Before continuous integration was invented, developers had to work on code separately before merging it into the end product. This technique had a high chance of error. If something was left out, it took time to determine the problem. Furthermore, communication between team members became difficult as the project grew.
The larger the project, the more developers, engineers, and project owners were supposed to be faithful to each other’s schedules. The solution to these challenges was automating the build-release cycle. This is the reason continuous integration was established. Here are some basic concepts of this modern technology.
What Is Continuous Integration?
Continuous integration involves automating the integration of code changes from different developers into one project. This technology lets developers combine code changes into one repository where tests are run. The new code is assessed using automated tools before it is integrated.
The key features of continuous integration are automated testing, source version control, build automation, and automated deployments. Automated testing involves using a test suite to ensure the original code is working correctly. Developers then run tests on new code to ensure it's compatible with the primary code.
Source version control helps address conflicts between multiple codes. This gives developers snapshots of the system while working on the project. Build automation means that these system snapshots reach the user through automatic triggers.
Lastly, CI supports automated deployments. This means the build or snapshots are deployed automatically to a server where a user can easily download or access them.
How Can You Use CI?
CI works in tandem with agile software development workflow. Agile involves iterative development. This is where solutions are achieved through teams that self-organize and work together.
The project manager compiles a list of tasks crucial to completing the product. Developers work on multiple tasks independently and in parallel. After one developer completes their task, they are supposed to feed it into the CI system. Here, the code integrates with the build project.
CI vs. Continuous Deployment vs. Continuous Delivery
Continuous integration, deployment, and delivery are the main stages of an automated software release process. The software starts as a concept and is delivered to the end-user as a final product through these three phases. Integration is the first phase of software development. Through continuous integration, multiple developers combine their code alterations with the primary code of the project.
In the continuous delivery stage, the artefact is packaged together and delivered to the user. The artefact is packaged using automated building tools.
In the final phase of the software release process, the software is launched and distributed to end-users. Before it's deployed, the product has to pass the integration and delivery stages. The artefact is automatically deployed through tools that move it to public servers, an app store, or any other means of distribution.
Benefits Of Continuous Integration
An ideal CI setup increases the turn-around time for projects. Other benefits associated with continuous integration include the following.
- Low Risk
Testing and deploying code frequently minimizes the risk of your project because you notice defects earlier before they become disastrous. As a result, faults are easier and cheaper to fix. This heightens the feedback mechanism and smoothens the communication process.
- Better Communication
A CI setup connected to a continuous delivery workflow makes it easier to share code frequently. Codesharing promotes collaboration and visibility between project members. Consequently, there is an increase in communication speed within your organization as all team members know what is required.
- Increases Iteration Speed
When code is released regularly, this narrows the gap between the code being produced and the ones the developers are building. Every change is automatically tested. This is why you will prefer small changes when creating new features. You will have fewer assumptions as you develop features faster and automatically test and deploy them for users to see.
- Fast Feedback On Decisions
CI processes don't benefit software developers alone but are crucial for project managers. Developers and managers can gather feedback and get insights at a higher rate. When you use code regularly, you have more data for analysis. This helps you determine whether the product is being developed accordingly. Ultimately, you are better placed to make faster business decisions.
CI Best Practices
The following are some best practices for continuous integration projects.
- Test-Driven Development
After establishing a CI system, it's advisable to improve the test coverage. Make sure you test every new feature going through the CI system to ascertain that it's working correctly.
One best practice is to use test-driven development. This is where you write out test code and test cases before performing any feature coding. You can involve the product team in crafting an expected business behaviour specification that will be turned into the test cases. For example, developers and project team members can agree on a list of requirements. This list will be transformed into a list of code assertions. Developers will have to write code that aligns with these assertions.
- Pull Requests And Code Review
Many software development teams follow a pull request and code review workflow. Pull requests contribute to effective CI. This request arises when developers want to integrate their new code into the primary codebase. The pull request puts other developers on notice about the new changes that need to be integrated.
During pull requests, a non-stakeholder engineer should review the new code. This allows a neutral perspective on the validity of the new code. The non-stakeholder will provide recommendations and accept or reject the pull request.
Pull requests and code reviews promote passive communication and enable knowledge sharing among an engineering team. As a result, there is no technical debt since specific engineers are the stakeholders for the features of a codebase.
- Optimize Pipeline Speed
It's crucial to optimize the execution speed of the CI pipeline. Measure the CI pipeline and optimize it accordingly.
There is a faster product feedback loop when the CI pipeline is fast. Developers can enact changes to help improve a user’s experience. Bug fixes can be patched and resolved quickly. The high execution speed gives you an edge over your competitors and a better experience for your customers.
How To Get Started With Continuous Integration
CI is based on a version control system. Therefore, make sure you install one. Some popular version control systems are Subversion, Git, and Mercurial. After the version control system is in place, find a version control hosting platform. The popular version control hosting platforms include Github, Bitbucket, and Gitlab. When the version control is established, add automated tests to the project.
Automated tests involve the installation of a testing framework and the writing of test codes and cases. You may consider adding code style formatters, syntax checkers, or dependency vulnerability scans. CI will benefit your whole organization, not only the engineering department. The primary beneficiaries include the sales, marketing, and product teams. The product and engineering teams will have to cooperate to determine the expectations that will form the basis of an automated test suite. The sales and marketing force will need to look at the CI pipeline to streamline customer communication.
Wrapping It Up
Continuous integration is a technology that has significantly made it easy for developers to integrate new code into existing projects. This leads to fewer risks and mistakes, faster iteration, and better communication between team members. Invest in continuous integration and experience the significant difference in your product development projects.
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