How to Implement Continuous Integration

by Alastair Wilkes in

Challenges, Benefits, and Steps to Successfully Implement Continuous Integration 

DevOps teams are well aware of today’s market modus operandi: deliver high-quality software, sans flaws, as quickly as possible, to satisfy customers and keep up with insatiable demand. 

But, for many DevOps teams, the insistent drumbeat for faster releases and even higher quality apps results in inefficiency, poor developer experience, and bottlenecks in the testing cycle. That’s where the CI/CD pipeline and Continuous Integration come into play.

The CI/CD pipeline is a method that helps DevOps teams improve and increase their software development practices, while also boosting release speed. Continuous Integration is the critical first half of the CI/CD pipeline, and what we will be discussing in-depth in this article. In this post, we cover everything on how to implement Continuous Integration including:

What is Continuous Integration?

Continuous Integration is a DevOps software development practice where developers regularly merge their code changes into a central repository. After this, automated builds and tests are run. 

Typically, Continuous Integration refers to the build or integration stage of the software release process and centers on two key components. The first is an automation component (e.g. a Continuous Integration or build service) and a cultural component (e.g. DevOps teams adapting to more frequent integrations).

The main goal of Continuous Integration is to speed along the software development process by automating deployment. Through the automation of building and testing, Continuous Integration allows DevOps teams to release higher quality code, faster.

What is the standard workflow of Continuous Integration?

In order to understand how to implement Continuous Integration, it’s best to start with a standard Continuous Integration workflow, in 5 simple steps:

  1. The developer commits a code change(s) into the version-controlled repository. This is the signal that launches the Continuous Integration pipeline.
  2. The Continuous Integration server then retrieves the changes to the code.
  3. The Continuous Integration server builds the new code, while simultaneously compiling an executable version.
  4. The Continuous Integration server launches the test suite.
  5. Post-test, the build is then flagged as a pass or fail. The development team receives the notification of this success or failure and can fix flaws or move forward to new code changes. All changes are automatically merged into the main repository and the branches.

How to implement Continuous Integration?

There are four critical steps to implementing Continuous Integration successfully. Development teams that focus on first identifying the most important tests, start automating these tests, begin including daily integrations, and focus on keeping their build green are able to successfully implement Continuous Integration and speed up their software development life cycle.

1. Start by identifying your most important tests

While it can feel overwhelming to switch to automated testing, we recommend you start writing tests for the most important parts of your code. This might mean starting with the tests closest to the code, like unit tests, and then moving to automate integration, acceptance, and UI tests. Start with what is most critical and expand from there.

2. Begin to run tests automatically

In order to run tests on every code change committed to the main branch, it’s critical to find a product to monitor the repository and listen to new pushes to the codebase. When choosing a service for test automation, be sure to choose a tool or platform that will avoid bottlenecks, speed up testing times, and ensure high-quality code delivery.

3. Make daily integration a team habit

Now that your team is up and running automated tests, it’s time to assess culture and make needed changes. In order to successfully implement Continuous Integration, it’s critical that DevOps team members all become used to updating frequently - even as frequently as multiple times a day. This could mean making shifts like ensuring developers don’t spend days on a feature before merging changes to the main repository. It may also look like creating a test suite where tests can fail as quickly as possible, to ensure developers receive feedback in a timely manner as possible.

4. Keep your build green no matter what

Prioritize fixing the main branch anytime a developer breaks the build. The more updates to the build while broken makes it even more difficult to assess what initially broke it. Don’t risk adding more failures when troubleshooting your main branch.

Related Articles: What Are The Best Continuous Integration Tools?

What are the challenges to implementing Continuous Integration?

So, we’ve talked about why DevOps teams should implement Continuous Integration and all of the benefits of implementing Continuous Integrations. But, it’s also important to note that there are several challenges to successfully implementing Continuous Integration, including prioritizing tests, changing workflow practices, and flaky tests 

Prioritizing tests

To begin, implementing Continuous Integration always comes with the challenge of choosing which tests to automate. While the process of implementing Continuous Integration can feel overwhelming at first, it’s best to think about choosing the automation of tests by reversing the software testing pyramid. Start with the base, unit tests, then tackle automated integration and component tests, then automate UI tests. 

By taking a more step-by-step approach, implementing Continuous Integration can become a gradual, more easeful process, rather than a cannonball into the deep end.

Changing workflow practices

Another challenge to implementing Continuous Integration is the speed with which flaws are found and dealt with. DevOps teams may discover through the implementation of Continuous Integration that the new, automated process actually first slows workflow down. But, how could this be true? Here’s how: When team members are used to battling inefficient workflows, doggy paddling past bottlenecks, and managing inefficiencies in code mergers, the continual, automated notification of failed tests and code flaws can feel like red tape. 

However, the truth of the matter is that the smart automation of building and testing will almost always speed up workflow and release. If your DevOps team is feeling an initial frustration with implementing Continuous Integration, it might be time to sink in and truly discover the wonky, but necessary, adaptations team members have previously made to deal with manual testing, inefficient work practices, and infrequent code updates.

Flaky tests

Depending on the service your team decides to adopt to automate your test suite, flaky tests can become a huge hurdle to the successful implementation of Continuous Integration. After all, flaky tests, or error-riddled tests, are a consistent issue for DevOps teams. Over time, consistent flakiness sours developers on all failed tests, which then leads to a loss of trust in testing altogether. 

Launchable handles the flaky test problem by analyzing test runs to identify the flaws that need to be fixed. Launchable assigns every test a flakiness score, and tests with higher scores provide a clear sign to work on those bugs first.

Implementing Continuous Integration does not come without its bumps, but the end result of speedier releases, higher quality code, and happier developers is worth any initial discomfort in the long run. 

What are the benefits of implementing Continuous Integration?

There are several key benefits to implementing Continuous Integration, but they all boil down to one central mission. Implementing Continuous Integration makes the software development process more efficient, faster, and less risky for DevOps teams. Four key benefits of implementing Continuous Integration include faster release times, more efficient workflow, rapid feedback, and quick flaw fixes.

Faster release times

One of the critical ways Continuous Integration creates a speedier, more efficacious software development process is by automating building and testing. This smart use of automation allows developers to make smaller code changes, commit more frequently, and operate with a high level of confidence that flaws will be found. Continuous Integration leads to a faster deployment frequency.

More efficient workflow

Implementing Continuous Integration also offers another critical benefit: simplicity and ease in the workflow. When multiple developers work on the same or related projects, the coordination of code updates can become difficult. Without Continuous Integration, changes or updates to code from developers may be missed, incompatible, or create negative side effects on an entire software system. 

This kind of inefficiency not only slows down DevOps teams but also bogs down release times. Continuous Integration solves this issue by automatically building and running tests on any new code changes, which allows the CI server to instantly find flaws. 

Rapid feedback

Another benefit of implementing Continuous Integration is a quicker feedback loop. The automation of building and testing is inherent to Continuous Integration, which means feedback is available earlier. That feedback shrinks the time it takes for code changes to run successfully in production. 

By creating these rapid feedback loops, Continuous Integration also enables DevOps teams to produce higher quality software at a faster clip. The end result is a lower cost of software development practices and a higher productivity rate for developers.

Quicker flaw fixes

Finally, one more major benefit of implementing Continuous Integration is the ability to fix bugs and flaws faster. With Continuous Integration, early automated testing greatly reduces the number of defects that can slink into production. Continuous Integration focuses on running a great test suite, which allows for this reduction in the amount of time fixing flaws.

How to Ramp up your Continuous Integration Practices

Slow, inefficient releases spell out unhappy developers and unhappy customers. Continuous Integration boosts test velocity and ensures a more seamless software development process.

Ramp up your CI/CD pipeline and improve your Continuous Integration practices with Launchable’s Dev Intelligence Platform. Learn how Launchable eliminates slow test cycles and start testing what matters. Try Launchable for free.

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