What is CI/CD?

CI/CD uses advanced automation to power faster software development and delivery.

In most cases, developing a business app is an arduous, time-consuming endeavor. This is thanks to, in part, the app development and delivery process. From the conceptual pre-design phase where apps are taken from an initial brief into a workable strategy, through the design and development phases, and finally into the rollout and support phases, there are a lot of steps and tasks involved in getting an app out the door. In fact, depending on the app and a business' development resources, building and releasing new software can take upwards of nine months or more.

CI/CD aims to change all of that.

CI/CD is an approach to app delivery that integrates automation into app-development stages. CI/CD stands for continuous integration/continuous delivery or deployment, and grew out of agile-development practices aimed at reducing app development times and increasing the number of releases. CI/CD is an umbrella term that includes a collection of operating principles and practices that empower DevOps teams to more quickly and easily implement code changes to apps.

All together, CI/CD produces a system where developers can rely on a high degree of automation and monitoring to improve app development.

Graphic showing what CICD consists of.

When used correctly and backed by the right tools, CI/CD is a reliable process for getting software products to market quickly, while also implementing new features and fixes regularly and easily. But aside from these obvious benefits, CI/CD provides other advantages that are often overlooked. These include the following:

CI/CD helps you build a desirable team developers want to join

Skilled software developers are in increasingly high demand, and that means you face stiff competition in convincing them to join your organization. And while high salaries and great benefits are always nice, what many developers want is to be a part of a great team. And there are many different metrics developers consider.

A working CI/CD methodology shows prospective hires that you are dedicated to supporting them, and that you have the right tools and processes in place to promote a better working experience with fewer development hurdles.

CI/CD improves collaboration

Effective communication and collaboration within large teams always has the potential to be difficult. This difficulty increases with the complexity of the task the team is attempting. Unfortunately, software development can be a very complex task.

CI/CD eliminates much of that complexity, automating many responsibilities and allowing developers to focus on their individual tasks. Continuous integration into a shared version-control repository helps ensure that as individuals within the team perform their assigned jobs, the overall structure and function of the app remains sound.

CI/CD maximizes reliability, automation, and efficiency

The continuous nature of CI/CD means more apps and application fixes, delivered more quickly. But CI/CD doesn’t provide improved quantity at the expense of quality; automated tools constantly test new code changes, ensuring desired functionality before sending the changes to production or deployment.

Fault-detection and isolation tools pinpoint the root causes of any errors. Continuous-reliability tests focus on snapshots of code as they are introduced to the system. Non-critical defects are dealt with as they arise, reducing your team’s backlog. The end result is an automated approach that allows developers to produce more-complete software solutions at lower cost and in less time.

CI (continuous integration) describes how development teams regularly implement and test small, incremental code changes, which are then merged to a shared version-control repository. These ‘check ins’ are then verified by an automated build, so that any problems with the code can be identified and resolved quickly. CI allows teams of developers to work concurrently on the same app without creating conflict.

Here are some of the capabilities and characteristics of continuous integration:

Feature flags

One advantage of continuous integration is that changes are automatically implemented on a regular basis. That said, you may not want every change instantly visible to your users—such as incomplete changes that are not yet ready for deployment.

Feature flags (also called feature toggles, feature switches, feature controls, etc.) allow developers to control code access. For example, a feature flag can be used to mark which new lines of code are ready for testing. Using feature flags to manage incomplete changes helps minimize the risk of rollback.

Reliable automated tests

Continuous integration is powered by automated tests. By automating tests, developers can make code changes earlier and more regularly to increase quality without slowing down the development process.

Reliable automated tests are a safeguard against code changes that might otherwise break functionality. As an added bonus, automatically generated test-coverage reports can help you evaluate your tests for improved effectiveness.

Prioritization of break fixes

Application and software code can be very convoluted and astoundingly complex, so it’s no surprise when it occasionally breaks. The difficult part is knowing which breaks are the highest priority, and which can be relegated to backlogs for later. Unfortunately, because break fixes are reactionary rather than preventative, often there isn’t much time to make that call.

Automated CI tools can help you identify breaks more quickly, and automatically designate the higher priority fixes, so you can address the most critical issues more quickly.

CD (continuous deployment, continuous delivery) takes the ongoing code development and automatically deploys it to where it needs to be—whether that means sending it into production, development, or testing environments, or directly to users. In other words, the changes you make to your code are deployed into a live environment.

Continuous deployment vs. continuous delivery

Before going further, it’s worth noting that although CD is used to describe both continuous delivery and continuous deployment, the two terms are not precisely synonyms. Here, we address the similarities, differences, and benefits of each:

Continuous deployment
In continuous deployment, as developers successfully build and test applications—and make ongoing changes to applications—these applications and updates are automatically delivered to UAT (user acceptance testing). The code is tested for all aspects of functionality, and if it passes, the working version of the application is pushed to production automatically.

This occurs without the need for an approval cycle, meaning that developers will need to ensure that their test site is effective and reliable. The advantage is that teams can deploy multiple apps or updates in a very short amount of time, and with minimal manual action.

Continuous delivery
Continuous delivery is similar to continuous deployment, except that once the app has been validated in UAT, it still has to wait on the development team to manually trigger deployment. This allows developers to implement feedback and make ongoing fixes, only releasing the final product when they feel it is absolutely ready. Continuous delivery needs to take manual review and deployment times into account.

Continuous deployment vs continuous delivery

Continuous delivery makes it possible to deliver software quickly, sustainably, and with confidence in the end product. But to do so, you should be familiar with the main principles of CD. The following standards will help get the most out of your CD initiatives:

Small, frequent deployments

One of the reasons that continuous delivery is so often paired with continuous integration is that it allows you to make many, minor, ongoing changes without having to worry about the quality of the changes. Rather than waiting to deploy many changes at once and risking the possibility of a problematic change forcing a rollback of functioning changes, rely on small, continuous batches backed by CI.

Automation of repetitive tasks

In a perfect world, all repeated manual tasks would be automated—particularly when it comes to IT and engineering. CD takes this maxum to heart, and employs automation liberally throughout. This increases sustainability and allows developers to focus on other, more thought-intensive aspects—such as improving and streamlining the process itself.

Continuous improvement

CD is an ongoing process. And chances are, as you get started, you will have a lot of room to improve. Measure your results, identify potential hurdles, and start with the most simple ones first. Are there areas where you are spending time manually performing tasks? Automate those processes. Is your testing environment an ineffective facsimile of actual conditions? Update it with real deployments and services. As you continuously improve, your deployments will become more routine.

Shared responsibility

In traditional models, different departments are focused only on their own responsibilities, and often, their goals will be at odds. By making deployment a shared responsibility of the entire team, CD ensures that everyone is working towards delivering a faster, more reliable, more effective delivery pipeline.

CI/CD allows you to deliver code and applications at high velocity and virtually bug free. As such, CI/CD has become an integral part of a number of approaches, systems, and tools. One such example is how CI/CD works within the DevOps methodology of software development and delivery.

“DevOps” (a combination of the terms software development and technology operations) describes a practice in which roles such as IT, development, security, and quality engineering coordinate to produce a better end product and improved customer experience. DevOps is partially based on the Agile software-development methodology, and is designed to shorten the development lifecycle and offer continuous delivery of high-quality software.

CI/CD is a natural complement to DevOps. CI/CD pipelines allow developers to push changes more quickly, while also ensuring application stability. Correctly implemented, CI/CD may have a major positive impact on DevOps KPIs, including deployment frequency, change lead time, and mean time to recovery from potentially damaging incidents.

Although the approach to CI/CD will be unique to specific organizations, projects, and tools, a typical CI/CD workflow may take the following steps:

  1. Construct a CI/CD pipeline. This will need to cover the runnable specifications of every step the developers will need to take to deliver completed software solutions. A simplified CI/CD pipeline will likely include steps for sourcing, building, testing and deploying software.
  2. Automate the pipeline. Connect the pipeline to your version control and source control systems. Incorporate workflow to automate the steps within the CI/CD pipeline.

CI/CD pipeline

CI/CD can revolutionize the way you develop and update software applications for your business, but here we’ve only scratched the surface. To learn more about CI/CD and what it can do for you, check out the following resources:

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