Facebook reveals elaborate phone-testing process for thousands of weekly code updates

The tests are performed on 2,000 different mobile devices at its Prineville, Ore., data center

Facebook on Wednesday unveiled insights into how it tests new code on thousands of mobile devices at an until-now secret lab in its Prineville, Ore., data center.

The social networking company also said it plans to open source the hardware design used in its custom mobile device testing rack as well as its Chef software. which is used to control smartphones and other devices for the testing operation.

In a lengthy blog post, Facebook production engineer Antoine Reversat laid out how the testing lab helps engineers monitor the way thousands of code changes each week can affect a smartphone’s memory, data or battery usage.

The blog describes an elaborate process of building up the lab to test nearly 2,000 phones on different operating systems and networks and with different configurations.

The work started last year when Facebook created a CT-Scan service, which monitors and predicts the implications of code changes, but that approach didn’t scale to enough devices. A small team of engineers was created to tackle the problem. The group quickly decided not to use a simulator approach, preferring to test code changes on actual devices for greater accuracy.

Managing the sheer volume of devices that needed to be tested involved issues, including making sure Wi-Fi would work properly with each device. The engineers moved from various approaches starting with a “sled” design, then the “gondola” design, then a “slatwall” and finally a custom-built “rack” that resembles a traditional server rack on the outside with dozens of phones connected inside. Facebook said it will open source the design for the custom rack, but didn’t announce timing.

Facebook custom rack for testing Facebook

After trying different testing designs, Facebook engineers created a custom-built rack, shown here. The company plans to open-source the design of the rack.

In addition to a hardware testing design, Facebook created Chef, a software tool to manage the configuration of a server to say which software packages need to installed on the phones and other tasks. Chef has helped Facebook become more efficient at implementing fixes, Reversat said. Chef will also be open-sourced.

“We hope through our open-sourcing both the hardware design of our mobile device testing rack and the Chef recipes written to control the phones, others can benefit from our learnings and contribute their own ideas to our designs,” Reversat wrote.

Read more: ​Review: HTC One X9 and OPPO R9 - mid-range Android phones

Reversat said that Facebook has about 60 racks with 32 phones apiece, or 1,920 phones, and has plans to double that number soon after addressing some obstacles.

Today, only engineers who write tests using CT-Scan can make use of the mobile lab, but Facebook wants to create a generic platform for use by any team within Facebook that wants to do on-device testing. To reach that goal, Reversat said Facebook is collaborating on a product called WebDriver.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Facebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?