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What is Continuous Integration in DevOps?
In DevOps, Continuous Integration (CI) involves automating the process of building and deploying code every time a developer in a team commits code to version control. Developers share code by merging all changes to a shared repository, including the smallest of changes. Every time code is committed, it initiates an automated pipeline that retrieves that latest code and proceeds to build, test and validate the main or trunk branch.
CI was imagined and implemented as a best practice to tackle a specific problem. When coder worked in isolation and had to integrate changes with the team's codebase at the end of days or weeks, they found it led to frequent merge conflicts, frustrating bugs, incompatible coding strategies and duplications.
With consistent code commits to a shared branch, these problems were significantly lessened. Code is tested to iron out bugs early on, and inconsistencies with the larger body of code are identified early on.
Benefits of Continuous Integration in DevOps
Smaller and Easier Code Changes
With every code change being pushed to version control immediately, the CI/CD pipeline has to deal with smaller code changes and integrations at a time. Obviously, such changes are easier to handle, test and debug than larger scripts that may contain multiple, hard-to-detect errors. The idea is to break down features and new development into byte-sized pieces that are fast to write.
A CI-based pipeline facilitates fault isolation AKA the practice of formulating systems in which errors lead to limited negative consequences. This protects a systems against major damage and makes for easier maintenance.
Fault isolation is facilitated because smaller code changes make it easier to find bugs and resolve them before they can adversely affect the entire ecosystem — something not easily achieved with CI in place.
Faster Product Releases
A CI-powered pipeline is a continuously moving system in which failures are detected and debugged faster. This invariably leads to faster and more frequent releases which translates to happier customers and a positive edge over competitors.
As explained above, CI enables quicker bug identification and debugging, all within the early stages of code changes and integration. With small defects quickly fixed in pre-production, developers have a lighter backlog of avoidable, non-critical bugs to fix. They can devote that time to focus on larger problems, write better code and keep updating the systems for greater efficiency.
Needless to say, lesser errors results in lower costs, easier maintenance, better quality code and increased ROI.
Increased Transparency and Accountability
Frequent code commits lead to immediate and frequent feedback from the automated system as well as the team. This keeps problems visible and transparent to the team, keeps everyone on the same page.
Feedback from the CI stage has direct effects on build issues, merging conflicts, larger architectural snags, etc. Thus, it doesn't just keep the developers conscious of what they and their teammates are doing, but also of the health of the system they are operating in.
Of course, CI alone cannot implement the seamless operability required to create software quickly and with minimal flaws. Neither can it, by itself, establish DevOps principles within a software engineering team or organization. For that, the pipeline needs CD — Continuous Delivery/Continuous Deployment
In DevOps, Continuous Delivery (CD) is a practice in which all code changes are automatically tested and readied for release. Once Continuous Integration takes care of code build and integration, delivery pushes changes to the testing environment and then keeps it prepared for production. Essentially, with CD in place, a team will always have a deployment-ready product that has been tested and cleared for public release.
Continuous Delivery takes the code beyond simple unit tests that are run in the CI stage. It allows the software to be run through multiple evaluation layers so as to verify functionality from all dimensions. This can include integration tests, UI tests, load tests, end-to-end tests, API tests, regression tests, security tests, etc. It allows developers to validate the product more comprehensively and weed out issues before it reaches customer hands.
CD can sometimes also refer to Continuous Deployment — a practice that is the next stage from Continuous Delivery. Once code has been made release-ready, Continuous Deployment is the process of automatically pushing it to the production environments.
Automation, in this case, is conditional on a series of preconceived and pre-established tests in the pipeline. Code changes pass through these tests, and if all goes well, the pipeline triggers their release directly to production. No human intervention or approval required.
Continuous Delivery vs Continuous Deployment
Continuous Deployment essentially adds an extra step to Continuous Delivery. The former pushes every code to production automatically, without explicit approval from a human supervisor. The pipeline takes the code from the repository, pulls the appropriate configurations, builds VMs, containers, etc. on the fly, and deploys the code, all in one fell swoop.
In case of Continuous Delivery, the code is built, integrated and tested to be production-ready. However, it requires a developer, product manager or Team Lead's approval to actually be released to the production environment.
The question of — which continuous model to use? — depends on an organization's goals, the skill level of their employees as well as the resources they can devote to acquiring the right CI/CD tools. Implementing CI/CD in DevOps is to have the proper tools and checks in place to manage configurations and rollback in the event of errors or failures.
What is a CI/CD pipeline in DevOps?
A CI/CD pipeline comprises a number of serial processes that are executed to deliver a new version of software (website/app). CI/CD aims to accelerate and improve software delivery by utilizing DevOps principles and leveraging automation at every step.
Consistent automation and monitoring is incorporated into the CI/CD pipeline so as to make development more efficient while consuming less resources (time, money, effort). Every step in the pipeline is automated — from the moment code is pushed to the repository it is built, integrated, tested, deployed and monitored via automated mechanisms.
Needless to say, the business benefits of CI/CD pipelines are many. They accelerate development and reduce the likelihood of errors. Essentially, it enables enterprises to release software multiple times a day with minimum human involvement.
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