Continuous Integration (CI) is the practice of regularly merging code changes into a central repository, supporting DevOps methodology with standardized, automated cycles. When done right, Continuous Integration identifies and handles bugs quicker, improving software quality and reducing the time it takes to validate and release new software updates.
Following the successful implementation of Continuous Integration, organizations will set up Continuous Delivery (CD), or even Continuous Deployment, to automate the deployment of their code, resulting in a successful CI/CD pipeline. Continuous Delivery means that continued tests are automatically run on the build, then the newly built component is deployed into a test environment. Continuous Deployment not only automates the same steps as Continuous Delivery but goes so far as to deploy the build directly into production too.
Related Article: Continuous Delivery vs Continuous Deployment
The practice of Continuous Integration relies on automation, to pass builds across the software development lifecycle effectively. Continuous Integration is the conveyor belt of DevOps, automatically moving code into a central repository and checking every commit for quality, which allows developers to really focus on building quality code.
Because it relies so much on automation, Continuous Integration requires reliable tooling.
But when it comes to choosing Continuous Integration tools, every business needs to pick the ones that fit their culture best. Continuous Integration tools are not a one-size-fits-all situation.
There’s only one person who can get away with repeating the same sentence in every situation to solve problems: Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. Since none of us are Groot, we need to think past using a canned solution to build out our Continuous Integration processes.
Continuous Integration Tool Categories
When assessing the right tools for your team's Continuous Integration process, it’s critical to have tooling that covers each of the three CI pillars: Source Control Version Management, Automated Testing, and Build Automation.
Continuous Integration Pillar One: Source Control Version Management
One of the tenets of CI is real-time version control. As developers make commits, they should all upload to a central repository. This repository ultimately becomes the reference guide for the entire team. They refer to it whenever they need to find out who made which changes, to remediate mistakes, and to figure out if an asset has already been created, minimizing redundant or repetitive work.
Think of the repository as an important reference guide, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that helps developers navigate the code they and their teammates have created. Here are popular tools that specialize in source control version management:
Git uses a branching model, allowing and encouraging you to have multiple local branches that can be entirely independent of each other. The creation, merging, and deletion of those lines of development takes seconds.
Subversion exists to be universally recognized and adopted as an open-source, centralized version control system characterized by its reliability as a haven for valuable data; the simplicity of its model and usage; and its ability to support the needs of a wide variety of users and projects, from individuals to large-scale enterprise operations.
Client/server CVS (Concurrent Versions System) enables developers scattered by geography or slow modems to function as a single team. The version history is stored on a single central server and the client machines have a copy of all the files that the developers are working on. Therefore, the network between the client and the server must be up to perform CVS operations (such as check-ins or updates) but need not be up to edit or manipulate the current versions of the files. Clients can perform all the same operations which are available locally.
Perforce Helix Core Version Control System
Helix Core version control system streamlines your development process with artifact management, branching automation, iron-clad security, and global collaboration.
Continuous Integration Pillar Two: Automated Testing
When developers commit changes, pushing code using the version control system, an event is triggered and the new builds automatically undergo immediate testing, to ensure that the code is as error-free as possible when it goes into the repository for the whole team to see. If an error occurs, the developer responsible for the branch with the error can identify the code in question and fix it. Here are leading tools that specialize in automated testing:
A tool with easy setup, Katalon has built-in project templates with ready-made test scenarios, keywords, and object repositories. It also combines all of your activities for web UI and API testing in one single project, meaning that your team has one place for end-to-end testing.
Neoload is performance testing for all team members from Centers of Excellence to DevOps organizations. It empowers developers to automate API testing within CI pipelines, accelerate end-to-end application testing, find performance bottlenecks faster, and manage testing assets and resources across the Enterprise.
Tricentis Tosca optimizes and accelerates end-to-end testing of your entire digital landscape. Its codeless, AI-powered approach accelerates innovation across your enterprise by taking the bottlenecks out of testing and the risks out of software releases.
Continuous Integration Pillar Three: Build Automation
Build automation is a general term to describe that the process of those first two points (uploading builds to the repository and testing) are all triggered automatically, rather than manually completed by developers.
Properly writing and implementing code for a modern-day SDLC requires a step-by-step process that includes:
writing the code
committing code to a shared centralized repository
scanning the code using security tools such as static analysis
starting a code review, compiling code and files
running automated testing
notifying contributors to resolve issues
It’s a lot, and that’s why automation between these steps is so important. Here are the leading tools that specialize in build automation:
The industry-leading open source automation server, Jenkins is an open-source, platform-independent Java-based CI tool originally developed by Kohsuke. Jenkins provides hundreds of plugins to support building, deploying, and automating any for software development projects and can be configured via a console or a graphical user interface.
Chef Automate is an enterprise platform that allows developers, operations, and security engineers to collaborate effortlessly on delivering application & infrastructure changes at the speed of business. Chef Automate provides actionable insights with enterprise-scale and performance across multiple data centers and cloud providers.
Red Hat Ansible Automation
Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform is a foundation for building and operating automation across an organization. The platform includes all the tools needed to implement enterprise-wide automation.
What to Consider when Choosing Continuous Integration Tools
With so many choices, when evaluating Continuous Integration tools for your team include the following items key components in your assessment:
1. Compatibility with numerous languages and third-party tools
This should not only include the languages and tools you’re using, but also tools that you may use in the future, such as Docker for containerization. So, if you decide to make tooling additions later down the road, you won’t need to redo your entire toolkit.
2. Easy setup and configuration
The platform should be easy to onboard. It should also be configured for simplicity; it’s a good sign when the tool uses a universal code-based syntax (YAML file, etc.). In addition, it works well to look for a free trial version first, to ensure that the setup for the tool isn’t too complex, and to make sure that it does what you need it to do.
3. Features to allow for ease of testing
When assessing Continuous Integration tools, make sure testing features is included in your review checklist. A few key features to make testing easier include flexible scenarios (the ability to have multiple runtimes, versions, and environments for each build) and ways to visualize test results (reporting, etc.)
4. Infrastructure options that match your organization's needs
Make sure that the infrastructure options offered with the tool are compatible with your business needs. If you have strict compliance requirements that require a firewall, you’ll want to make sure your Continuous Integration provider has an enterprise option. Same with how light or large your builds will be, this will affect the need for buying bigger nodes.
5. Reliable customer service
Do the reviews on the tool mention a helpful customer success department that knows what they’re talking about and gives thorough answers to problems? When it comes to resolving issues with the tool’s function, your team can’t waste time waiting for a response from customer support.
Final Thoughts on Continuous Integration Tools
When it comes to Continuous Integration, using the right tools for your business’s needs is essential. At Launchable, we also believe that the tests that either run alongside or are executed by these tools need to be chosen wisely.