Continuous integration and deployment is a modern solution to a classical software development problem.
Imagine you have a large team of developers working on an internal project. Each has its own aspects they work on, individual features, and contributions to the codebase - all of which are created in isolation. These developers will see their work goes on without a hitch for months until it comes time for everyone to integrate their work. Vital lines of code to one employee’s feature were changed as a fix to a bug in a second employee’s code. Suddenly mutually incompatible lines of code are creating multiple build errors as we begin the integration process. How could this have been avoided? The answer for many companies is to implement a good continuous integration and deployment strategy.
Continuous integration is the practice designed to mitigate the occurrence of “Merge Hell”, or the constant submission of incompatible work by a large team. Continuous integration is about making small changes over time and checking those changes frequently.
CI has employees submit their working code as soon as it is available to source control. Before beginning a new module or feature, the most current version of the master is downloaded from source control. A third party service like Github or Gitlab is an excellent tool for managing source control. If the new version has a bottleneck or a difficult reconciliation of code, it is addressed in a short time frame instead of during a longer, more modular or feature-driven update. Each approved version works, which allows disparate team members to address problems individually while still contributing as a team.
Any time you are working on a larger project there is an inevitability of things breaking. By compiling the codebase constantly as new commits are made, we can automate the process of hunting for bugs.
Under CI - when a new update is made, automated processes can complete unit tests to determine if anything fails. If a new change fails, the team is contacted and the people responsible for writing the code can correct the problem before the new code is implemented. This way the test team knows their builds compile and always have a testable build.
CI is a cycle with constant feedback. All team members are seeing contributions in as close to real-time as possible. This focus on collaboration reduces wasted work dramatically. It is very much in the “measure twice, cut once” school of thought.
Continuous Integration also forces regular communication between team members. Instead of large obstacles to create massive frustrations during big weekly merges, team members are encouraged to communicate through bite-sized issues during the day and resolve them before they become critical to the next merge.
By now you may be considering whether or not CI makes sense for your company, so let’s break down some of the pros and cons.
The Pros of Continuous Integration and Development
The Pros of a good CI process are abundant. Here are some of the more standout benefits:
It’s safer! Because code has to compile before being contributed it is much more difficult for large and fatal errors to pop up in your project. If and when they do pop up, there is clear documentation in place to establish where they occurred.
It’s often faster at the team level. Because the team is working together to make sure all aspects compile on a daily basis, the organization-wide progress is often greater than previously used methods. Every day of CI is a day with confidence that the team is making progress.
Always have working code available. Often a frustration from upper management is a lack of transparency into the progress of a software development team. One benefit to CI is that all code being worked on has a working version updated daily. This allows for more frequent testing and demonstrations than other methods.
Teams using CI must submit working code on a daily basis, and that code is then available to all other team members. This is a major plus for following the CI process.
A detailed record of changes. By using source control and regimented commits from each contributor there is built in documentation for any project using CI. This makes for an easier time onboarding new team members and allows for overhaul of older features with a clear understanding of what aspects they relate to.
The Potential Cons of a Continuous Integration and Delivery
Continuous Delivery isn’t without its own potential drawbacks. Consider the following when deciding if your business is a good fit for the practice.
Requires additional servers and environments. Because each developer is contributing on a daily basis, depending on the size of the team it can easily result in a large increase of servers and environments needed to work properly.
Have to recreate the test procedures. Establishing testing protocols that fit CI may be unfamiliar to your current team. Especially for teams that have been working one way for a longer period of time, change can be met with resistance.
Individual developer delays. While the team is almost always working faster, individuals may find their commits delayed as smaller issues are resolved first. This can be frustrating in the moment for developers who are new to a CI process but is something that is necessary to promote the benefits of the practice for the entire organization.
Should You Implement CI-CD?
Despite the potentially high budget CI-CD demands for flow and management, many top organizations are discovering the powerful advantages of a good process for their own organization.
If you are interested in learning more about the process or how our team of experts can help you augment your own process, contact our professional software development team to set up a free consultation.