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Is continuous integration at the heart of your DevOps movement?


What is DevOps?

The DevOps approach is the practice of combining the activities of software development and IT operations with a goal of achieving benefits such as the increased speed of application development, improved reliability, rapid delivery, better scalability, improved security, increased collaboration etc.

In this article, we would like to delve deeper into Continuous integration (CI).

What is continuous integration (CI)?

Continuous Integration (CI) is a software development strategy which helps increase the speed of development. It also ensures a high quality of code. In CI software developers commit small increments of code with continuity. They do so at least daily and mostly several times a day. This is then automatically built and tested before it is merged with the central shared repository.

Summarily, each developer commits code daily, or even several times a day to a shared repository. Each developer triggers the automated build and test. If the build fails, it is repaired immediately.

Continuous integration (CI) and test-driven development (TDD) extend basic agile practices to provide high quality and project flexibility.

CI organizes software development into functional user stories, which are then placed into smaller groups of work, called sprints. CI aims to find issues quickly by giving the developers comprehensive feedback on their work. TDD evaluates the work rapidly. Developers, in TDD, build the test, then develop functionality until the code passes the test. Each time the developer makes a new addition to the code, the test associated with it can be added to the suite of tests. This ensures that the additions don’t break the functioning work that came before them. It also helps notify developers if their code has led to breaking of the build.

Continuous Integration allows developers to integrate code into a central repository that is shared across the entire team. This central repository undergoes automated testing. This ensures that errors and bugs are identified and addressed quickly. This improves the quality of the software across the development lifecycle. CI requires developers to integrate code into the shared central repository, several times a day and each check-in is verified by an automated build, allowing teams to detect problems early.  

The Agile approach allows software and ops teams to respond rapidly to changes. CI helps systems development teams to be agile by responding to rapid business changes and by ensuring that the hardware and software are in constant alignment. CI allows for team members to operate efficiently and effectively within domain groups. The professionals focus on the tasks that they are best suited to accomplish. If something does not integrate, it is discovered quickly.

What are the benefits of CI to an organisation?

The primary benefit of CI is that it helps solves problems rapidly. Since CI is about integrating frequently it allows for a reduction in rework and back-tracking. This, in turn, allows for the developers to focus on building new features.

Continuous Integration is cheap. Not integrating continuously is expensive. When an organisation does not follow a continuous approach, there are longer periods between integrations. This makes it increasingly and exponentially difficult to locate and address problems. Integration problems can lead to a project schedule coming off the rails and even failing.

Continuous Integration brings multiple benefits to your organization, including, but not limited to:

  • Prevents integration problems
  • Reduces integration complexity
  • Helps detect integration bugs early
  • Helps detect bugs easily owing to the small change sets
  • Reduces costs and time spent over the project’s lifespan
  • Increases visibility for all stakeholders and allows for greater communications
  • Reduces chaos at release dates
  • Eliminates last minute incompatibilities in versions
  • The metrics (such as code coverage, code complexity, and features complete etc.) help develop momentum
  • Helps separate software builds from software deployments
  • Allows for software builds to have an element of self-testing
  • Helps deliver software more rapidly
  • Continuous integration allows for quality assurance

How does CI work?

Software Developers input code into their private terminals. They then commit the changes to the shared repository. The CI server consistently monitors the repository and analyses the changes as they occur. The Continuous Integration process builds the system and runs unit tests as well as integration tests. The CI server releases deployable artefacts for testing. The CI server then assigns a build tag to the version of the software code it just built. The CI server reports to the team about successful builds. If the build or tests fail, the server alerts the software development team. The team then fixes the issues as soon as is possible. It continues to integrate and run tests throughout the entire project.

The Continuous Integration toolchain

In CI, the software development process consists of three sectors of work:

  • Creation of code: IN this phase, the software developers convert user stories into elegant code.
  • Orchestration of new code as software: This is the core of continuous integration. Once the developers commit code, the CI server automates the build, test, and deploy process.
  • Logistics: This is the final step of shipping newly developed software to production. Tools in this part of the process monitor and manage the software in production.

Pertinent to note that the most important tool for the creation process is the central repository used to hold the code.

The benefits of CI for DevOps

Companies that keep up with current trends and align their software operations to optimise efficiency and quality enable developers and teams assisting with production to confidently build, test and deliver their code. Through the use of continuous integration, delivery, and deployment, code quality and working relationships can skyrocket.

The advantages of making CI the core of your DevOps movement is enormous and noteworthy. Here are six benefits of CI for DevOps.

Reduce integration problems

Through continuous integration, bugs and other software problems can be detected early allowing for a smooth transition to production.

Build a solid foundation

Every time a developer inputs a new line of code, a CI process can verify and check the code for any mistakes. The detailed checks increase the validity of code among the team as each member can test their code straight away. The level of transparency and accountability that comes with this is priceless.

Easy deployment to the production phase

Having a CI system allows teams to deploy code to the production stage with ease. Continuous deployment is an advantage for companies as everything is merged automatically into the production environment saving time and money.

Automatically handle code

CI servers can build and position processes automatically without you having to worry about a thing. Once more, if there is an error in any of the coding’s, the CI system will notify you and even trigger specific processes if required.

Faster turnaround times and processes

CI processes include parallel build support meaning that built time is shorter, allowing for limited consumption of resources, which gives the added advantage of focusing on something else while the process automatically builds.

Saving you time

The version control system and CI can communicate and merge, thereby reducing the time spent on reviewing a merge request.

How to choose the CI tools you need

Choosing the right tools for a CI/CD pipeline can be a big task that requires a large amount of planning. Research suggests that you need to derive practical knowledge to select which tool is right for you. Like most things in our technology-based world, security features come into play, so it is crucial to integrate security procedures into your DevOps processes. Linking CI tools with cloud security and compliance solutions enable you to build security into the development lifecycle. Doing it this way allows you the opportunity to ensure you create reliable and secure applications.

So, what tips can you use in choosing the right CI tools for your business? Well, there are four main factors. Firstly, as each company processes are different, choosing multiple CI tools that meet a variety of needs is an ideal way of safeguarding different kinds of projects you may have. Secondly, looking at DevOps reviews and tool popularity is an excellent way in distinguishing which tools would be the best fit for your code processes. Thirdly, understanding the tools and their abilities will assist in how it fits into your organisations and how the particular tool affects the efficiency of your team. Lastly, it is critical not to forget that application hosting, and data storage policies are essential factors in shaping workflow processes, so researching these aspects is advisable.

Mastering CI

Understanding the value of CI and embracing true CI will enable you to be faster, innovative, implement CD, and have a DevOps culture within your company.

The methods below will assist in establishing CI at the heart of your DevOps movement.

Automate the entire build on a central server

Although automating the whole build on a central server may seem obvious, many organisations are not doing this. The CI build must run on a central shared server in addition to being able to run automated and unattended.

Build as often as you can

The word continuous forms part of ‘continuous integration’ for a reason. Return to the basics of CI by continuously integrating and take the word literally by build multiple times per day as this triggers the build per change on a pull request, merge or commit. Building per commit enables individuals to find errors faster, allowing them to fix these errors easier. Aim for checking in and merging to master at least once a day.

Unite to mainline frequently

It is essential to unite to mainline frequently, merging to trunk or main with every change. The advantages of validating integrated changes often will be lost if you are maintaining long-running feature branches. You may have to fix bugs if you branch for an extended period, as when the merge takes place, there was a delay in the integration.

Build Quickly

Aim to optimise and complete your build within 5-10 minutes.  Builds that take a more extended delay integration results in a postponement of valuable feedback. Due to the cost of productivity, developers are less likely to commit changes.

To achieve this, ensure your CI build process aligns with components. The integrated application should form a separate step in the overall development process.


Validate the Build

Code scans and unit tests should form part of the CI build. Always validate the changes and resulting build.

Validate in a Production-like Environment

Consistency between the dev, test and pre-production environments is essential. Using VMs, service virtualisation, and other techniques assist in ensuring the practice of validation in a production-like environment, thereby reducing the risk of errors in pre-production or production.

Immediately Fix Broken Builds

It is vital to fix issues as fast as possible to ensure they do not move downstream. CI assists in discovering issues sooner as you validate continuously. Never ignore broken builds as this will make it increasingly difficult to find and fix.

Culture

If your organisation embraces these practices, then pat yourselves on the back as you are the CI champions. The combination of these practices produces remarkable outcomes. If your organisation does not follow these practices delivering regular functional builds will be a problem, frustration will set in, and process, as well as cultural issues, will arise.

The benefits of CI are immense. Not only is it the foundational elements to a real DevOps transformation, but it is essential to keep up with modern business needs. CI embraces failure in the sense that developers can fail fast, so they can find and fix errors early and quickly.

How to get started with Continuous Integration?

Continuous integration is not about implementing a new tool. It is about change. The change must be implemented deep and wide across the software development team to change how the software development team works. It requires change of mindset. It requires unlearning of old mindsets and embracing new ones. It is also about leveraging the new mindset to make culture changes. This is not easily achieved.

We recommend that if you are going on the continuous integration journey, that you start small.

Use your next project as a proof of concept and instil the following fundamentals:

  • A consistent software environment from testing to production.
  • Training on continuous integration practices
  • Adoption of continuous integration practices
  • A rigorous testing practice
  • Leveraging automated tests
  • Measurement of key metrics

Once the team starts leveraging CI by committing to it regularly, in small increments, they will see the benefits of CI first hand, especially when it comes to being responsive to bugs. As bugs are resolved faster, the development team can turn their focus to features and deliver features even faster.

This will give your dev team the momentum to adopt and scale with continuous integration.


If you want to know more about continuous integration or would like the team at LimePoint to work with you, please get in touch with us: https://www.limepoint.com/contact

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