Release Overview

Mattermost ships with a new version on the 16th of each month in binary form for self-managed customers. Mattermost also ships releases with new features and bug fixes to Mattermost Cloud every two weeks.

For the past few years, Mattermost used a monthly “tick-tock” alternating release cycle. A tick-tock cycle refers to even-numbered releases (e.g., 5.26) containing new features, and odd-numbered releases (e.g., 5.27) containing only bug fixes and performance improvements. As our product and team continue to evolve, we're moving away from this alternating release cycle in favor of a general monthly server release.

When security issues are found that warrant a patch release, we follow the security release process outlined here.

Release numbering

Mattermost numbers stable releases in the following format: [Version Number].[Major Build Number].[Minor Build Number]

Version number:

  • Purpose: Major system releases introduce significantly new functionality or change existing product behavior

  • Release frequency: Unscheduled. Major system releases are infrequent

  • Example: v1.x.x, v2.x.x

Major build number:

  • Purpose: Introduce new features, bug fixes and performance improvements

  • Release frequency: Monthly on the 16th of each month

  • Example:

    • Even numbers (e.g. v1.2.x, v1.4.x): New features and bug fixes

    • Odd numbers (e.g. v1.3.x, v1.5.x): Quality release including performance improvements and bug fixes

Minor build number:

  • Purpose: Patch existing releases when severe bug fixes or security patches are required

  • Release frequency: As required

  • Example: v1.2.5, v1.2.6

Objectives

The goal is to deliver value to users quickly by a) shipping fast to get features to customers quickly for experimentation / feedback, and b) iteratively behind feature flags as a protection if any issues arise. This document outlines the principles and guidelines for how we release a new update of each product line weekly to Cloud and monthly to self-managed.

Multi-product Release Principles

The goal is not to have the same release cadence for all products, but there may be similar schedules. E.g. Incident Collaboration and Focalboard plugins are pre-packed once a month with the Self-sanaged releases, however, admins will have a config option to turn off products. As the product suite gets bigger, we’ll need a dedicated Release Manager for each product. We can duplicate/reuse a similar build process for new plugins in the suite.

Release Owners

  • Messaging: Amy Blais

  • Focalboard: Focalboard PM and devs; TBD: Amy Blais

  • Incident Collaboration: Incident Collaboration dev rotation; TBD: Amy Blais

  1. Focus on High Impact by shipping every new feature and any riskier code changes behind a feature flag.

    • Enables us to iterate in Cloud to deliver value to Self-Managed users more quickly by shipping changes faster.

    • Currently the feature complete deadline for Self-Managed release is roughly 3 weeks prior to release day, but in the future we can consider pushing it to later. Each suite vertical is individually responsible for quality and deciding if a feature should be included in a release or not (with the release team giving guidelines). This may mean shipping more patch releases, but we can manage some of this by using feature flags. This also requires good test automation coverage.

  2. Automate.

    • This allows us to ship releases more often and push feature complete deadlines to later.

    • Automate release processes and tasks.

    • Automate release tests and have E2E tests for features.

  3. Earn Trust by communicating to external and internal stakeholders clearly.

    • Enables us to make expectations for releases clear for all stakeholders.

    • Make expectations for each release clear (release dates, etc.). Communicate. Ensure that everyone on the team is familiar with the release processes.

    • Release notes, minimum version requirements, and any important upgrade notes need to be available for customers and communicated via docs, twitter, blog, emails, channels, download page, GitHub.

  4. Earn Trust by including all stakeholders (Tech Writers, Marketing, QA, etc.) early in the release process.

    • Enables us to avoid missing key tasks and to avoid last minute work.

    • E.g. When opening a PR, add a “Docs/Needed” label for any PRs that need docs and communicate to Tech Writers. Don’t wait until merging the PR/feature. This ensures that we have time to complete docs on time when our releases become faster.

    • Make tracking bugs and testing requirements easy. E.g:

    • Resolve Jira tickets for QA when PRs are merged (and cherry-picked).

    • Add QA test steps to Jira tickets and/or PRs.

    • Add Fix Versions and Milestones in Jira/PRs for bugs/tickets for easy tracking.

    • Add clear Release Notes on PRs.

  5. Achieve Customer Obsession by doing retrospectives on release issues and monitoring customer/community release bug reports after releases.

    • This allows us to learn from issues so that they don’t happen again and to fix critical bugs asap.

    • Retrospectives for issues and dot releases are important. Sample retrospective doc used for releases. Could also use Incident Collaboration for this.

    • Monitor community and customer reports in Github, Forum, Zendesk, and channels like Ask R&D, in partnership with the Support team.

  6. Release new products tightly integrated with the Mattermost suite.

    • E.g. Focalboard will ship as a plugin in June; Incident Collaboration is a plugin. Plugins are the strategy for now, maybe there will be another strategy for the long-term.

Overview of Release Cycles

Currently Mattermost Cloud releases occur on a 2-week cycle, but the goal is to release more frequently. Cloud and Self-Managed PRs don’t need to be cherry-picked to releases, except for any last minute bug fixes that get merged after the release branch is cut, and any necessary hotfixes.

Schedule for Mattermost Cloud releases:

  • (T-7): 7 working days prior to the release day, the master branch is merged to the Cloud branch.

  • (T-0): Release Day

Schedule for Self-Managed releases:

  • (T-12): Feature Review/Judgment Day/Release branch cut

  • (T-11): RC1 Cut

  • (T-10): RC testing and final QA testing

  • (T-5): Code Freeze

  • (T-2): Cut Final

  • (T-0): Release Day

  1. The feature is tested on a PR and E2E test automation is added.

  2. Large features are added behind a feature flag.

  3. The feature flag is initially “off” in Mattermost Cloud and will be rolled out slowly.

  4. Self-managed release branch and release candidate are cut based on the Mattermost Cloud release. Prior to the cut to self-managed, the Release Manager reviews new feature flags and provides a report to the PM/QA teams for their review. Essentially a feature will be included in a self-managed release once the feature flag has been removed.

  5. Self-managed release candidate is smoke-tested.

  6. Self-managed release final is cut and released publicly.

Release dates communication

Release dates are currently communicated in the following ways. Further iteration and improvements on this process can be done in the future.

  1. Channels

    • The Release Announcements channel functions as the main location for important announces about new releases, release branches cut, release candidates and test server updates, and release dates and feature complete deadlines. Specific teams or people may be at-mentioned if the announce is targeted to someone.

    • The Announcements channel functions as the central place to find the most important announcements for new releases with links to blog posts that can be easily shared with external stakeholders including MLT and customers.

  2. Mattermost Release Dates Calendar

    • Lists key release dates and deadlines.

  3. PM and R&D meetings

    • Updates are provided on upcoming key dates and/or features.

  4. Productboard

    • Productboard - One calendar overview of what releases + features are coming up.

Understanding the cadence

  • The Mattermost Cloud releases follow a 2-week cycle and the release day is normally on Wednesdays. Feature Complete deadline for each Mattermost Cloud release is on Mondays 7 working days prior to the release day.

  • The Mobile App release cadence is monthly on the 16th of every month.

  • Currently the cadence is that the Mattermost Cloud release shipped in the last week of a month will become the next self-managed release. The release branch for a self-managed release (e.g. release-5.32) will be cut once the Mattermost Cloud release that will be used for the next self-managed release has been shipped.

  • This cadence is subject to change in the future and any changes will be documented and announced.

Release Cadence Illustration

Tracking feature flags

The Release Manager is able to look at the version we have deployed to Mattermost Cloud. Also, when we are hooked up to split.io, there will be a dashboard where you can see active and historic feature flags. Any feature that has its flag removed would be included on any self-managed releases past the point after that removal was merged. More details on feature flags: https://developers.mattermost.com/contribute/server/feature-flags/.

Cloud release branch processes

Process for merging the master branch into the cloud branch

  • The Cloud team opens PRs in webapp, server, redux, api-reference, and Enterprise branches to merge the master branch into the cloud branch (example PR).

  • Devs should be aware of the dates when a master branch is merged into a cloud branch in order to be mindful of avoiding having incomplete features in a Cloud release, and to include bug fixes that we may want to include in a release.

Process for cutting the release branch for Self-Managed releases based off of Cloud releases

  • Instead of using the tick-tock branching process, the self-managed releases are now cut based off of the Mattermost Cloud release tags (e.g Mattermost Server v5.32 release was based off of cloud-2021-01-26 tag).

Adding milestones on PRs and Jira tickets

Releases are now focused on "shipping features and improvements when they're ready for Mattermost Cloud, and then they'll get to a self-managed release once they've been available on Mattermost Cloud for 2+ weeks".

  • If the PR is scheduled for a specific Mattermost Cloud or Self-Managed release, please add the Cherry-pick Approved label and Self-Managed milestone on the PR. Cloud doesn't have a specific milestone in GitHub and the PRs can be tracked via the Cherry-pick Approved label. The Release Manager keeps track of PRs with the Cherry-pick Approved label and Self-Managed milestone on a daily basis.

  • A new Cloud branch (based off of master) is used, and any regression bug fixes for the next Cloud release will be cherry-picked there. This applies to webapp/server/Enterprise repos.

  • A fix version such as “Cloud (November 24)” is added in Jira to track regression bug fixes for Mattermost Cloud releases.

  • The Self-Managed releases are based off of Mattermost Cloud releases.

Triaging Mattermost Cloud customer issues

When triaging a bug report, consider the following:

  • Impact of the bug on customers.

  • Severity of the issue.

  • Risk and effort of reverting to the last version or fixing a bug.

Criteria

  1. "We need to revert to the last version" process:

    • Crash or all services are down due to a bug; affects some to all Mattermost Cloud customers.

  2. "We need to release this ASAP" process:

    • A severe regression or loss of functionality; affects some to all Cloud customers.

  3. "It's OK to wait until next release" process:

    • Loss of function, but little impact on Cloud customers.

Responders

  • Who is making the decision on which process above we need to follow?

    • In some cases it's the SET On-Call Commander, and in some cases it's other people such as the Release Manager or developers who notice or get notified about the report.

  • Bugs will be fixed by either the SET team or by respective development teams, depending on availability and expertise.

Reports

  • The Cloud team has created a central channel for escalations from Cloud Support channel (available in the Staff team). Additionally when a report is posted, it is important to notify the SET Lead, Release Manager, and Development Lead of the team that owns the feature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the release cycle for the React Native mobile apps?

  • A: The mobile apps follow the same monthly release cycle as Mattermost Server/Webapp, releasing on the 16th of each month.

Q: What is the release cycle for the Mattermost Desktop app?

  • A: Desktop releases are currently released as required.

Q: Do we use Incident Collaboration playbooks for releases?

  • A: Yes, Incident Collaboration playbooks are used for Cloud, Mobile, Dot releases, Self-managed, and plugin releases, including Incident Collaboration itself.

Q: When is release branch cut for a self-managed release?

  • A: Self-managed releases are based off of Mattermost Cloud releases. For example, the self-managed v5.32.0 release is based off of the cloud-2021-01-26 release tag. Currently the cadence is that the Mattermost Cloud release shipped in the last week of a month will become the next self-managed release. The release branch for a self-managed release will be cut once the Mattermost Cloud release that will be used for the next self-managed release has been shipped.

Q: How does the release build pipeline process work for self-managed releases?

Q: How are PRs merged for release?

  • A: PRs are first merged to master. As needed, the dev who submitted the fix is also responsible for cherry-picking it to the release branch after a release branch has been cut.

Q: How is cherry-picking done?

Q: What is community.mattermost kept on?

  • A: community.mattermost is kept on the most recent Mattermost Cloud release.

Q: What is community-release.mattermost kept on?

  • A: community-release.mattermost is kept on the currently in-progress Mattermost Cloud release.

Q: What is community-daily.mattermost kept on?

  • A: Normally on master branch and it updates hourly.

Q: How to remove a feature/bug from a release?

  • A: The feature flag is turned off. Another option is reverting the feature from the master and release branches.

Q: How are NOTICE.txt PRs submitted?

  • A: PRs are first merged to master. The dev reviewer is responsible for helping cherry-picking it to the release branch.

Q: Is an improvement a feature or a bug?

  • A: Usually features/story tickets.

Q: How does release team monitor what changes went into a release?

Q: How does translations branching work?

  • A: The translation PR will be submitted against the master branch and will be cherry-picked to the release branch as needed.

Q: How does cutting mobile builds work?

Q: What is the process for community PRs?

  • A: Review, merge, and cherry-pick as needed.

Q: Will RC testing remain, or will RC testing process change?

  • There is still manual RC testing for Mobile App releases until all release tests are automated.

Q: Do Mobile and Desktop App releases follow the "cloud first" strategy?

  • Mobile and Desktop App releases are not based off of Mattermost Cloud releases at this point.

Q: How do we track feature differences for Mattermost Cloud and self-managed releases?

  • Any feature that's promoted out of the feature flag process would be turned on for the self-managed releases. That way self-managed releases only get fully tested features that are ready for release, and does not get the ones still being tested. There will be some cases where we need to make a fix or change something for the self-managed release (e.g., a bug that only occurs if you use a certain self-managed setting or a certain database we don't use in Mattermost Cloud). In those cases the self-managed release might have some changes that are not a direct copy of the Mattermost Cloud build.

Q: What information does the Customer Support team need for Cloud releases?

  • The Cloud Releases channel in the Staff team is used for release updates and for posting the changelog. This may be automated in the future. We're also planning to have a dashboard that shows the current version deployed to Mattermost Cloud, and which commits are included.

Q: How will versioning work?

  • Currently the GitHub are tagged as a date, e.g. cloud-2021-06-02-1. With Mattermost Cloud, it's not whether or not a feature is enabled, but whether or not the server is capable of supporting the feature.