DevOps and CI/CD
A CI/CD pipeline is a deployment pipeline integrated with automation tools and improved workflow. If conducted properly, it will minimize manual errors and enhance the feedback loops throughout the SDLC, allowing teams to deliver smaller chunks of releases within a shorter time.
Components of a CI/CD Pipeline
A typical CI/CD pipeline must include these phases:
- Build phase
- Testing phase
- Deploy phase
- Automated testing phase
- Deploy to the production phase
In such a pipeline, things started with the developer team writing the initial lines of code. The developers then commit these codes into a version control system, which is the first phase of the pipeline. As a linear workflow, the developers will commit new codes and push them to the version control system with an updated version tag. The build phase is triggered when new codes are pushed to a repository. Because the initial codes are stored in small branches of the repository, the compiler will gather all features of the codes and their dependencies, then compile them into a new build.
The testing phase comprises multiple types of tests, with the most crucial one being unit testing. Unit testing will test the individual units of the product from its source code. Once the builds have passed the tests, they are moved to the deployment phase then pushed into a test server. This phase allows developers to simulate the product in a production-equivalent environment to examine see the product features.
The automation test phase will perform the final tests to qualify the built features before they are deployed to production. Automated and continuous testing is applied in this phase to utilize the builds and make sure no bugs are remaining. Throughout the pipeline, whenever there is an error, feedback will be instantly sent to the development team so that issues are immediately addressed. Code changes to fix bugs will then go through the production pipeline once again. After codes or the product passed all the tests without defects, they move on to the production server in the final phase. The constant feedback loop helps make the pipeline a closed process where builds are continuously committed, tested, and deployed to production.
What makes a good CI/CD pipeline
Ultimately, the purpose of employing CI/CD is that teams can generate fast, accurate, reliable, and comprehensive feedback for their development cycle. Therefore, a proper pipeline should cover these factors: speed, accuracy, reliability, and comprehension.
Continuous integration is meant to be rapid with instant feedback. If the developers have to wait longer than 10 minutes for their build to be verified in the QA environment, the flow will be considered ‘disrupted.’ Because then, developers have to switch between contexts and wait for one build to pass before moving on to another.
In a CI/CD pipeline, the time it takes for each commit will limit how many times developers can deploy new codes in a day. Today, businesses require a fast update pace and quick adaptation to changes, which means the engineering team needs a CI/CD process that supports a fast-moving workflow accordingly.
As the business continues to grow, the CI/CD tools must scale just as quickly to meet new demands. A powerful tool is programmable and applicable to the existing development workflows. Plus, the CI/CD configuration needs to be stored as codes that allow reviewing, versioning, and restoring for future uses.
Applying automation to the deployment process is a great starting point. However, automation is not enough to make a functional and beneficial CI/CD pipeline; it must accurately run and visualize the entire software delivery process. The pipeline, combined with other tools has to precisely handle both simple and complex workflows, leaving no space for manual errors when performing repetitive tasks.
The more accurate the pipeline is, the closer it gets to being fully automated — from continuous integration to continuous deployment without any human interference needed.
Having a reliable CI/CD pipeline improves the speed of building and deploying new commits significantly. The pipeline must ensure the output is always stabilized with the same input without oscillations in runtime.
As mentioned above, the need for CI/CD infrastructure to operate and scale accordingly to the growing pace of the product team is high. When the number of teams and projects increases or the workflow changes, the pipeline should stay reliable and resourceful to support the increased workload.
A good CI/CD pipeline needs to cover as many as possible all the aspects of a seamless software delivery process. It takes just one phase left uncovered in the CI/CD tools to significantly affects the whole pipeline chain.
Once teams have received comprehensive feedback from the pipeline, they can make optimizing and enhancing decisions to improve the development process, thus refine their final product thoroughly.
Benefits of Employing a CI/CD Pipeline
* Enhances “Quality at Speed”
For many teams, product quality and deployment speed are what first come to mind when applying a new workflow. The old-fashioned way of deploying updates stretches the time spent on identifying and reporting underlying issues. The more manual the feedback loop is, the longer it takes for the engineering team to find and fix bugs.
A well-functioning CI/CD process is a productive solution to speed up the deployment pace and make each release more valuable to the end-users. It streamlines the deployment cycle by enabling constant communication between teams and utilizing automated processes.
* Adds technical values for product teams
Automate tedious tasks
First, business resources are used in other more critical areas rather than invested in the repetitive, redundant testing tasks. When the process is automated and streamlined in a pipeline, it effectively reduces the complexity and production costs for repetitive tests.
Help developers stay focused
The CI/CD pipeline allows developers to stay focused on what they do best: writing code. Without it, developers have to handle all kinds of tasks — from environment setup, build making to issue investigation, and even product delivery, which is time-consuming and distracting from their primary focus.
Reduce regression testing effort
The Quality Assurance (QA) team’s job is very fragile to change. One small change can lead to many regression efforts. Therefore, having access to all versions of the system is crucial to QA as well as other stakeholders. Moreover, keeping the latest version updated will help improve the quality and reliability of QA feedback on bugs logged.
Easier test logs archiving
Keeps logs of all code changes, testing, and deployments so that team members can inspect at any time. It also allows rolling back to previous versions with a single routine push-button action.
Effortless product updates
When the release process gets streamlined in the CI/CD process, product updates are much less stressful for the development team.
The more effective feedback loop
A rapid, accurate, and continuous feedback loop will effectively give shape to an organizational culture of learning and responsibility.
* Adds business values for organizations
Having a CI/CD pipeline in place brings many benefits not only to the product team but also to the organization’s business values.
Generate builds faster
Integrating CI and CD into your production line will establish a continuous and automated cycle in which deliveries are completed faster with more values. All team members can stay on track of their projects and provide feedback in real-time; thus, any bugs or issues can be quickly identified and resolved.
Over time, your product will be refined thanks to the constant review from the team, resulting in a more satisfying user experience.
Deployment timing is one of the key elements that decide the success of your product release. Timely deployment helps increase engagement with customers, gain profit, support pricing, and boost market goals for your business. With the right time-to-market, the product’s ROI will significantly increase.
Improved code quality
The CI/CD pipeline provides a workflow that allows developers to integrate their codes more frequently and share them with team members to avoid possible conflicts in future builds. This will help reduce the cost of fixing defects and eventually improve the code quality for all updates.
Better developers’ efficiency
Once a continuous and automated software delivery process has been established, defects will have been minimized. This means the developers will have more confidence in integrating their codes in smaller chunks daily. An effective CI/CD process ensures that the team has all the tools needed to commit daily, stay on schedule, and drive more product values.
Attract more talents
And as a cherry on top, an integrated CI/CD pipeline makes you a more attractive employer to developers. Hiring talented developers is hard; that’s why having a well-established CI/CD process will help you attract talents more easily.
Test Automation in a CI/CD Pipeline
It is important to maintain a quick and responsive feedback loop so that the whole team can “fail faster” thus resolves issues quicker and more efficiently. If your team does manual testing, it is almost impossible to set up a continuous development environment when the test phase takes lots of time to test thoroughly.
However, since manual testing is still important for exploratory testing; software production teams shall adopt automated testing into their workflow.
By integrating test automation into the pipeline, teams can enable faster builds and deployment by continuously generating feedback based on test results. Ideally, automated tests should be applied to as many test phases and as iteratively as possible.