The applications that drive our digital society require complex code development that uses many different tools and platforms. The result is that IT teams need a consistent and unified way to integrate and test any changes that are required.
Integrating new code into an application is often a complicated process that is sometimes referred to as “integration hell” because of the complexity and multiple parts involved.
Continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) together create an automated way for teams to build, test, and release applications consistently. A unified integration and deployment process allows development and operations teams to release code changes more frequently, resulting in better code quality and happier customers.
Here’s how DevOps teams (development and operations) are able to automate continuous integration and delivery to deliver better quality code much faster and more frequently.
Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD), together known as CI/CD, is a set of guiding principles and practices that allows DevOps teams to consistently deliver applications and updates to customers.
Specifically, it allows developers and operations teams to implement changes in code and place them into a version control repository for quick and continuous release.
CI/CD drives continuous automation and ongoing monitoring throughout a product’s lifecycle – from integration, testing and monitoring to delivery and deployment. This process is referred to as a CI/CD pipeline which is used by agile DevOps teams.
By automating integration and delivery processes, CI/CD ensures the highest quality code and software security is consistently released.
Culturally, CI/CD is seen as a philosophy of operating principles that DevOps teams use to deliver code changes more reliably and frequently. It hinges on cross-functional team collaboration, trust and transparency between development and operations teams.
This inter-team unity ensures better quality output, happier teams, more satisfied customers, and as a result, business growth.
The “CD” in CI/CD can also refer to continuous deployment. While continuous delivery refers to a developer’s code changes that are placed into a shared repository, continuous deployment refers to the automated release of these code changes from the repository to production – what users experience.
The CI/CD pipeline involves ongoing automation and continuous monitoring in the app development process. Development and operations teams are consistently involved and concerned with the improvement of an application throughout its entire lifecycle.
This means that once the app is released, it is not a stand-alone entity that cannot be improved. Rather, through consistent monitoring and updates, applications are robust and evolving entities that continuously improve, delivering ongoing value to customers.
Think of it like this: imagine purchasing a new car and driving it off the showroom floor. Now, imagine that you have a dedicated team of mechanics and technicians following you around fixing any issues with the car as-and-when they occur, and providing you with a continuously improving vehicle. Sounds cool, right? This is essentially what CI/CD provides customers using modern applications.
Additionally, there are holistic business benefits to this approach. The CI/CD pipeline is a core principle of DevOps – a culture of practices that embraces cross-functional team collaboration. This approach to teamwork and collaboration creates better communication and shared responsibility between previously siloed teams – improving collaboration and product delivery which results in overall business growth.
A CI/CD pipeline is simply the sequence of steps involved in deploying new versions/updates of software applications. Automation and monitoring are core concepts of a CI/CD pipeline to consistently improve the entire app development and deployment process.
The key components of a successful CI/CD pipeline are: planning, analysing, designing, building, testing, releasing, deploying, validating, compliance and maintaining.
These steps are categorised into 4 stages: coding, building, testing, and deploying. While these steps can be done manually, the true value of a CI/CD pipeline is that these key elements are automated, allowing for rapid delivery of higher-quality output.
In this stage, developers create relevant code and then place it into a shared repository. It is essential to ensure that the code integration has no errors to eliminate problems down the line. The CI/CD pipeline is activated when alterations are made to the repository, such as code commits.
The pipeline then receives the code and triggers the build process.
The building phase is where the code is compiled, artefacts are created, and dependencies are resolved which are then stored in a new repository. Environments are then created using infrastructure as code.
Additionally, containers that run over different pods are built and pre-baked images are then stored. Once an environment is ready, it moves onto the testing phase.
The focus of the testing phase should be to deliver a consistent and continuous feedback testing loop. It is important to ensure that the various essential testing processes are implemented in the testing phase.
These include test data, test infrastructure, test scripts and/or test cases, monitoring, test metrics, and dashboard tests. A CI/CD pipeline hinges on a robust testing phase setup – if this stage is ineffective it means the software cannot be deployed.
The deployment phase releases new software to the production environment via automation. This is where the end-user receives the software updates and benefits from its improvements. There are various deployment strategies to use depending on your business requirements.
Building a CI/CD pipeline should not be a ‘build once and forget’ process. It is crucial to take an iterative approach to analyse the data and refining your processes based on incremental feedback.
Due to the different business requirements and objectives facing modern organisations, there is no single rule or linear approach to successful CI/CD adoption.
However, there are a number of standard best practices that will help ensure your CI/CD processes deliver seamless and higher-quality software releases no matter your goals.
Ensuring all of your libraries, source code, scripts, executables and configuration files are managed in source control is a critical first step towards implementing a CI/CD strategy. It allows you to keep track of every new change and update.
Once you have spent time and resources building your CI/CD pipeline, there is no need to rebuild a new one for each stage. Using the same build artefacts in the same environment at each stage of your pipeline reduces your risk of inconsistencies.
While automation assists with testing efficiency, try not to test for every eventuality as it is unnecessary. Rather, identify important aspects of test coverage and performance and test these regularly to improve efficiency.
Take time to clean up your pre-production environments regularly, especially between each deployment. This helps to get the most out of your testing process, as long-running environments become messy and difficult to keep track of configuration changes and updates.
A lot can happen every day in the software development game that can have large consequences for many elements in the CI/CD process. Ensure that you regularly perform code commits – every day, sometime twice a day – as you will be able to jump on any issues and make changes as-and-when they occur.
Consistently monitor the performance of your CI/CD pipeline to you are achieving continuous automation to keep things running smoothly and continuously.
Team leads must devise a simple yet effective way to ensure team members receive regular feedback. This creates cross-team accountability and responsibility, ensuring any issues are raised early and are sorted out immediately.
Most modern businesses are adopting cloud and SaaS technologies which deliver favourable and affordable solutions for CI/CD adoption.
There are many cloud and SaaS vendors available that assist with powering your CI/CD processes off-site on a subscription-based model. Traditional, on-site server approaches are limiting in terms of capacity and scalability which is why organisations today are opting for the efficient future-proof solutions that cloud-based services provide.
Furthermore, the rise of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) means organisations can benefit from having their computing resources powered by virtual machines (VMs) or containers.
If scaling businesses require increased capacity, IaaS providers can deliver this easily according to their needs. Installation, management and physical hardware are no longer required.
It’s essential for modern organisations to build an effective CI/CD pipeline to succeed in today’s data-driven digital world.
CI/CD pipeline development is quickly becoming standard practice for software development businesses that frequently require a reliable delivery process. Once running smoothly, CI/CD pipelines allow teams to focus on improving the quality of applications and less on the time-consuming details that can be automated.
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