Faster Software Releases with a Continuous Integration Pipeline

by Alastair Wilkes in

Expediting Developer Experience with Fully-Optimized CI Pipeline

DevOps teams operating an efficient CI/CD pipeline can speed up their software development cycle, release more frequently, and deliver higher quality code and products. What’s not to love?

The CI/CD pipeline consists of three phases: Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Deployment.  

To understand how the complete pipeline works, start from the beginning. Today, we’ll be exploring the first part of CI/CD, the Continuous Integration pipeline. Continuous Integration helps developers merge changes into a single software project, efficiently and effectively.

In this post, we will answer all of your Continuous Integration pipeline questions, including:

  • What is Continuous Integration?
  • What are the specific parts of the Continuous Integration pipeline?
  • What are the benefits of implementing Continuous Integration?
  • What are the tools used within each part of the Continuous Integration pipeline?
  • How can you improve your Continuous Integration practices?
  • Start powering your Continuous Integration pipeline

What is Continuous Integration?

Continuous Integration is a DevOps software development practice that automates developer code merges to the main branch. Whenever merges occur, an automated chain of events, including tests and other forms of validation, kicks off. 

By automating code changes from multiple developers into a single software project, Continuous Integration works to streamline new code mergers, frequently and consistently. Continuous Integration can improve the productivity and happiness of developers, as the once manual labor of integrating each and every code change can become automated with Continuous Integration.

Continuous Integration helps developers in the initial stage of the software development life cycle, during the creation of code, by allowing for the seamless and automatic merger of multiple code changes and updates to the main repository.

Related Article: Faster Software Delivery with DevOps Continuous Integration

What are the specific parts of the Continuous Integration Pipeline?

The ultimate goal of the Continuous Integration pipeline is to push all code through standardized, automated processes, including testing and building. 

The Continuous Integration pipeline consists of two key parts: jobs and stages.

  • Jobs are the instructions that inform what action to take.
  • Stages define when jobs should take place. Stages can also be thought of as the keywords that define the phases of the pipeline.

But, how exactly does Continuous Integration work? And how do jobs and stages work within the Continuous Integration pipeline? It’s easiest to answer this with a typical Continuous Integration workflow.

Continuous Integration workflow

The Continuous Integration pipeline flows through five key steps:

  1. Check-in code to the main repository. Developers integrate their code into the central repository, as often as multiple times a day. 
  2. Build the new code, automatically. Based on the individual developer updates, new commits are automatically built. These code changes will be better used in the test environment, or step 3. 
  3. Runs automated tests. Continuous Integration automatically runs tests on the new code changes. These tests identify bugs and errors.
  4. Send reports. Reports addressing failed tests, errors, and successes are sent back to developers. Now, based on the success or failure of the code, it’s time for one of two steps:
  • 5A. Successful tests: create an executable file and prepare for Continuous Delivery.
  • 5B.Failed tests: developers work to fix the flaw. Then, cycle back to Step # 1.
Related Articles: Launch Fearlessly with the Complete Continuous Integration Testing Guide

What are the benefits of implementing Continuous Integration?

The four key benefits of implementing Continuous Integration include:

  • More efficient workflow
  • Better team communication
  • Fewer flaws and bugs
  • Faster release times

Continuous Integration automates the merging of new code into the central repository. For developers, this is hugely important in boosting efficiency. Continuous Integration allows for multiple developers to work on the same project, independently, since builds and tests run automatically post-code update. By automating the integration of multiple code changes from multiple developers, Continuous Integration reduces the likelihood of flaws or conflicts during mergers. This saves developers headache and improves overall project workflow.

Another benefit of implementing Continuous Integration is better communication. With the automation of code changes, builds, and testing, Continuous Integration allows developers to slash redundancies in work and avoid repeating tasks another developer has already performed. With Continuous Integration, developers can simply scope the central repository, clock the work of their teammates, and then carry on with the most needed task. The automation of Continuous Integration ensures repeat builds won’t occur and creates immediate awareness of the need to fix flaws or bugs. 

Speaking of bugs, a third major benefit of Continuous Integration is that the pipeline slashes the likelihood of errors and bugs. In the Continuous Integration framework, as soon as code changes occur, automated tests follow. This helps to make sure each change is free of errors. However, if an error or failed test does occur, Continuous Integration paves the way for the code fix to be attended to rapidly.

Finally, perhaps the biggest benefit to implementing Continuous Integration is the ability to speed up the velocity of software releases. With Continuous Integration, velocity improves from automated testing. More consistent, necessary testing creates less repetitive work, and can cut down on the potential of bottlenecks. 

Now, let’s jump into some of the best tools available to ramp up the efficiency of your Continuous Integration Pipeline.

What are the tools used within each part of the Continuous Integration pipeline?

All Continuous Integration tools help with three key areas: 

  • Source control version management
  • Automated testing
  • Build automation

First, source control version management tools help create and manage the central repository, or the hub where all developers go to commit changes and reference work. Source control version management tools help developers track changes and updates, fix errors, and maintain an organized home base for a project.

Next, automated testing tools help developers ensure code is as error-free as possible upon entering the central repository.

And build automation tools automatically trigger builds after code changes are added to the repository and after testing. These tools save developers time and manual labor and keep the Continuous Integration pipeline flowing effectively.

There are several tools that can help your Continuous Integration pipeline, including:

For an in-depth guide on all of the tools that can help improve your Continuous Integration pipeline, check out this comprehensive guide: Continuous Integration Tools for Faster CI/CD.

Related Article: What are the Best Continuous Integration Tools?

How can you improve your Continuous Integration practices?

When functioning at peak performance, the Continuous Integration pipeline helps developers identify and fix bugs fast, improves software quality, and speeds up new software updates and releases. 

But, in order for Continuous Integration to truly work, Continuous Integration requires effective automation, as the aim of CI is to pass builds through the entire software development lifecycle quickly. 

With this emphasis on automation, Continuous Integration requires developers to embrace the tools and practices that make the most of smart automation. And in addition to the platforms, services, and tools that can help, it’s also important to remember that creating an efficient Continuous Integration pipeline also means embracing the culture and guiding principles of CI/CD.

With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the best practices for creating a swiftly moving Continuous Integration pipeline.

Four best practices of implementing Continuous Integration:

# 1 Build the central repository. The creation of a centralized source is the first critical step an efficacious Continuous Integration pipeline. This centralized repository will become the home base for everything related to a project, including code, data, and test and property files. The purpose of building this central repository? Organization, transparency, and a more effective workflow. A central repository gives all developers access to all pieces of a project.

# 2 Automate building and testing. Through the elimination of manual processes, like testing, the Continuous Integration pipeline smooths out and speeds up the integration of new code, from multiple developers, into a single project. This automation of testing after merges slashes the chances of human error, redundant work, and competing changes that cause bugs.  

# 3 Commit to frequent updating. In order for Continuous Integration to speed up and smooth out the software development lifecycle, it’s important for developers to become accustomed to committing code changes frequently. Just how frequent? As frequent as updating as much as every few hours. This kind of consistent updating helps to break projects down into more manageable subtasks and helps developers identify and correct flaws ASAP.

# 4 Automate deployment. Continuous Integration requires multiple testing environments since apps travel between these environments frequently. Make sure these code “road trips” are automated so that the integration is the most effective streamlined process possible.

Starting powering your Continuous Integration pipeline

An effective Continuous Integration pipeline helps to speed up and smooth out the entire software development cycle. That means faster, higher-quality software and app releases, which makes for happier developers and clients.

Want to learn how Launchable can help you ship 5x faster without risk? Contact Launchable for a free demo, right here, right now.

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