Continuous Integration (CI) turns conventional approaches to software development on their head. Instead of the inefficiencies and delays typical of traditional software development practices, continuous integration allows teams to stay within budget and avoid redundancy by making it easier to find and address problems in their code. As a result, CI can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to perfect and deliver products.
In this article, we’ll show you how continuous integration improves the software development process and decreases the product delivery cycle. We’ll also take a look at the related concepts of continuous delivery and continuous deployment, and see how the cloud (and some CI applications) are making an impact in the world of continuous integration.
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What is Continuous Integration?
Continuous integration is the process of merging developers’ content (or working code) into a central repository at regular intervals, usually multiple times per day. CI uses an automated process to check for errors prior to each commit. If the code passes the error test, it’s automatically integrated into the central repository. This workflow strategy helps ensure that code from multiple programmers combines together easily, without any of the major errors that can result from merging massive amounts of data all at once.
Once a continuous integration process has been established, development teams can leverage the benefits of continuous delivery. With continuous delivery, every code change — no matter how small — will be automatically delivered to the testing environment. Once it passes the build stage, the code changes are ready to deploy to production with the push of a button. Due to this automated build, test, and prepare process, continuous delivery minimizes the time it takes for new code to be used in production.
Continuous deployment follows continuous delivery. Continuous deployment, or CD, is the process of ensuring that code can be deployed at any time to the production site. Once code is tested and approved through the continuous delivery process, the appropriate configurations are set up and the codebase is deployed. This results in a faster development loop and software updates with fewer errors.
Continuous Integration Process
By now we know that continuous integration constantly builds and expands upon the codebase by continuously integrating smaller sections of code into a build site. Digging a little deeper, the following lists the steps most workflows follow for an effective CI process:
- Developers create code separately
- Finished code is sent to the repository
- The CI server automatically detects necessary changes in code
- The CI server builds the system with the new code
- Automatic tests are performed to check integration
- Deployable artifacts are released for testing
- The CI server labels the new version of the code
- If the new version doesn’t pass a test, the developers are notified to make appropriate changes
These steps are repeated throughout the development process, usually several times per day. As a result, continuous delivery and deployment processes can be automated and pushed in a consistent manner.
5 Benefits of Continuous Integration
When implemented properly, continuous integration brings a wide range of advantages to your software development process. CI makes the coding process smoother and faster, with less time needed to fix accumulated bugs and more time available for building out the next software update. But there are other benefits to CI as well.
Because developers are working on a smaller sections of code at a time, the risk of large errors occurring in a project reduces considerably. Any present bugs are found faster and fixed immediately, saving a significant amount of time and money over the course of the project.
With CI, everyone on the development team shares code often and communicates more effectively. By achieving better visibility into workloads and tasks, CI helps eliminate the miscommunication that is known to slow down production and increase frustration among software development teams.
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Improve Turnaround Times
As the code is constantly being checked, changed, and shipped out, new programs and features are released to consumers faster. Faster delivery on updates also offers the development team valuable customer feedback sooner, providing better insight for the next development iterations.
Reduce Your Spend
The initial setup of CI may take significant time and resources, but the ROI in the long run is worth it. The most cost prohibitive way to find a bug is by locating it while a piece of code is still in the development stage. CI also enables developers to focus less on finding bugs and more on creating additional features to an update.
See the Big Picture
Continuous integration is a great way to see trends and data surrounding software, features, and the business operations as a whole. With a faster process in place, it’s easier to separate the portions of code that work from those that don’t. As a result, teams can quickly gain information via feedback in order to make the best business decisions for future projects.
3 Common CI Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)
While continuous integration is a widely considered to be a best practice, the process does present some challenges, especially upon implementation. With the right preparation and information, however, these challenges can be managed or avoided altogether.
New Workflow Woes
CI may seem like a drastic change to any existing workflow, especially for developers who aren’t accustomed to testing their work often. Making sure your team understands the process of continuous integration and its benefits can minimize resistance to implementation and enable your team to adjust more quickly.
Numerous Error Messages
When code is checked quickly in CI, it will sometimes deliver multiple error notifications in a short amount of time. This may initially prove to be overwhelming for your developers, and they may be tempted to ignore error messages in order to cope. To solve this problem, be strategic about which team members receive error messages. Only those with the access to resolve errors need to be notified.
With continuous integration, code building happens fast. Your team will need a plan for staying organized and a realistic delivery schedule to avoid burnout. Prepare a clear roadmap for success, share it widely, and review it often. This will help your team avoid feeling overwhelmed or becoming burned out.
Continuous Integration in the Cloud
Although some companies choose to create their own CI build, there are a number of CI tools available from third-party providers. The major advantage of third-party applications is that they allow users to bypass the build process and start generating code quickly, but they can also deliver serious cost savings. These cloud-native CI tools also provide the flexibility needed to work with on-premises, hybrid, or pure cloud data sources.
Amazon CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. Users can easily integrate other third-party tools into the system, ensuring a smoother implementation process. Most importantly, users only pay for the compute resources they use in AWS.
Google Cloud Build
Google Cloud Build is designed to enable consistent, fast, and reliable builds on the Google Cloud Platform. Users can leverage the cost-efficient and user-friendly tool to create customized workflows that fit internal resources. Additionally, users have the option to build locally before deploying to the cloud.
Jenkins automates much of the continuous integration and continuous delivery processes. The on-premise program is free to download and known in the industry for its java-based, open-source structure. Jenkins time in the market has enabled it to offer numerous useful plugins for download as well as easily with third-party programs.
Known for making collaboration a simple process, Github allows users to easily share code with co-workers and friends. With the open-source, web-based service, users can view changes made to code in real time, review and control versions, and manage DevOps projects from ideation to creation.
Going Cloud with Continuous Integration
Until recently, most companies have applied the continuous integration process to on-premises or legacy databases. Today, many more companies are relying on cloud-native tools and services to help them build and deploy software. Cloud-hosted platforms and applications can lower costs, provide greater degrees of scalability, and streamline software development by automating and simplifying processes.
If the benefits of continuous integration and the functionality provided by the cloud sound like the solution for your team, you’ll first need to figure out how to migrate your data into the applications you’d like to use. Let Talend Cloud Integration Platform do it for you.
Talend Cloud Integration provides over 900 connectors to make it easy to move data from virtually any source to any destination. With security, ETL, and data management tools built-in, Talend Cloud Integration provides your team with everything they need to get integrated in any system. Download a free trial today to see how quickly you can get your continuous integration underway tomorrow.