What is a CI/CD Environment?

In the world of application development, being able to quickly respond and adapt to customer feedback and rapidly deploy new features and updates is key. With all the different applications and tools available, today’s users have incredibly high standards when it comes to the products they trust. As these organizations strive to improve their products and applications to better meet the needs of their users, many are adopting CI/CD methodologies to automate and help integration, delivery, and deployment processes run more smoothly within the development cycle.

Development Before CI/CD

Traditionally, when multiple developers would complete different features of the same product, they would need to merge all their individual source code together during a single “merge day.” This process of manually integrating code is extremely tedious and time consuming. Code written by one developer would often conflict with that of another. Many times developers worked using their own custom local integrated development environments (or IDE) rather than a single cloud-based IDE, making integration and testing even more difficult.

This type of production environment was not ideal as it relied on deploying updates in large chunks, making it more difficult to readily respond to the constantly changing needs of the user. This meant that even smaller updates would take much longer to appear, leaving customers wanting more or eventually looking for other options.

How CI/CD Looks to Improve Product Development

That is where CI/CD steps in. CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment/Delivery. Yes, the CD stands for both “deployment” and “delivery”, but could also refer to just one or the other. More on that a bit later.

A CI/CD environment is a type of production environment in which ongoing automation and monitoring are implemented to improve and expedite development processes for integration and testing, and deployment and delivery. CI/CD aims to solve those issues development teams are faced with when integrating and merging new code additions. The time-consuming merge days are replaced with ongoing automated testing that keeps code updates flowing through the production cycle. In a CI/CD environment, development and operations collaborate closely together with an agile approach as new code additions are moved through a CI/CD pipeline designed to continuously integrate and deploy new product fixes, updates, and features.

This allowed organizations to receive and respond to customer feedback much faster than before. Updates could now be deployed and made live for the user in as little as just minutes after the developer has written the code.

What is the Difference Between CI and CD Environments?

The CI in CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration. CI is an automation process within development that continuously builds, tests, and merges new code changes. CI allows developers to quickly write and merge new code to a single, shared “trunk” instead of having to wait to manually merge many individual branches of code. This allowed development teams to merge code more frequently while CI automatically tested and validated new code additions to ensure it can integrate seamlessly without breaking anything in the existing code. Once the developer would complete their new code, it is automatically built and tested before being merged. Any conflicts discovered could also be more quickly addressed.

As we touched on earlier, CD refers to both Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment.

Continuous Delivery typically refers to the automated process of taking the validated code additions from the CI processes, and releasing it to a shared repository (such as GitHub). The goal is to maintain an up-to-date codebase where new updates and features could be easily deployed to a live production environment. Continuous Delivery can be set up to release validated code at different intervals (daily, weekly, etc.), but ideally is automatically released as soon as it’s been validated.

Continuous Deployment is when the production-ready code in the shared repository is automatically deployed to production. In order for continuous deployment to be effective, it’s critical that all test automation in the previous CI/CD environments is well designed and able to catch any issues before reaching this stage. Continuous deployment allows for a developer’s code update to go live within just minutes of writing as long as it has passed the automated testing from Continuous Integration and Delivery.

With continuous deployment as part of a complete CI/CD pipeline, companies are able to consistently respond and adapt to user expectations and incorporate user feedback with smaller, frequent updates. Not only did this help to deliver continued improvements to a product or application, but the smaller updates were also much easier to test and troubleshoot than the traditional waterfall approach of releasing batch updates.

The CI/CD Pipeline

The CI/CD methodology of automation is commonly visualized as a CI/CD pipeline. In a CI/CD pipeline, Continuous Integration must always lead things off. The ongoing automation and monitoring done during continuous integration is critical for ensuring that all new code additions are thoroughly tested before being merged with existing code.

Next in the pipeline is the first CD, Continuous Delivery. Any conflicts should have already been discovered and fixed during CI before reaching this point. Once the code addition has been thoroughly tested and validated by the CI processes, it is then automatically released to a shared repository.

Last in the CI/CD pipeline is Continuous Deployment. This process automatically takes the validated code from the shared repository and releases it to production. With continuous deployment as part of a CI/CD pipeline, updates can be made live to the user much more quickly and with less risk of any incidents.

A given CI/CD pipeline will vary from one organization to another based on their production needs and how far along they are in developing these processes. For example, an organization will often begin with just CI and work towards introducing delivery and deployment automation later on. Some CI/CD pipelines may include just Continuous Delivery without Continuous Deployment, or may combine some elements of Continuous Deployment as part of their Continuous Delivery. Regardless, there can be no CD without CI.

What are the Benefits of CI and CD Environments?

Continuous Integration Benefits
  • Automated Testing. Testing, integrating, and merging new code is performed automatically by your CI test automation processes.
  • No More Labor Intensive “Merge Days.” Developers no longer have to wait for merge or release days to merge new code additions.
  • Bug Squishing Made Easy. Developers are immediately alerted of any bugs in their code that break the build, allowing them to quickly fix the issue before moving to the next task.
  • Saves Time and Money. A CI server can automatically run hundreds of tests in a fraction of the time it would take for manual testing, saving an organization both time and money.
  • Increased Focus on User Experience. QA teams are able to focus less on tedious testing and more on making improvements that are more meaningful to the user.
Continuous Delivery Benefits
  • Releases Made Easy. Continuous delivery takes the stress of preparing for a release off your team, allowing them to focus on writing code and improving the product.
  • Release More Frequently. With continuous delivery, teams are able to release more frequently and respond to user feedback much quicker.
  • Smaller Updates Mean Less Risk. Because the updates being made are smaller, they are less risky and easier to troubleshoot.
Continuous Deployment Benefits
  • Faster Development. Without needing to pause development for new releases, teams can often develop new features in less time. These additions are then automatically deployed to production, saving your team even more time.
  • Continuous Improvements. By consistently deploying small yet beneficial updates, your users will notice regular and continuous improvements to the product or application quality and user experience. Updates can now be made daily as opposed to monthly or quarterly.

Tools and Implementation

So how can you get started with implementing CI/CD at your organization? Considering the level of well-designed automation required for an effective CI/CD pipeline, there is quite a bit of upfront labor that must be done first. You’ll need to start with establishing an intelligent system of continuous integration designed for your specific development ecosystem. Your CI/CD pipeline relies on a high degree of ongoing automated testing and monitoring at the CI level in order to effectively deliver and deploy new code updates without breaking the application.

There are several tools available to help get started with CI/CD as well as to improve your existing processes. CI/CD tools like Jenkins are great for automating testing/integration, delivery, and deployment. Jenkins is a popular open source CI/CD tool that can be used to help manage CI servers as well as CD environments.

We would love to discuss how you can implement or improve CI/CD at your organization. Please give us a call to discuss your specific goals with CI/CD and which methods or tools are best suited for your team. If you think PagerDuty could complement your existing CI/CD environment, give us a try with a 14-day free trial.