articles, October 31, 2023

Best Practices For Your Continuous Integration Approach

Best Practices For Your Continuous Integration

Minimum time-to-market and maximum efficiency. That’s the goal every business has for their software projects – and precisely what DevOps was created for. However, it isn’t enough to implement DevOps in your project. Many nuances, if overlooked, can cut down the efficiency of your processes. How can you keep your processes strong and get the full benefits of DevOps?

Two of our experienced DevOps professionals, Michael Sagalovich and Alexander Simonov, shared some key points you need to consider when setting up continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) for your project.

Advantages of implementing continuous integration and deployments

DevOps is built around continuous integration (CI). CI’s goal is to find problems as early as possible. It does this by automatically picking up new or modified code, creating a build, and putting it through the software development phases (i.e., building, packaging, containerization, running tests). In other words, continuous integration helps developers catch and fix bugs before they do any real damage in the main code repository.

Before diving into the nuances of setting up continuous integration, you should consider the benefits of CI and if it’s right for you. Let’s look at the four main advantages of CI.

  1. Smaller and faster deployments. Continuous integration implies that you develop small pieces of code and implement them. This approach leads to smaller, more frequent releases, ranging from every two weeks to multiple times a day.

  2. Less failure and bugs after releasing. Updating small pieces of your system lowers the chances that something will go wrong. It is also easier to find and fix any new bugs in these smaller segments of code.

  3. Cutting down your costs. Continuous integration is a long-term solution. Implementing continuous integration is much cheaper than spending staff-hours on trivial tasks, like building and running tests. It also cuts costs by preventing mistakes due to human error.

  4. Support. Continuous integration helps you build more transparent processes and immutable infrastructure. As a result, it’s easier for your team to support the system. Immutable infrastructure adds stability by preventing developers from making manual changes without testing or documenting them.

Despite the advantages of continuous integration, it might not be a good fit for everyone. For one-time projects, project leads may wonder if they have the time to build proper CI/CD pipelines. Yet even for them, there are easy-to-implement continuous integration scenarios that make releasing with DevOps practical.

Two main approaches to continuous integration

When deciding how to implement continuous integration processes in your project, you should consider two main criteria: your deadlines and budget. Depending on your variables, you can choose one of the following approaches.

  1. Creating builds for all the developers’ branches. When a developer creates new functionality and features within his or her branch, continuous integration automatically finds that update, creates builds, runs tests, and shows testing results. As a result, a developer can catch and fix any possible bugs that arise during the development life cycle, which guarantees that none of them will get into the main branch. This approach requires more resources but will give you an extra layer of assurance that your software will be clean and bug-free.

  2. Creating a build only for the main branch. This approach is more streamlined than creating builds for all the developers’ branches. Because it is streamlined, it’s more cost-efficient and simple. The downside is that there is a higher risk that buggy code can get pushed to the main branch. In general, this approach is the minimum for producing quality software.

When deciding which of the two approaches, You’ll also consider project complexity and it’s important to consider the scope of your project. For example, with an ongoing project, you’d likely want to use the first approach as it would be more standards for the industry. But, whichever you choose, there are best practices you should follow for proper CI implementation.

Best practices for your continuous integration process

Some think that the right tool will make or break your continuous integration implementation. With the multitude of CI/CD tools, that can be a source of stress for your team. What do our DevOps experts think?

“As long as the tool is reliable and is tested, you can choose any,” says Alexander Simonov. “What you should focus on is whether the tool suits your project needs, complies with your current toolset and programming language, and whether developers have the expertise to use it. However, it is more important to focus on implementing processes the right way, rather than choosing the right tool.”

For continuous integration to run smoothly, you should encourage your team to follow these best practices:

  • The entire team needs to follow DevOps methodology (even QA, BA and PM professionals need to follow DevOps recommendations and practices in their work)
  • Developers should commit incremental changes to separate branches
  • A separate branch should be created for every feature
  • Every feature must contain a small piece of the functionality
  • BAs need to create stories for every little function, not all of it
  • All of the code needs to pass code-review (including the one written by QA and DevOps)
  • Developers need to run unit tests, or at least write them (these are the ones, which test separate internal modules, i.e. units, in an app). Unit tests are usually not visible for QAs.

Another issue that teams can run into when implementing CI is lack of action. “Frequently when unit tests fail, developers will shove it off as ‘these are just tests, not the actual purpose of the app,” says Michael. “It’s important to act responsibly and fix the bugs you find.”

All of your team needs to be ready for CI/CD processes since it will affect how they approach their work. For example, your marketing department will have to decide which will be more effective: comprehensive press-releases twice a year or small updates every week. Decisions your support engineers and other departments make will also be affected by CI/CD.

Continuous integration can benefit your organization in many ways but can be hard to implement on your own. Where can you find implementation help?

What we can offer for your DevOps project

Coherent Solutions has a lot of experience in managing DevOps projects. Two of our  success stories include Daikin and Chamberlain, projects with which Michael and Alexander had a full share.  Daikin Applied is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial heating, ventilation, and air/conditioning (HVAC) equipment in the world. Daikin’s app is monolithic. All the functions are located within one framework, instead of being divided into microsystems and microservices.

“Daikin needed continuous processes due to technical needs,” says Michael. “Even though it’s a monolithic app, it still has several modules that require streamlined releases and faster deployments with fewer bugs. It was impossible to achieve that manually. Implementing continuous integration allowed developers to optimize team efficiency and forget their worries about releases and deployment.”

Another case is Chamberlain, a global leader in access solutions and products. Chamberlain Group (CGI) designs and engineers residential commercial door operators, garage door openers, and gate entry systems. Its solution contains 200 different micro-services, which vary from independent to interdependent. Manually trying to understand the big picture and the statuses of each DevOps service would be nearly impossible. CI/CD automates these processes and helps developers get a sense of the overall project.

However, it’s not enough to set up continuous integration and deployment processes. As Michael said, “If you don’t have adequate and competent quality assurance, things are not going to work out.” It’s clear that if you want to implement continuous integration you can’t skip essential components.

Are you ready to improve your time to market and improve efficiency? Let’s talk about how continuous integration can help you reach your business objectives.

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