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When to Use Continuous Integration
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When to Use Continuous Integration

Continuous integration is a key DevOps best practice, which enables developers can merge code changes at a high frequency into a central repository.

Ann McArthur
Ann McArthur
November 24, 2021

Getting Started with CI and Best Practices

Continuous integration is a key DevOps best practice, which enables developers can merge code changes at a high frequency into a central repository. Automated testing tools are then used to assert that the new code is correct before it is integrated.

The goal is to reduce the risk of "integration hell" by integrating work early in projects or sprints. This automation of integration tests enables engineering team members to meet business requirements, improve code quality, and increase security in their software development process.

What is Continuous Integration?

Continuous Integration is a development practice that developers should integrate code into a shared repository many times per day. The code can then be verified by automated build and functionality tests. The goal of this process is to ensure that there are no problems with the code.

One of the key benefits of integrating constantly is that you can find errors quickly and find them more easily. With each change introduced, it's easy to pinpoint the specific change that may have caused a defect.

Why Is It Important?

Through agile methodology, developers are able to release quality products in a regular, reliable manner. This reduces the amount of ceremony and risk involved in releasing software updates.

A culture of continuous improvement is a DevOps metric for high-performing teams. Teams that rely on their pipelines by updating their larger code base daily will notice and resolve its deficiencies much quicker than those that release once every few weeks or months.

As the software industry continues to evolve, there is a trend in companies looking to be more agile and adaptive. To do so, they're investing in tools like continuous integration, continuous testing, constant monitoring, and pipeline analytics. This type of emphasis helps teams react to market changes and stay ahead of the curve.

All teams – from the smallest start-up to the most established enterprise – can and should practice continuous delivery.

When to Use CI

Continuous integration should always be used as part of the software development process. Continuous integration is an excellent tool that facilitates better communication and planning. If software developers use CI, they can improve product transparency and foresee any possible problems in the pipeline. These benefits not only help the company but all the people it serves. This ensures that the organization is able to understand what consumers want and give them what they need.

What are the Benefits?

There are several benefits to continuous delivery from risk mitigation, enabling scaling, increased visibility, faster feedback and enhanced communication.

Risk Mitigation

As a best practice, continuous deployment and delivery have become a way for a team to keep a software application deployable. This process allows developers to move quickly while keeping high-quality standards that can be checked automatically.

Most teams run 2-week sprints where a developer pushes changes. If the team doesn’t use continuous integration, nobody will detect the error for possibly weeks. Through continuous integration and unit tests, errors can be caught immediately and it makes it easier for the team to pinpoint where the error came from since the code was released in a smaller batch. In addition, these tests are automated removing the risk of human error while taking much less time.

Enable Scaling

In order to stay in business, organizations must be able to respond quickly to market changes. Automated software delivery pipelines are a great way of achieving this goal of speed. They can help organizations outmaneuver their competition and get their product to market faster.

When pipelines replace humans on repetitive tasks, productivity goes up. This makes it possible for teams to focus on the bigger picture while the tools do the heavy lifting. 

When a bug is reported by a pipeline, the team investigates the fix and if it seems to have been fixed, they commit it. Once committed, pipelines re-run to validate that the problem was fixed. This allows teams to work faster and scale quickly.

Increased Visibility

With continuous integration, merges are made and tested frequently. This means that it increases the visibility of any errors and gives an up-to-date picture of the state of the code for all stakeholders.

Faster Feedback

One of the primary benefits of continuous integration tools is that it saves time during the development cycle. Issues are identified and addressed early, so conflicts will be reduced. CI tools also allow developers to spend more time on other tasks that should be the focus, such as building a good test process.

Every software team needs to find new ways to become more productive. If your company gets too slow, it could be the death of your company and product. Continuous integration helps customers better understand how the codebase and features you’re developing will benefit them.

Enhance Communication

When software development goes wrong, it can be costly. However, a great workflow can make your good developers great and your best exceptional. By frequently testing code, with small changes, it opens up communications between developers to pinpoint errors and allows for a more holistic approach.

What are the Challenges?

The first thing you have to remember is that continuous integration requires a major change in your company's technical processes, organizational culture, and general operational thinking. If you haven't been investing in your software delivery infrastructure or haven't been making necessary changes for the past few years, it can be difficult to turn things around.

The construction of continuous delivery pipelines consumes your best people and can be costly. Be sure to allocate appropriate funds for the project - one that ensures the pipeline's uninterrupted execution based on your vision.

What is Continuous Deployment?

Continuous deployment focuses on the automation to deploy frequently across environments or clusters. As you traverse environments from non-prod to the staging environment and eventually to production, the number of endpoints you deploy to increases. A CD pipeline focuses on the path of least resistance to get the software into the needed environment(s).

Best Practices to Follow

Some best practices for continuous integration include maintaining a code repository and including automation whenever possible especially during deployment to minimize human error and save engineering time and energy. 

Everyone on your team should commit to the baseline daily and ensure the build is fast. You should also ensure that it’s easy for your team to meet deliverables and that everyone can see how the latest build performs.

Improve Your Software Development Process

If you want to keep developing features for your application during development, and without starting from scratch, you may want to consider using feature flags. You can toggle features and hide, disable, or enable them as part of your build process.

Feature flags are a powerful continuous integration tool that enables dev teams to turn features on and off while the code is running. This is important because it allows for changes while minimizing the risk of deploying new code. Feature flags are often called "feature toggles" and they make experimentation over the life cycle of features easier.

Feature flags are the best tool for enabling new workflows that are tremendously useful in agile management and CI/CD environments.

Try DevCycle Today!

Feature flags are a modern tool that give development teams the power to control the user experience of their product. Teams can choose when and to which users new code is delivered. This is a more streamlined solution managing the release of new features.

Start using DevCycle to unlock the benefits of feature flags as a CI tool in your software development process. 

Author headshot
written By
Ann McArthur

Ann is a product specialist who helps engineers easily get started using feature flags. She resides in Toronto where you can find her at the AGO, or at home whipping up a delicious meal.

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