Understanding the CI/CD Pipeline

Susan Asher | Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Understanding the CI/CD Pipeline

As companies look to expedite application development, software development teams are adopting the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipeline to meet these demands. This approach ensures that software is developed and delivered faster, more efficiently, and with fewer errors, providing significant benefits for development teams and end-users.

In this article, we will explore the CI/CD pipeline, its benefits, and the critical components of this approach.

Defining the CI/CD Pipeline

The CI/CD approach to software development is a practice that automates the process of building, testing, and deploying code changes. The approach aims to deliver high-quality software more quickly and with greater efficiency by reducing the time between writing code and providing it to end-users.

CI/CD involves frequent code integration and testing, typically several times a day, using automated tools and processes to catch errors and bugs early in the development process.

Stages of the CI/CD Pipeline

Continuous integration is the first stage of the CI/CD pipeline, frequently integrating code changes into a shared repository. This process automates the build and testing of code whenever new code is added.

The next stage is continuous testing, where code changes are automatically tested using a suite of automated tests. This stage catches errors and bugs early, allowing developers to fix issues quickly and efficiently.

The final stage of the CI/CD pipeline is continuous delivery, which involves deploying the code changes to production. The code changes are automatically deployed to a production-like environment using automated tools and processes, reducing the risk of errors and improving the speed and efficiency of the deployment process. Some organizations will push each release directly into production, whereas others will have production-ready assets that can be pushed into production when the business dictates that it is ready. Continuous delivery allows for faster and more efficient delivery of high-quality software, allowing businesses to stay ahead of the competition.

Fig. 1 (Source)

Overall, the CI/CD approach is a modern and effective way to develop and deliver software. By automating the software delivery process, developers can focus on writing code and providing features while reducing the risk of errors and improving the quality of the delivered software. The approach also allows for continuous feedback and improvement, ensuring that software is continually improved and updated to meet the changing needs of end users.

CI/CD, Agile, and DevOps

Agile is a software development methodology that highlights the flexibility for change in the delivery of software products. DevOps is a culture shift that emphasizes the collaboration of Development and Operations in software development. Both of these have influenced how modern organizations develop software. CI/CD is one technique used in DevOps to help an organization achieve its agile software development goals. Not every organization that uses agile or DevOps has a CI/CD pipeline. But there are situations where CI/CD is ideal, such as in fast-paced development environments where speed and quality are essential.  

Fig 2. (Source)

CI/CD also might be a great option when teams are distributed geographically or have limited resources. The automated nature of the CI/CD approach allows for easy collaboration. It reduces the need for manual coordination and communication, making it a more practical approach for distributed teams or those with limited resources.

Additionally, the CI/CD approach may be a great fit for organizations with a high frequency of releases or updates, such as those in the Software-as-a-Service industry. The approach allows for continuous delivery of features and improvements, keeping up with the needs and demands of end-users.

Finally, the CI/CD approach provides a greater level of automation than manual pipelines, reducing the risk of human error and ensuring that the software delivery process is consistent and reliable. Preventing errors is especially important to organizations that prioritize security, stability, and reliability.

By adopting a CI/CD approach, development teams can deliver high-quality software faster, with fewer errors and greater efficiency.

The CI/CD approach in practice

Let's consider an example of how a company might use a CI/CD approach in its software development process.

Suppose a software company is developing a web application for clients. The company decides to adopt a CI/CD approach to improve the speed and efficiency of its software delivery process.

To implement CI/CD, the company sets up an automated pipeline that integrates code changes, runs automated tests, and deploys the code changes to production. The pipeline triggers automatically whenever a developer commits changes to the code repository, reducing the need for manual coordination and communication.

As part of the pipeline, the company also includes automated testing and quality control processes that catch any errors or bugs early in the development process. This automation allows developers to identify and fix issues before they reach the end users.

The company also implements a continuous delivery approach that allows for regular and frequent updates to the web application. The company can quickly respond to the changing needs of its clients and stay ahead of the competition.

As a result of adopting CI/CD, the software company can deliver high-quality software more quickly and with greater efficiency. The automated pipeline reduces the risk of errors. It improves the speed and efficiency of the deployment process, allowing the company to stay competitive in the fast-paced software development industry. The automated testing and deployment component frees up the developers to focus on writing code and delivering features.

Companies Using CI/CD

Many companies use CI/CD, including Amazon, Netflix, and Etsy.

Amazon has become a leader in the cloud computing industry by leveraging a CI/CD approach in its software development process. The company uses various automation tools and methods to deliver software updates quickly to its customers. Amazon's cloud computing services, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), rely on a continuous delivery process that allows for frequent and incremental updates. With CI/CD, Amazon can stay ahead of its competitors and maintain its position as a leader in the industry.

Netflix has transformed the entertainment industry with its streaming service and uses CI/CD to develop and deploy software quickly. The company focuses on automation and continuous delivery to deliver new features and updates to its millions of subscribers worldwide.

Etsy is an online marketplace connecting millions of buyers and sellers worldwide. The company has adopted a CI/CD approach to continuously deliver new features and improvements to its website and mobile app. The company's continuous delivery process allows for quick updates and improvements, which has been critical to its success in a highly competitive and constantly evolving industry.

The potential risks of the CI/CD pipeline approach

While the CI/CD approach to software development offers many benefits, as with any form of development, there are risks and challenges.

Organizations may have to completely change how they build and test software. They will have to figure out how to automate tests that previously have been done manually. And they will have to research and choose automated testing tools like Selenium and Cucumber and be trained to use those tools and others like Git, and Jenkins, which may be used to create the pipeline.

Another challenge organizations face when adopting CI/CD is managing dependencies and integrations between different software parts. Someone must be responsible for ensuring the pipeline works well. That role is usually held by a DevOps Engineer, so if one is not already on board, a company may have to hire one.

Overall, it's vital to choose the development approach best suited for your specific project and team. While the CI/CD approach offers many benefits, it's also essential to consider the potential risks and challenges.

Summary

With the increasing pace of technological changes, there is a growing need for software to be updated and delivered quickly and efficiently. The CI/CD approach offers a solution for doing just that. As companies prioritize the user experience to stay competitive in their respective industries, we'll likely see more widespread adoption of the CI/CD approach to software development. To adopt CI/CD, organizations will need to use new tools and technologies. Cloud vendors have added tools for building CI/CD pipelines. You can learn about the tools they provide with training from AWS or Microsoft. To learn how to implement a CI/CD pipeline while integrating both agile and DevOps, take the Implementing a CI/CD Pipeline course.

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