Versioning in the Pact broker

When using Pact, you have to be careful about how your application version numbers are set. This document describes the versioning concepts used by the Pact Broker, and recommends best practices.

There are conceptually three resources that can have versions in the Pact Broker:

  1. The pact file (which describes the contract)

  2. The consumer application that generated the pact file

  3. The provider application that verified the pact contract

Users of Pact never need to worry about pact contract versions, since this is done automatically by the pact broker. However, consumer and provider application numbers need to be set in a principled way, even in pre-production.

A related concept is the Pact Matrix, which contains the verification status for all possible pairs of consumer and provider application versions. Following the rules for pacticipant application versions will mean that you’ll be able to get the maximum value out of the Pact Matrix.

Consumer application versions

When a pact contract file is published to the broker, it is associated with a particular consumer name, consumer version, and provider name:

Pact versioning

The pact contract version is not the same as the consumer version that generated it (the pact contract version is internal to the framework, and not exposed to users).

A neat feature of the pact broker is the ability to recognise duplicate contracts, meaning that one specific contract can belong to multiple consumer versions:

Consumer versions

This happens when two or more application versions publish the same Pact contract. Duplicate detection is done by hashing the pact file. Note that application versions publishing the same pact contract don’t need to be consecutive.

Allowing multiple consumer versions to point to one pact contract file has the major advantage that verifications don’t need to be repeated when contracts haven’t changed. In the diagram above, a provider that has been verified against consumer version 0.0.0 is automatically considered to have been verified against consumer version 0.0.1. This is particularly useful when working on feature branches.

It also has the smaller advantage that it is always safe to republish the same pact contract for the same consumer application version.

Provider application versions

At provider verification time, the application version of the provider is associated with the pact content for that particular provider/consumer pair:

Provider verification

This allows the broker to construct verification status for particular consumer/provider version pairs:

Verification pairs

This illustrates that consumer version 0.1.0 is able to communicate with provider version v2.0.0, but not v1.0.0.

Note the separation between consumer versions and provider versions. Pact verification is done against specific pact contracts, not specific consumer versions. If another consumer version with the same contract is published, then verification does not need to be repeated:

Verification pairs

(Here a new version of the consumer has been published, but since the contract hasn’t changed, we know that it is able to communicate with provider version 2.0.0)

Similarly, if a new consumer version that requests a different contract is published, then verification status is not immediately known:

Verification pairs

Once a new contract is published, it can be verified with the current provider version.

A provider version can be verified against multiple pact contracts. For example, after another provider version is verified, the picture might then be something like this:

Verification pairs

This indicates that provider version 2.0.0 is not able to communicate with consumer version v.0.2.0. However, provider version 2.0.1 is able to communicate with both the older versions, and the v.0.2.0 consumer.

Best practices

The best practices for application versioning while using pact are also good best practices for application versioning generally. However, many teams find that the introduction of pact requires a move to more principled versioning - a necessary step when avoiding version hell during microservice deployment.

Rules

  1. Ensure that your consumer version changes whenever the pact contract changes, and whenever there’s a new deployable build artifact. This is so that specific application versions can be looked up in the pact matrix for accurate verification status.

    • For consumers, you will need a new version number when what consumer version X requires from the provider changes.

    • For providers, this is when the contract that it provides changes (eg, when an API endpoint is added or changed).

  2. Ensure that application version numbers are unique. For example, a feature branch that changes the contract should not be able to have the same version number as any other branch - an application version should always identify one specific instance of application code.

  3. Ensure that your versions can be known during a release. This is because you will want to be able to use the pact matrix to determine whether or not it is safe to release consumer version X. If you can’t tell the version number until after release, you will not be able to do this

Guidelines

  1. Have the consumer application version number include something that identifies the point in your version control repository that will build this application. For git, you could include the git commit hash in your version number (for example 0.01-76a39e5). This has several advantages:

    • The consumer version will definitely change whenever the pact contract changes (satisfying rule 1 above)

    • Feature branches will automatically have different versions to master branch versions (satisfying rule 2 above)

    • Versions can always be known at deploy time (satisfying rule 3 above)

    • You can also identify and checkout the production version of the consumer if you need to

  2. If you are unable to include a pointer to version control inside the application version number, then ensure that you are able to tag the version control repository with a unique application version number at build time.

  3. Avoid having random data in your contracts. If your contracts contain random data, then a unique pact contract may be created when the contract has not actually changed. If this happens, you can’t take advantage of Pact’s duplicate contract detection.