Out of many solutions and tools developers use to make the software development process faster and smoother, continuous integration practices belong to the most interesting ones. And there are more and more programmers, or IT people in general, who appreciate them and want to make use of them.
Simplifying pipeline maintenance and getting faster builds – CI’s typical outcomes – are definitely something worth fighting for. Of course, there are many more continuous integration’s benefits, with improving code quality and increasing the team’s flexibility topping the list.
Interestingly, keeping continuity throughout all phases of the development life cycle (including development, deployment, and continuous integration testing) is the basic idea behind DevOps and its best practice.
And DevOps, by definition, is to increase the efficiency of the software release process based on extensive communication, collaboration, and trust – within a common production environment – through automated tests and some repeatable steps involved.
Also, CI is an important part of a powerful CI/CD combo that may be seen as a way out of the „integration hell”. The latter simply means serious problems development and operations teams often deal with when integrating new code.
But what is continuous integration, in short? Let’s see.
Table of contents:
Continuous integration in brief
Continuous integration – or automation process for developers – is a process of integrating small code changes from multiple contributors in the shared source codebase.
This is being done regularly by the team, e.g. once a day or even every few hours. The common mainline, or version control repository, is vital to the whole CI system, as it’s a place where, subsequently, the newly created code is being tested with automated tools – and if it’s OK, it can be fully integrated.
But there are more checks that this shared source code repository can be enhanced with, like code quality tests, and syntax style review tools. Some useful continuous integration tools and solutions, or simply CI software, available in the market, include Jenkins, Bamboo, GitLab, Github Actions, Semaphore, TeamCity, CodeShip, Buddy, Nevercode, Harness, or cloud solutions such as GCP Cloud Build, AWS CodeBuild and Azure Pipelines. Interestingly, GitLab itself uses CI as a software development method, being a notorious continuous integration example.
Also, CI has been included in the extreme programming (XP) software development methodology, which is agile in its nature and aims to build software that is better adapted to new circumstances, including clients’ expectations that change over time and shortened product life cycles. It implies frequent feedback from clients within regular iterations, and unit tests, as well as pair programming, and stand-up meetings, to name a few major elements.
The powerful CI/CD combo
CI is often mentioned alongside CD – standing for continuous delivery or continuous deployment – both constituting the set of CI/CD practices, known as the backbone of contemporary DevOps operations. Combining CI and CD provides the missing link between operations and software development teams so that all phases of applications’ creation, including testing and deployment, get automated on one hand, and monitored on the other.
In brief, CI/CD is a set of guidelines, good practices, or simply work culture underpinning software engineering projects that results in delivering apps to customers more frequently.
Also, the number of manual errors, as well as cost and labor, get reduced, flexibility increases, and customer feedback can be received faster, to name but a few highlights of the CI/CD pipeline. On top of that, thanks to smaller code changes, testability improves, and faults can be isolated quicker, and thus – mean time to resolution (MTTR) gets shortened.
CI’s brilliant career is not a matter of chance, not at all. There are many reasons why implementing the CI/CD pipeline, shortening feedback cycles, and implementing automated testing (and automated test suite) may be a good idea. Some of them include:
- building software faster, shortening time to market
- increasing performance
- meeting business requirements better
- improving code quality
- enhancing collaboration and trust within the team
- avoiding disconnects
- ensuring software security
- reducing risk due to limiting the number of unintended consequences smaller code changes imply
- increasing competitive edge over similar companies
There are many benefits of adopting CI/CD practices, but the extent to which a particular organization or team makes use of them depends on the level of trust – within the team and between the business people and developers.
You can find out more about the immense – immediate and long-term – benefits of using CI/CD by companies of various sizes in this insightful article on the business value of CI/CD.
CI process wrapped up
In times of growing uncertainty, and rapid changes, the software development practice needs flexible solutions, and that’s what’s in store as far as the CI/CD method is concerned. They enhance automation and shorten feedback times, making the digital product ready to hit the market faster.
Delivering code changes frequently and in a structured, well-organized way – CI’s hallmarks – may be the key to success for application development teams and organizations they represent or work for.
Of course, optimizing software teams’ pipelines, CI/CD’s way, requires some effort. It may involve utilizing specialistic, external CI tools or solutions that help software developers embrace the change.
And do you find the continuous integration process efficient enough to use within software development projects? In which use cases is it most helpful? Are there any other ways of shortening apps’ time to market or getting out of the „integration hell” you would recommend?