What CI Does?
In simple words, CI serves to scale up headcount and delivery output of engineering teams. And, software developers can work independently on features in parallel if we have introduced CI to the mentioned scenario.
In all, we can say that in modern, high-performance software engineering organizations, CI is one valuable and well-established practice.
How Can CI be Used?
Well, alongside an agile software development workflow, CI is generally used. An organization will compile a list of tasks that comprise a product roadmap. These tasks are then distributed amongst software engineering team members for the delivery.
Moreover, the inclusion of CI allows such software development tasks to be developed independently and in parallel amid the assigned developers. Once one of these tasks is complete, a developer will introduce new work to the CI system to be integrated with the rest of the project.
Requirements for Installing the CI System
One might be thinking of what could be the requirements for the installation of the CI system. But yes, we’ll surely need a few things first if you want to install the CI server in your environment.
1. Version Control System (VCS)
To centralize and preserve changes made to your project over time, VCS provides a reliable method.
2. Virtual Machine
It is necessary to have a spare server or at least a virtual machine for onsite solutions.
3. Hosted CI Tool Solutions
One can go for hosted CI tool solutions that help in the maintenance of the whole process and offers easier scalability to avoid servers as well as virtual machines.
We will need to install one of the many available continuous integration tools like Jenkins, Bamboo, TeamCity, etc. especially if we opt-in for the self-hosted variant.
Benefits of Continuous Integration
To any software producing organization, CI is one valuable asset. Usage of CI not only benefits the engineering team but the overall organization also. It allows better transparency and insight into the process of software development along with the delivery.
So, all such benefits allow the rest of the organization to better plan and execute go-to-market strategies. Here are some of the overall organizational benefits of CI.
1. Reduced Integration Risk
Usually, working on projects implies many people are working on the same project but with separate tasks or parts of the code, which makes it unsafe to integrate.
However, solving and debugging the issue can be painful and can potentially mean a lot of changes to the code. So, frequently integrating all can help reduce these kinds of problems to a minimum.
2. Higher Code Quality
As it helps in focusing more on the functionality of the code, therefore, it ends with the higher quality product.
3. The Code in Version Control Works
You and your team get the notice immediately if you commit something that breaks the build, plus the problem is also fixed even before anyone else pulls the “broken” code.
4. Reduced Friction between Team Members
It reduces the frequency of quarrels among team members by having the impartial system in place.
5. Easy for QA Team
Isolating and tracing bugs can be efficient by having different versions and builds of the code, and it makes life easier for the QA team.
6. Less Time in Deployment
Deploying projects can be very time-consuming and tedious, and automating that process makes perfect sense.
7. Technology Learning Curve
A list of supportive technologies comes with CI functionality that may be learning curve investments for the team to undertake. These technologies are hosting infrastructure, version control systems, and orchestration technologies.
Jenkins – The Ultimate CI Tool
Along with the plugins built for Continuous Integration purpose, Jenkins, written in Java, is an open-source automation tool. Making it easier for users to obtain a fresh build and for developers to integrate changes to the project, it is used to test as well as build our software projects continuously.
It further enables us to continuously deliver our software by integrating with a large number of testing as well as deployment technologies.
Organizations can accelerate the software development process through automation with the help of Jenkins. Including build, test, document, package, deploy, stage, static analysis, and much more, it integrates development life-cycle processes of all kinds.
Well, it could be said that the Jenkins achieves Continuous Integration by the help of plugins. Yes, the plugins enable the integration of several DevOps stages. So, all we need is to install the plugins for that tool if we want to integrate a particular tool. For instance: Git, Amazon EC2, Maven 2 project, HTML publisher, etc.
Continuous Integration vs. Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment
1. Continuous Integration
As we learned earlier also, it is the practice of integrating changes from different developers in the team into a mainline as early as possible, in the best cases, several times a day.
Apart from that, it makes sure that the code on which individual developers work doesn’t divert too much. Plus, continuous integration can enable our code to be dependable when we combine the process with automated testing.
2. Continuous Delivery
And, the practice of keeping our codebase deployable at any point is what we call Continuous Delivery. It has to have all the configuration necessary to push it into production, beyond making sure our application passes automated tests.
And, to ensure a fast development loop, various teams then do push changes that pass the automated tests into a test or production environment immediately.
3. Continuous Deployment
Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment are somehow closely related. Plus, if the latest version passes all automated tests, it refers to keep our application deployable at any point or even automatically releasing to a test or production environment.
Some Best Practices of CI
1. Test-Driven Development
It is one best practice to constantly develop and improve the test coverage once a project has established a CI pipeline with automatic test coverage. However, to assert that the new code is behaving as expected, each new feature coming down the CI pipeline should have an accompanying set of tests.
Plus, before doing any actual feature coding Test-Driven Development (TDD) is the practice of writing out the test code as well as the test cases. The product team can help craft an expected business behavior specification, which can then be transformed into the test cases in pure Test-Driven Development (TDD).
Moreover, developers and product team will meet and discuss a spec or list of requirements in a pure TDD scenario. Such a list of requirements will soon be converted into a checklist of code assertions. And, the developers will then write code that matches such assertions.
2. Optimize Pipeline Speed
As we know that the CI pipeline is going to be a central as well as frequently used process, it is essential to optimize its execution speed.
The rate of feature releases, team size, and codebase size grow as soon as the CI workflow compound exponentially. So, this is one best practice to measure the CI pipeline speed and optimize as required.
The faster the product feedback loop enabled, the faster the CI pipeline is. Plus, to help improve the user experience, developers can rapidly push changes and experiment with new feature ideas.
Moreover, any error or bug fixes can be quickly patched or resolved as discovered. This increased execution speed will not only benefit us to get over other competitors and but will also offer an overall higher-quality experience to our customers.
3. Pull Requests and Code Review
Many of the modern software development teams practice a pull request and code review workflow. No wonder that for effective CI, Pull requests are a critical practice. And, when a developer is ready to merge new code into the main codebase, a pull request is created. It further notifies other developers of the new set of changes that are ready for integration.
If one needs to kick off the CI pipeline and run the set of automated approval steps, Pull requests are an opportune time. An additional, manual approval step is commonly added at pull request time during which a non-stakeholder engineer performs a code review of the feature.
And, to review the new code and functionality, it allows for a fresh set of eyes. The non-stakeholder will edit suggestions and approve or deny the pull request.
Moreover, to foster passive communication and knowledge share among an engineering team, Pull requests and code review are powerful tools. This helps guard against technical debt in the form of knowledge silos, where specific engineers are the only stakeholders for certain features of a codebase.
So, this is an opportunity to truly enhance our team’s quality of life, especially if our organization has a multiple-developer software team and is not using CI. Yes, we have already seen how it will help our engineering org execute quicker and more effectively. Besides, most of the software developers expect an organization to have CI established, so CI is certainly worth the investment when it comes to acquiring and retaining best-in-class developers.
There is no doubt that especially for modern high-efficiency software development organizations, CI is one standard fixture. The best companies have robust CI pipelines and don’t think twice about further efficiency investments. The benefits of CI apply to the whole organization.
Besides, many third-party tools are there to help in CI management and installation. One indeed has many options to choose from; some popular options are Codeship, Pipelines, Bitbucket SemaphoreCI, Jenkins, CircleCI, Bamboo, Teamcity, and many others. And, all such tools have their in-depth setup guides and documentation to help get started.
So, what keeps you waiting? Start using CI in your organization and lead multiple integrations every day!