Refactor Circular Dependencies


This is not authoritative documentation. These features are not currently available in Zuul. They may change significantly before final implementation, or may never be fully completed.

Zuul currently supportes circular dependencies and recent work has extended that support to include optimizations such as deduplicating builds (one of the challenges noted in the original spec for circular dependencies). The original implementation of circular dependencies is characterized by an attempt to minimize changes to the existing dependency system and pipeline management algorithms in Zuul. It did this principally by retaining the 1:1 relationship between queue items and changes (so that a pipeline queue retained the characteristic that it is a strict linear ordering of individual changes) and adding the concept of a “bundle” representing the circular dependency as a relationship superimposed on the pipeline queue.

As Zuul has grown more complex, this is proving more difficult to manage, resulting in more code errors and maintenance burden. In particular, increasingly large amounts of the pipeline management code is bifurcated with if item.bundle conditionals, which can result in exponentially increasing complexity as we design test scenarios to try to cover all the cases.

Originally, the “Nearest Non-Failing Item” (NNFI) algorithm in Zuul was quite simple: if the change ahead of the current change is not the nearest change ahead which is not failing, move the current change behind the NNFI and restart jobs. This required only two pieces of information, the item ahead and the NNFI, both of which can be determined by a strictly linear walk down the queue. Bundles, however, are starting to require more looks ahead and behind at other items in the queue, making the algorithm much harder to understand and validate.

This spec proposes a refactoring of the circular dependency code with the intention that we return the main pipeline management algorithms to something closer to their original simplicity. We should be able to minimize looking behind items in the queue while continuing to support circular dependencies and related features like deduplication.

Proposed Change

We should update the QueueItem class to support multiple changes at once, and remove the concept of Bundles altogether. In this way, we will no longer link cycles across queue items, but rather have a single queue item that represents an entire cycle.

In the case that circular dependencies are not required, the queue item will simply have a list of included changes of length 1. Any code that processes queue items will in all cases iterate over all changes in that queue item when dealing with it, whether that list is 1 or >1.

The process of reporting will be similar, and likely simpler. Currently when a change in a bundle is reported, we report the entire bundle at once (even queue items that we haven’t actually processed yet). The actual sequence of remote API calls will be the same, but conceptually, we will be reporting a single item in Zuul.

Currently, build deduplication causes us to link builds across different queue items (and even different queues in independent pipelines). Since pipelines can treat all changes in a cycle as a single queue item, that will no longer be necessary; the process of deduplicating builds will only need to consider builds within a single queue item. And it may make things more clear to users when they see cyclical changes enqueued together instead of a series of invisibly-linked changes in a dependent pipeline, or as a repeated series of the same changes in an independent pipeline.


Multiple Jobs with Same Name

A major issue to consider is how to deal with multiple jobs with the same name. Consider two projects where each project runs a linters job individually and they also run an integration job that tests the two projects together. In Zuul, we eschew the idea of having a distinct job name for every project in favor of fewer jobs that understand they may be run in different contexts. So instead of having project1-linters and project2-linters, we just have linters that is run with context variables indicating the name of the project that it should be testing.

Since a buildset belongs to a single queue item and a queue item is for a single change, every build in Zuul, be it a single-repo job like linters or multi-repo like integration knows the change context in which it is being run. If we are to have multiple changes for a queue item, we still need to be able to run the linters job for both project1 and project2, so we need to resolve that ambiguity.

To do so, we will retain the concept of having a single buildset for a queue item, but instead of assuming that a job name is a unique identifier in a buildset, we will now require the tuple of (job, change) to uniquely identify the build.

This will allow us to deduplicate builds at the buildset level in some cases, and not deduplicate them in others. A potential two-change cycle may produce the following buildset:

Job Name








Rather than running integration a second time, it will be deduplicated (just as it is today) and run in the context of one of the changes in the cycle.

This will require changes not only to internal data storage in the model and ZK, but also the SQL database.

SQL Changes

The SQL database will be updated to the following schema (only relevant tables included; build artifacts, events, etc will remain unchanged).

digraph G {
    graph [layout=sfdp, overlap_scaling=4]
    node [shape=none, margin=0]
    edge [arrowsize=2]
    zuul_buildset [label=<
        <table border="0" cellborder="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="4">
            <tr><td port="_table" bgcolor="black"><font color="white">zuul_buildset</font></td></tr>
            <tr><td port="id" align="left">id</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">uuid</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">tenant</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">pipeline</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">result</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">message</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">event_id</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">event_timestamp</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">first_build_start_time</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">last_build_end_time</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">updated</td></tr>

    zuul_ref [label=<
        <table border="0" cellborder="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="4">
            <tr><td port="_table" bgcolor="black"><font color="white">zuul_ref</font></td></tr>
            <tr><td port="id" align="left">id</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">project</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">change</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">patchset</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">ref</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">ref_url</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">oldrev</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">newrev</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">branch</td></tr>

    zuul_buildset_ref [label=<
        <table border="0" cellborder="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="4">
            <tr><td port="_table" bgcolor="black"><font color="white">zuul_buildset_ref</font></td></tr>
            <tr><td port="buildset_id" align="left">buildset_id</td></tr>
            <tr><td port="ref_id" align="left">ref_id</td></tr>

    zuul_build [label=<
        <table border="0" cellborder="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="4">
            <tr><td port="_table" bgcolor="black"><font color="white">zuul_build</font></td></tr>
            <tr><td port="id" align="left">id</td></tr>
            <tr><td port="buildset_id" align="left">buildset_id</td></tr>
            <tr><td port="ref_id" align="left">ref_id</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">uuid</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">job_name</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">result</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">start_time</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">end_time</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">voting</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">log_url</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">error_detail</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">final</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">held</td></tr>
            <tr><td align="left">nodeset</td></tr>

    zuul_build:buildset_id -> zuul_buildset:id
    zuul_buildset_ref:buildset_id -> zuul_buildset:id
    zuul_buildset_ref:ref_id-> zuul_ref:id
    zuul_build:ref_id -> zuul_ref:id

Information about changes (refs) is moved to a new zuul_refs table in order to reduce duplication. Buildsets are linked to refs many-to-many (in order to represent that a buildset is for the set of changes that were attached to the queue item). Builds are also linked to a single ref in order to indicate the change context that was used for the build. The combinations of (job_name, ref_id) in a buildset are unique.


Currently the provides/requires system only considers jobs in other queue items. That is, if a job for item A provides something that a job for item B requires, even if A and B are in a dependency cycle, they will be linked since they are in different queue items (though this may only work for dependency cycle items ahead of an item in the queue, not behind, thus illustrating another example of the complexities motivating this change).

With this change, we should attempt to maintain the status quo by searching for builds which can provide requirements only in items ahead. This means that provides/requires will not take effect at all within items of a cycle. That is a small change from today, in that today there are some cases where that can happen, however, the current behavior is so inconsistent that it would better to normalize it to the current definition. In other words, we will maintain the behavior where jobs in the same queue item’s job graph are not linked by provides/requires.

Having done that, we can choose to, in a future change, expand the search to include the job graph for a queue item, so that provides/requires are satisfied via jobs for the same queue item or even the same change. This would apply equally to dependency cycles or standalone changes. This is often a point of confusion to users and after the dependency cycle refactor would be a good time to clarify it. But in order to minimize behavioral changes during the dependency refactor, we should evaluate and make that change separately in the future, if desired.

Job Graph

When freezing the job graph, all changes in a queue item will be considered. A rough algorithm is:

  1. Start with an empty job graph

  2. For each change on the item:

    1. Freeze each job for that change

    2. Add it to the graph

  3. Once all jobs are frozen, establish dependencies between jobs

  4. Deduplicate jobs in the graph

    1. If a to-be-deduplicated job depends on a non-deduplicated job, it will treat each (job, ref) instance as a parent.

    2. Otherwise, each job will depend only on jobs for the same ref.

This maintains the status quo where users generally only need to consider a single project when creating a project-pipeline definition, but we will automatically merge those in a seamless way for dependency cycles.


We can perform some prep work to update internal data storage to support the new system, but it may not be practical to actually support both behaviors in code (to do so may require carrying two copies of the model and pipeline manager codebases). If this proves impractical, as expected, then we won’t be able to have a seamless online upgrade, however, we can still have a zero-downtime upgrade with a minimum of user-visible impact.

For any upgrades where we can’t support both behaviors simultanously, we can have the new components startup but avoid processing data until all components have been upgraded. In this way, we can startup new schedulers (which may take tens of minutes to fully startup), and let them idle while older schedulers continue to do work. Once an operator has started a sufficient number of schedulers, they can shut down the old ones and the new ones will immediately resume work. This will leave operators with fewer operating schedulers during the transition, but that time can be made very brief, with only delayed job starts as user-visible impact.

Bundle Changes

One of the complexities motiving this work is that the members of a dependency cycle can change over time, potentially without updates to the underlying changes (in GitHub via editing a PR message, and in Gerrit by editing a change topic). In these cases, the normal systems that eject and potentially re-enqueue changes don’t operate.

The new system will be better suited to this, as when we evaluate each queue item, we can verify that the dependency cycle of its changes matches its changes. However, we should understand what should happen in various cases.

If a change is added to a cycle, we should run the addChange method (or equivalent) for every change in the cycle to ensure that all dependencies of all of the items changes are enqueued ahead of it.

If the new change is not already in the pipeline, it will appear to simply be added to the item. If it is already in the pipeline behind the current item, it will appear to move up in the pipeline. The reverse case will not happen because we will process each dependency cycle the first time it appears in a pipeline.

As we process each item, we should check whether it is already enqueued ahead (because it was added to an item ahead due to the preceding process), and if so, dequeue it.

If a change is removed from a dependency cycle, it should be enqueued directly ahead the item it was previously a part of. Depending on response time, this may happen automatically anyway as splitting a cycle may still leave a one-way dependency between the two parts.

It may be desirable to perform two pipeline processing passes; one where we adjust sequencing for any cycle changes, and a second where we run the NNFI algorithm to make any necessary changes to buildsets.

The stable buildset UUID concept introduced by Simon in may be useful for this.

Work Items

  • Change the frozen job data storage in ZK from being identified by name to UUID. This allows us to handle multiple frozen jobs in a buildset with the same name. This can be done as an early standalone change.

  • Make job dependency resolution happen at job graph freeze time. This lets us point to specific frozen jobs and we don’t need to constantly recalculate them. This will keep the determination of job parents as simple as possible as we perform the refactor. This can be done as an early standalone change.

  • Update SQL database. We should be able to update the database to the new schema and map the current behavior onto it (since it’s effectively the n=1 case). This can be done as an early standalone change.

  • Update the status page to handle multiple changes per item. We can do the work needed to render multiple changes for a queue item, and again, use that with the current system as an n=1 case. This can be done as an early standalone change.

  • Update the BuildSet.job_map to transform it from from { job} to { {change.cache_key: job}}. This will facilitate having multiple jobs with the same name in a buildset later, but again, will work for the n=1 case now. This can be done as an early standalone change.

  • Index the build dictionary on the BuildSet by job uuid.

  • NodeRequests and Build*Events should also refer to job uuids.

  • Update items to support multiple changes. This is likely to be a large change where we simultaneously update anything where we can’t support both systems ahead of time.