automatically.

An example of a release process that can be modeled through a release pipeline in shown below:

Artifacts in a pipeline and release

What's the difference between a release pipeline and a release?

In this example, a release of a website is created by collecting specific versions of two builds (artifacts), each from a different build pipeline. The release is first deployed to a Dev environment and then forked to two QA environments in parallel. If the deployment succeeds in both the QA environments, the release is deployed to Prod ring 1 and then to Prod ring 2. Each production ring represents multiple instances of the same website deployed at various locations around the globe.

An example of how deployment automation can be modeled within an environment is shown below:

Artifacts in a pipeline and release

In this example, a phase is used to deploy the app to websites across the globe in parallel within production ring 1. After all those deployments are successful, a second phase is used to switch traffic from the previous version to the newer version.

TFS 2015: Phases, and fork and join deployments, are not available in TFS 2015.

Besides the release process, release pipelines have a few options that can be customized: release names and retention policies.

Release names

The names of releases for a release pipeline are, by default, sequentially numbered. The first release is named Release-1, the next release is Release-2, and so on. You can change this naming scheme by editing the release name format mask. In the Options tab of a release pipeline, edit the Release name format property.

When specifying the format mask, you can use the following pre-defined variables.

Variable Description
Rev:rr An auto-incremented number with at least the specified number of digits.
Date / Date:MMddyy The current date, with the default format MMddyy. Any combinations of M/MM/MMM/MMMM, d/dd/ddd/dddd, y/yy/yyyy/yyyy, h/hh/H/HH, m/mm, s/ss are supported.
System.TeamProject The name of the project to which this build belongs.
Release.ReleaseId The ID of the release, which is unique across all releases in the project.
Release.DefinitionName The name of the release pipeline to which the current release belongs.
Build.BuildNumber The number of the build contained in the release. If a release has multiple builds, this is the number of the primary build.
Build.DefinitionName The pipeline name of the build contained in the release. If a release has multiple builds, this is the pipeline name of the primary build.
Artifact.ArtifactType The type of the artifact source linked with the release. For example, this can be Team Build or Jenkins.
Build.SourceBranch The branch of the primary artifact source. For Git, this is of the form master if the branch is refs/heads/master. For Team Foundation Version Control, this is of the form branch if the root server path for the workspace is $/teamproject/branch. This variable is not set for Jenkins or other artifact sources.
Custom variable The value of a global configuration property defined in the release pipeline.

For example, the release name format Release $(Rev:rrr) for build $(Build.BuildNumber) $(Build.DefinitionName) will create releases with names such as Release 002 for build 20170213.2 MySampleAppBuild.

Release retention

You can customize how long releases of this pipeline must be retained. For more information, see release retention.

Release history

Every time you save a release pipeline, Release Management keeps a copy of the changes. This allows you to compare the changes at a later point, especially when you are debugging a deployment failure.

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