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What is continuous integration in software delivery?

Continuous integration

Continuous integration works to integrate code regularly, detect errors quickly, and provide feedback for developers, meaning your software releases become that much better.

What is continuous integration?

Continuous integration (CI) is a software development practice that aims to improve the quality and speed of software delivery by encouraging development teams to frequently implement small code changes and merge them into a shared repository.

The idea is that by integrating code changes frequently, you can detect and resolve any conflicts or issues early, before they become bigger problems. This helps to ensure that the codebase remains stable and functional at all times.

To implement CI, DevOps teams typically use an automated build and test system, checking the integrated code for errors and running automated tests to ensure that it meets the required specifications. 

This process is triggered every time you commit new code to the repository, and the results are made available to you immediately. This way, if there are any issues with the code, they can be addressed quickly, reducing the risk of delays or costly rework.

Continuous integration, continuous deployment, and continuous delivery

Continuous integration is an important part of the software delivery process, but it isn’t the only tool in a developer’s toolkit. 

CI is often compared to two other similar processes: continuous deployment and continuous delivery. All three processes involve automating development tasks, such as code review and integration testing, but they have distinct differences that every software developer should be aware of.

You can think of CI/CD/CD as a timeline. Continuous integration is the process of merging code from developers into a shared repository which is built upon automatically. 

Once this integration has been completed, continuous deployment takes over by deploying the newly integrated version of your application into production environments with minimal manual effort. 

Then, continuous delivery steps in to ensure that any changes made to your application or service can be reliably released while still remaining automated and consistent across environments.

Benefits and challenges of continuous integration in software delivery

While CI has numerous advantages for businesses, it also presents some unique challenges which need to be addressed properly.

The benefits and challenges of continuous integration are

  • Risk mitigation
  • Enabling scaling
  • Improving the feedback loop
  • Enhancing communication
  • Adoption and installation
  • Learning new tech

Risk mitigation 

By implementing continuous integration, your teams can ensure that all parts of their project remain in working order with each change made, thus avoiding any potential problems down the road.

Using continuous integration will help you be more agile when it comes to releasing updates or fixes to their codebase. Having automated tests in place that run every time new code is introduced, allows you to prevent any issues from being deployed without first being identified and addressed. 

This reduces risks associated with software delivery because it gives you visibility into how your application will behave in production before you actually deploy it.

Enabling scaling

As your team grows in size, the need to enable scaling becomes increasingly important.

To ensure successful scaling of continuous integration processes, organizations should invest in tools that are designed to scale up with their growth. Automation is key when it comes to enabling scalability. Automated build processes can reduce the manual effort associated with building applications multiple times for different environments or devices. 

Additionally, cloud-based platforms provide access to larger computing resources, which lets you handle bigger workloads without compromising on quality or speed. 

With the right tools and strategies in place, you’ll be able to give continuous integration a much needed boost while ensuring efficient delivery of your software products.

Improving the feedback loop

In order to ensure that CI is successful, it is important to understand how to effectively utilize a feedback loop throughout the process.

A feedback loop is a cycle of communication between stakeholders throughout the entire lifecycle of software development and delivery. 

By providing regular feedback from each stage of the process – from design, development, QA, to release – your DevOps team can identify any issues quickly so that they can be addressed as soon as possible. 

This helps reduce the risks associated with outages or security vulnerabilities while providing you with real-time insights into how your products are being used in production environments.

Enhancing communication

When multiple developers are working on different features or functions within the same project, it can be difficult for them to keep track of who has done what and how far along they are with any particular task. 

Continuous integration is a powerful strategy designed to improve communication between team members, ensuring that all stakeholders are connected and up-to-date on progress. 

By automating the process of integrating new code into existing applications, CI allows your DevOps team to proactively identify and resolve errors before they impact your end users.

With continuous integration, all modifications made by each developer are automatically integrated into the main branch so everyone can stay up-to-date with what’s been accomplished without having to manually check in with each other. 

In addition, when a developer does check in his or her work, CI will automatically test it for correctness. If the developer has made a mistake which breaks the build, CI will immediately notify them so that they can rectify the problem before other developers are affected by it.

Adoption and installation

Adoption and installation of continuous integration practices can be a tricky process for many software delivery teams. If you don’t already have a CI solution, you’ll need to figure out which one best suits you, your DevOps team, and your goals.

Team buy-in is also going to be important. Getting buy-in from your DevOps team will likely require an understanding of how the system works and clear guidelines explaining how you’ll properly set it up and integrate it into existing development processes. 

Learning new tech

Technology is a rapidly changing field, and every day brings new advancements that can be difficult to keep up with. 

The learning curve that comes with adopting new practices can be especially daunting for those who are new to the field. Finding a solution that values educating and supporting your team may be essential to a successful transition.  

CI/CD best practices for your DevOps team’s success

At Unleash, we’ve learned a lot about CI/CD best practices throughout the years and, ultimately, it comes down to speed. 

Some CI/CD best practices are:

  • Commit early and often
  • Optimize pipeline speed
  • Quick and simple builds
  • Testing code early

CI/CD Best Practice: Commit early and often

CI/CD best practices suggest that developers should commit their code as often as possible, ideally several times per day or more. Doing so allows for any issues within the code to be identified and corrected quickly, reducing downtime and improving quality control.

Committing early and committing often has multiple benefits including greater visibility into development cycles, automated tests to identify errors before they become problems, more stable builds due to regular deployment of small batches of changes instead of large batches all at once, and faster feedback loops between developers and testers. 

Additionally, committing frequently helps you ensure that only tested functionality is released into your production environments by providing an auditable record of when each change was introduced.

CI/CD best practices: Optimize pipeline speed

The faster you can execute pipelines, the faster you can ship your software. In short, speed matters. 

The key to optimizing pipeline speed is having an accurate understanding of your project’s build requirements. This includes considering all dependencies, such as external databases or web services, that need to be configured before builds can be run successfully. 

Keeping these components up-to-date will also ensure that any changes made in the shared repository are tested quickly and accurately.

Additionally, it’s important to optimize the length of individual jobs within your CI/CD pipelines by breaking down large tasks into smaller ones whenever possible.

CI/CD best practices: Quick and simple builds

Your codebase shouldn’t be complicated enough to slow down any pipelines that you develop. The most effective approach to control that complexity is to streamline it by means of deliberate, discipline-based decisions. 

A simple philosophy is likely to pay off in the long run by enabling developers to devote more time to building features in less time. 

CI/CD best practices: Testing code early

Testing code in the early stages is an important part of software delivery. Short feedback loops, with automated tests running on every commit or push, reduces the number of defects, allows developers to detect errors and regressions in their code as soon as possible, and minimizes the rework cost in the end. 

By running tests on individual changes, you’ll ensure that only good quality code gets into the main branch of development. This will help you reduce delays due to bug fixes and will make sure that new features are delivered quickly and reliably.

Conclusion

By offering faster build times, quicker bug fixes, improved collaboration between team members, and better overall product quality, it’s no wonder that continuous integration has become an increasingly important feature of software delivery. 

Finding the right CI for your needs will help you keep pace with the demands of the ever-changing software industry by ensuring that your products remain up-to-date with emerging technologies.

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