What Is Application Packaging? (Benefits And Best Practices)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The process of packaging applications is one of the most vital in the information technology and software management industry. The importance of this process relates to the benefits it offers businesses in helping them manage digital workplaces and ensuring that applications function optimally. Learning how to package applications can help you determine best practices to develop personalised applications. In this article, we define application packaging, highlight its benefits, discuss how to package applications and detail relevant best practices.

What is application packaging?

Application packaging involves making customised or personalised features for the essential components of an application. Various tools are available to make this personalisation possible. You can select tools depending on how they suit your needs, objectives and the application's nature. By selecting appropriate tools, you can automate significant application processes by binding files, developing registries and designing application components. Automated processes improve the efficiency of an application by reducing user interaction. Packaging applications is also an effective way to reduce the costs of software management by streamlining the essential elements of software configuration.

Various tools and packaging innovations contribute to the effective packaging of applications. These tools have versatile uses that become active at different stages of the packaging process and fulfil different software development, design and management needs. Packaging technologies help applications mitigate security issues, improve compatibility with operating systems, update features and capabilities, optimise software costs and effect changes to software management. You can conduct the packaging processes remotely through systems such as Intune, DMS console and SCCM. Application packages are usually available in App-V, CloudHouse, ThinApp, Intunewin, MSI and MSIX.

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Benefits of application packaging

Packaging applications has several benefits for software development and management, including:

Providing a stable digital environment

It is a common and industry-standard practice among software managers and developers to identify a golden Image that serves as a reference in designing digital environments. The presence of this image reduces the incidents of fragmentation in a digital environment, improving the environment's standardisation. A golden Image can take the form of an operating system that suits a department's specific needs without any running applications. The absence of applications on a golden image improves the efficiency of the packaging process.

Packaging applications through golden Images can help you observe their functionality and determine an end user's experience. Certain digital environments require more packaging technologies than others. For instance, to ensure the stability of a virtual research environment, some of the relevant packages include Globus, SRB, SOAP, uPortal, GridShere and Oracle.

Reduces the cost of support

The stability of a digital environment reduces the necessity of routine activities to rectify faulty updates, security breaches and other issues. Packaging applications involve various tests and processes before the packaged application is available to the end-users. This series of tests effectively address issues at the stages of application discovery, packaging and user acceptance testing. The benefits of packaging are still relevant where issues arise, as automated processes improve the efficiency of resolving issues, saving time and resources.

Improves the efficiency of the packaging process

Packaging of applications helps create a highly efficient process, as the requirements of a system or digital environment can apply to multiple systems at once. The various levels of testing combined with the stability of an application on the golden image can ensure the application suits an environment's needs. You can then install a packaged application on various systems or offer them to the end-user without going through the trouble of manual installations. This makes it important to verify that your requirements match the functionality of an application before distribution.

Reduces business disruptions

Automated features and background functions are common with most application packages. This makes it easy to run several application processes like installation, troubleshooting and upgrading in your system's background. The ability to continue these activities during operation allows for seamless operations that do not interfere with the activities of an end-user. For instance, where the packaged application serves a function in business or finance, you can continue with updates and reviews without disrupting the necessary business flow.

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Improves application management

The benefit of automated functions extends to the management of an application. By equipping the application with the ability to affect automated actions, you can effectively manage the processes of the application. This function usually requires a configuration manager that helps the end-user customise the application to the needs and capacity of their systems. A configuration manager also gives you a real-time perspective similar to that of the end-user, including the application's functions, its deployment and the installation of dependents.

Caters to application reporting systems

Another benefit of packaging applications and a feature like the configuration manager is how it allows you to conduct insightful application reports and troubleshoots. For instance, new issues can arise when your application works perfectly well, and a new requirement from the end-user requires you to make some changes to the application's structure. Where these issues arise, having a packaged application helps significantly by allowing you to trace the source of an issue using the configuration manager. The configuration manager also allows you to identify specific end-users who the new issue affects.

Improves the security of digital systems

A significant aspect of software security depends on limiting admin access. With most of the application's installation, upgrading and un-installation processes under the control of the configuration manager, the access of users to the admin rights of an application is minimal. The limits ensure that the application remains low-risk for the end-users and developers by preventing unauthorised installations. You can also use the expansive nature of the application testing and packaging process to identify and address security vulnerabilities, back-ends and opportunities to strengthen firewalls.

Customises applications and packages to suit peculiar needs

Packaged applications meet the needs of an organisation or business and allow you to improve the productivity of end-users. Considering that many of your users receive their technical training on the job and certain aspects of applications change frequently, the customised nature of the application improves their efficiency, as it contains all the features necessary for their respective roles. This custom nature also considers business requirements and provides features to accommodate present and potential configurations.

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How to package applications

Here are the steps for packaging applications:

1. Discover and analyse applications

Application discovery begins the process of packaging applications. This step involves verifying the application's source file and confirming that the application functions optimally within digital environments. You can use this stage of the process to collect essential details and requirements of an application. The amount of analysis and discovery necessary at this stage varies between applications. This stage is vital in determining the suitability of an application for your needs, and it is helpful to consider other alternatives where an application falls short.

Certain questions can contribute to the effectiveness of this stage and the overall process. Some of these questions address the requirements for different configurations for the application and if the application aims to replace another. Your answers to these questions influence decisions at the discovery stage before qualifying your list of essential applications. You can decide which applications to go forward with and develop their packages from your list of essential applications.

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2. Produce application package

This stage of the process comprises the core packaging of an application informed by the requirements, prerequisites and features you highlight in the discovery stage. You can determine which process best suits your needs and combine the process with best practices. The standard structure of an application package usually contains documentation that offers packaging instructions and a package delivery folder that outlines various files necessary for deployment, including MSI, CAB, SFT, MST and wrapper. You can determine that the application package is complete by identifying the standard structure.

3. Test application package

Testing the application package ensures that it suits your purposes, functions optimally and potentially suits the end-user. This stage is also known as user acceptance testing, and it forms the last stage of packaging applications. Application distribution usually follows this stage after the user acceptance test ensures that the application is fit for distribution to the intended end-user. This makes it helpful to ensure that applications function similarly to your vendor source file at this stage.

Best practices for packaging applications

Here are some best practices to consider when packaging applications:

  • Conduct user acceptance testing using virtual machines: You can use virtual tools like VMware and Hyper-V to conduct your user acceptance tests. The virtual nature of these tests allows you to observe the functionality of systems and effect fixes or revert the application to earlier versions.

  • Conduct comprehensive user acceptance tests: It is essential to the success of your packaged applications to make your tests as expansive and comprehensive as possible. You can improve the quality of your tests by incorporating various scenarios and selecting virtual tools that mirror the end-users environment as closely as possible.

  • Import your applications into the configuration manager: While you can conduct user acceptance tests before importing the application into the configuration manager, it is best to import the application before the test. This is because the instances of applications behaving differently after importation to the configuration manager are rare, and importing the application offers you more features.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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