Note: This article assumes you are already familiar with all the components involved in Ethereum nodes
Rolling out software upgrades is a common operation task. It is often overlooked during the service scaling up. Ensuring that the new release is deployed in time is particularly important for running Ethereum or blockchain infrastructure in general because:
- New upgrades & forks are only supported by the new release, failing to do so in time will result in the node stopping syncing or producing invalid blocks. In the worst-case scenario, it will cause validators going offline and getting slashed.
- New releases might contain security patches. It will harden the network and your system, preventing financial or data loss.
While understanding the importance of timely software upgrades is crucial, it's also essential to recognize the challenges associated with implementing them effectively. In the next section, we'll discuss the difficulties of maintaining up-to-date software at scale and best practices for overcoming these obstacles.
Managing software upgrades becomes increasingly complex as the number of nodes and clients in a network grows. When operating at scale, challenges such as breaking changes in configurations and newly introduced bugs can significantly impact the upgrade process. Furthermore, updating in production environments is more difficult due to the need to minimize downtime.
Apart from technical issues, several non-technical challenges can hinder the upgrade process:
- De-prioritization: Software upgrades can often be considered as good-to-have rather than essential, leading to outdated software and potential security vulnerabilities.
- Different versioning schemas: Inconsistent versioning schemes across clients can complicate the upgrade process and increase the likelihood of errors.
- Too many software releases to track: Monitoring and managing numerous software releases that require regular updates can be a daunting task, especially in large-scale environments with multiple nodes and clients.
While these challenges can seem overwhelming, adopting effective strategies, processes, and best practices can streamline the software upgrade process. In the following sections, we'll discuss potential solutions to address the challenges faced by Ethereum validator operators during software upgrades.
If you haven't already, consider tracking your deployments and configurations in a Git repository or adopting GitOps practices for streamlined version control and consistency.
A software inventory is a comprehensive record of all software components within your system, including client implementations, versions, and configurations. Maintaining an up-to-date software inventory is crucial for successful software upgrades, as it helps you better plan for and execute upgrades while minimizing the risk of unexpected issues. The following approaches can help you achieve a well-organized software inventory:
- Metrics: Many clients expose version information through their Prometheus metrics, making it simple to create a Grafana panel that displays version information for all your workloads. By visualizing this data, you can easily monitor software versions and identify any discrepancies that may require attention.
A panel for Lighthouse version distribution
- Third-party tools: Leverage third-party tools to help manage your software inventory. There are many open-source tools available for generating inventory reports. If you're using Kubernetes, you can use Kubernetes Inventory Docker image or Anchore's k8s-inventory to help you track client versions in your deployments.
- In-house solution: Develop a custom in-house solution tailored to your specific needs, such as a simple shell script. Creating a solution that fits your organization's requirements allows for seamless integration with your existing systems and processes.
Gateway.FM in-house tool
To keep your software up to date, it's essential to stay informed about the latest releases and improvements. Most software projects publish new releases on GitHub, making it an ideal starting point to subscribe to new release events for all the clients you use. There are several tools and services available to help you accomplish this:
- GitHub's built-in subscription feature: Use the native subscription feature on GitHub to receive notifications about new releases from your followed repositories.
- NewReleases.io: NewReleases.io is a handy service that allows you to track new releases across various platforms, including GitHub.
Track releases on newreleases.io
- Other alternatives: Explore alternative services for monitoring new software releases and choose the one that best suits your needs.
Alternatively, you can develop a custom bot tailored to your requirements for tracking new releases and staying informed about the latest updates.
Proper planning is crucial for the smooth execution of software upgrades. By incorporating software upgrade planning into your project management process, you can ensure timely implementation, address the risk of de-prioritization, and mitigate potential technical issues due to more time to research and prepare.
- Make sure you talk about software upgrades in the planning session: For example, if your team uses Scrum and conducts planning every two weeks, allocate 20 minutes just to go through all the software new releases. This practice will help ensure that upgrades are prioritized and completed within the designated time frame.
- Check for deadlines and breaking changes: When you go through the releases, make sure you check for any deadlines associated with software upgrades, such as hard forks or security patches, and plan accordingly. Also, examine the release notes for breaking changes that may require additional work or adjustments to your existing configurations. Keep in mind that some changes, like database upgrades, might be irreversible and must be rolled out with care.
Automation can significantly streamline the software upgrade process, minimizing the risk of human error and reducing the time required to complete the upgrade. Implementing automation in your upgrade process can increase efficiency and ensure that updates are consistently applied. Here are some example tasks that can benefit from automation:
- Automated pull requests: Utilize tools or scripts that automatically create pull requests when new software releases are detected, updating the deployment definition accordingly. This approach ensures that your system stays up-to-date with the latest software versions and reduces the manual effort required to initiate updates.
- Automated rollout and rollback: Use tools like Argo Rollouts to define acceptance criteria and roll out new versions automatically. This method is particularly useful if you require several hours to confirm the success of each deployment. Additionally, these tools often provide built-in rollback capabilities, ensuring that your system can quickly recover from any issues encountered during the upgrade process.
By incorporating automation into your software upgrade strategy, you can greatly improve the overall efficiency and reliability of your update process, ensuring that your Ethereum nodes remain secure and up-to-date.
Keeping software up-to-date requires commitment and is an essential part of operating a secure and stable blockchain infrastructure, such as Ethereum. By understanding the challenges associated with software upgrades and implementing effective solutions, such as maintaining an accurate software inventory, staying informed about new releases, planning for upgrades, and automating the upgrade process, you can ensure timely and successful software updates.