The ongoing development battle against process disorganization, code version discrepancies, and lack of communication are common foes when establishing a DevOps culture. The best way to defeat these nemeses is by choosing great allies that address each of these issues. And by great allies, we’re referring to the best Continuous Integration tools for streamlining your CI/CD pipeline.
Refresh on Continuous Integration
Continuous Integration is a DevOps software development practice where developers regularly merge their code changes into a central repository, after which automated builds and tests run. The key goals of Continuous Integration are to find and address bugs quicker, improve software quality, and reduce the time it takes to validate and release new software updates.
It’s one of three terms that you’ll probably see, in relation to effective automated pipelines for DevOps. The other two, Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment, focus on the second half of the CI/CD pipeline (hence the abbreviation “CD”) and work on taking that code out of the repository and automatically delivering it to the right place for testing. Continuous Deployment goes a step further than Continuous Delivery by automatically deploying it out of testing into production.
Related Article: The Complete Continuous Integration Guide
Continuous Integration Tools Types: Meet The Dream Team
When picking the best Continuous Integration tools, you need to fill three important roles: Source Control Version Management, Automated Testing, and Build Automation. Think of these tool types as three allies that bring special skills to your team - much like the characters Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in the movie The Princess Bride.
Source Control Version Management: The Leader
Who makes the final decision? When your team is stuck between two options, who gives the instructions on how to move forward? In the movie The Princess Bride, the criminal mastermind character - Vizzini - is the leader of the group of bandits, and the one in charge.
Similar to how Vizzini leads his team, a good Source Control Version Management tool will provide the say in which version is the “latest version” amongst a group of developers. This tool operates as a conduit to update the central repository in real-time, so it’s less likely that different developers will repeat each others’ work, or create changes that cause the code to break when it's merged.
And just like the leader role in a group, this function allows developers to agree on what the correct version looks like and move forward accordingly, rather than getting confused by discrepancies between versions.
Automated Testing: The Brains
The brains in any team operation are often the voice of reason and strategy. In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is the second amongst Vizzini’s group of bandits and is the level-headed, highly skilled swordsman.
Like Inigo and his skills, automated testing tools are the brains of Continuous Integration and have the ability to say, “Hey, that’s not a good idea”, or “My research says that’s a safe option- go for it!”.
Whenever changes get merged into the central repository, a series of automated tests should be run against the new code snippets. If any issues are caught, then the developer will be prompted to correct them. This way, the number of bugs that actually make it into the build and are passed down the lifecycle by Continuous Delivery gets minimized.
Build Automation: The Brawn
The muscle enforcement of the group, like Fezzik in The Princess Bride, the brawn supports the group with their physical strength. Your Continuous Integration build automation engine, like the brawn on the team, does the heavy lifting to organize the code snippets that your developers have created into real, significant pieces of the final software.
The build automation has the job of lifting heavy things and putting them down where they need to go. Continuous Integration build automation tools to reorganize the various code snippets written by different developers into binary artifacts then transfer it all into the central repository.
All this to say, it’s actually possible to find all three of these components in only one or two tools. However, it’s a good sanity check to make sure that every tool you’re choosing for Continuous Integration works towards one of these goals- nothing more and nothing less.
Checklist for Continuous Integration Tools
With the ever-growing tooling options on the market, understanding what qualifications make a Continuous Integration tool the best will help you find the optimal tooling for your team. Here are a few questions to answer when picking your Continuous Integration tools heroes:
Build Speed: Are the tools adding overall efficiency to your teams’ day-to-day software building? A CI platform's primary goal is to provide developers with fast feedback for every code change.
Integration-Friendly: Does your Continuous Integration tool “play well” with other integrations and languages you need for builds? Ensure your CI tool can integrate with your current infrastructure requirements and consider factors such as containerization as well.
Flexible: Can the tool test different versions simultaneously? Your Continuous Integration platform should let you trigger multiple builds for each commit so you can make sure your application will run correctly in different scenarios.
Good-Looking: And by this we mean, can you easily visualize data and look at testing results? A confusing interface or incomplete reporting capabilities will only slow you down.
Acclaimed: We believe in developer-backed tools. What do other customers say about this tool option? Are there glaring issues that others have reported being hurdles for their teams, or are there lots of raving reviews out there for the tool you’re considering?
What Are The Best Continuous Integration Tools: Launchable’s Favorites
Here at Launchable, our founders have a rich history of working with CI/CD pipeline tools. When it comes to Continuous Integration tools, we have a few favorites - each supporting elite development teams with their CI pipeline. Because enterprises are truly heterogeneous environments, we have traditionally valued the ability of a tool to excel at its job AND integrate with other tools.
We consider tools like Jenkins and Circle CI as the best Continuous Integration tools as they're designed for CI and integrate with all types of vendors. We see Jenkins as the best due to its many integrations and a flexible plugin system that is useful in enterprise environments. The vast footprint of Jenkins in the environment is a testament to its strength.
Jenkins provides hundreds of plugins to support building, deploying, and automating any project. It supports build automation, plus automated testing can be added with one of Jenkins’ many plugin options. While it doesn’t directly include a source control version management feature, Jenkins can integrate with many tool options making it a flexible tool for any team.
Ample community support with millions of users worldwide
Easy to set up and configure
Can be run on-prem or in the cloud
Some processes require plugins which might be a deterrent based on configuration deadlines
Plugin upgrades sometimes require Jenkins to upgrade too
Some users consider UI to be outdated
CircleCI is branded as “the Continuous Integration platform”. Circle CI includes automated testing and build automation, but not source code version control.
Great integrations for team productivity and task management
Configuring projects is easy and straightforward
Easy to set up first, then make changes later down the road
Some users think that UI should be simplified for ease of use
A small range of plugins
Doesn’t feel as lightweight as other CI options
The following tools primarily started as source code tools and evolved to add Continuous Integration capabilities. They also work well with others which is a requirement for any enterprise assessing CI tools.
Bitbucket is more than just Git code management. It gives teams one place to plan projects, collaborate on code, test, and deploy. While it’s mainly branded as a source control version management tool, it also includes features for automated testing and build automation.
Includes great features, like an issue tracker, syntax highlighting, and support for variables like language and data formats
Offers private repositories for better organization and security
Easy-to-use user interface
No project-wide search feature, so you’ll have to get another tool integration to perform this task
Lack of community for support, discussion, etc., as compared to other similar tools
Mainly integrates well with other Atlassian products- can have a hard time working with other product suites
GitHub enables teams to record or rewind any change to code, keeping the team in sync. It’s a source control version management tool with a feature called GitHub Actions that serves as build automation. This feature can also execute scripts for automated testing.
Excellent sorting features that can be used for customizing, visualizing, and planning tasks
Robust version control to keep a project used by several people organized and clean
Easily integrates with a variety of other tools
The tool is so robust that it has a considerable learning curve when starting out
The user interface is complex and a bit confusing for some users
To access all features, the entry price might be too high for smaller enterprises
Bamboo Data Center is a continuous delivery pipeline that offers resilience, reliability, and scalability for teams of any size. Bamboo specifically works alongside BitBucket, another Atlassian product. It picks up where BitBucket leaves off, executing build automation that starts in the continuous integration stage of the pipeline and ends in the continuous delivery stage. It also includes features to trigger automated testing, and while it doesn’t have source control version management, it can directly pull from a chosen platform.
Works to automate a “build plan”- simply just add the steps that are needed to deploy to the repository
Easy to use with a great interface, according to users
Features for automating tests
Limited to enterprise version only
Doesn’t have good plugin options
Other tooling options (Jira, etc.) need to be added on to make it a complete solution for Continuous Integration
Gitlab is a management platform for Git repositories, providing features including Continuous Integration. There are two versions of GitLab available - the hosted commercial SaaS product and GitLab CE (Community Edition).
Used best for Code Collaboration and Version Control
Every project has a tracker that will track the problem and carry out code reviews
Git repository control over branches to keep your code safe
Artifacts need to be defined and uploaded for each job.
Testing the merged state of a branch isn’t likely before the actual merge happened.
Lower integration capabilities than many established CI platforms