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DevOps CI/CD pipeline: a comprehensive guide

Patrick Goslin's Avatar
Patrick Goslin Product Manager @ Tidal Software

The DevOps CI/CD pipeline is the engine that powers today’s software development world to keep up with the extreme pace of change. CI/CD is short for continuous integration, continuous deployment and continuous delivery and refers to a software development practice where small code changes are validated regularly and with confidence.

Every business that aims to improve the efficiency of its software development and delivery process should understand the DevOps CI/CD pipeline methodology. In our dynamic digital business world, the speed and efficiency that a dev team can develop, test and deploy software can be the difference between the success and failure of a company. This article will explore the CI/CD pipeline as part and parcel of DevOps, including its important, components and how Tidal Automation enhances processes, facilitating efficiency and innovation.

CI/CD pipeline explained

A pipeline is a process that drives software development through a path of building, testing and deploying code, also known as CI/CD. By automating the process, the objective is to minimize human error and maintain a consistent process for how software is released. Tools that are included in the pipeline could include compiling code, unit tests, code analysis, security and binaries creation. For containerized environments, this pipeline would also include packaging the code into a container image to be deployed across a hybrid cloud.

A CI/CD pipeline is the backbone of a DevOps methodology that brings developers and IT operations teams together, acting as an automated process that orchestrates the steps required to get software from version control right into the hands of end-users, quickly and reliably. There are five core components/stages that make it up:

Source stage

This is where it all starts. The source stage includes version control systems, such as Git and begins when developers are committing code changes to the repository.

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Continuous Integration (CI)

Once the new code is committed, the CI server is notified and starts to prepare a build. This means compiling the code, running unit and integration tests and generating artifacts that can be deployed. The goals here are to validate code quality, ensure that changes integrate well with the main codebase and catch any issues early on.

Following a new code commit, the CI server is notified and starts to prepare a build. This includes compiling the code, executing unit and integration tests and creating deployable artifacts. In this phase, you are trying to accomplish three things: validate code quality, ensure that changes integrate well with the main codebase and try to catch issues early in the process.

Continuous delivery

The artifacts created from the CI stage are automatically deployed to a staging environment. This is done to replicate the production environment as closely as possible and perform further automated or manual tests. The key principle here is that the code is always deployable, enabling teams to release new changes to customers quickly and safely.

Continuous deployment

A key component to automating development is continuous deployment, once the code is staged and final, changes are released to production and are available to customers automatically, without manual intervention. This approach enables a high release frequency and accelerates feedback loops with end-users.

Monitoring and feedback

Post-deployment, monitoring tools collect data on the application’s performance, usability and potential errors in the production environment. This feedback is crucial for teams to identify issues early, understand user behavior and plan future improvements.

Importance of CI/CD

CI/CD helps organizations avoid bugs and code failures while maintaining a continuous cycle of software development and updates. As apps grow larger, features of CI/CD can help decrease complexity, increase efficiency and streamline workflows.

The biggest benefit of CI/CD is the automation of manual tasks traditionally needed to get new code from a commit into production, with CI/CD, downtime is minimized and code releases happen faster. Automating manual tasks includes several benefits for developers and businesses including:

  • Speed and efficiency: Automation reduces manual handoffs, leading to faster development and deployment cycles.
  • Reliability: Automated testing and consistent deployment practices decrease the chances of errors in production.
  • Quality assurance: By having continuous testing, bugs are caught and fixed early which improves the quality of the software.
  • Feedback loops: Rapid releases and monitoring allow teams to gather and act on user feedback quickly which results in the product being more aligned with the user’s needs

A CI/CD pipeline plays a critical role in the modern software development process because it enables the team to iterate and deploy quickly. Now that you have a general overview of what a CI/CD pipeline looks like, let’s dig deeper into each component.

Continuous Integration

Continuous Integration (CI) is a development best practice that involves developers integrating code into a shared repository multiple times a day. Each check-in is automatically verified by building the project and running automated tests to prevent integration problems, referred to as “integration hell”. These frequent code integrations are made up of key elements and have several benefits:

Key elements of continuous integration

  • Version Control System (VCS): The VCS is a repository where developers make frequent commits to the development environment and is the single source of truth for the project’s code repository.
  • Automated build: As soon as the changes are committed, an automated system compiles the code into an executable program. This ensures the codebase can be built successfully every time.
  • Test automation: Automated tests (unit tests, integration tests, etc.) are performed against the codebase, validating functionality and ensuring new changes don’t break existing features.
  • Feedback mechanism: Developers receive immediate feedback on their commits so if any tests or a build fails, those issues can be addressed promptly.
  • Continuous merging: CI encourages merging all developer working copies with the shared mainline several times a day, reducing the risk of conflicts and integration challenges.

Benefits of CI (continuous integration)

  • Early bug detection: Frequent testing identifies and resolves bugs early in the development cycle, reducing the cost and effort required to fix them later.
  • Improved software quality: Regular builds and testing ensure that software is continuously monitored and improved.
  • Faster release rate: Automating these processes enables faster iterations and shorter release cycles.
  • Reduced integration issues: Regularly merging changes reduces integration conflicts and ensures that the codebase is always in a state that can be deployed to production.
  • Enhanced transparency and collaboration: CI processes provide visibility into the development process for the entire team, fostering collaboration and shared responsibility for the codebase.

Implementing CI requires a cultural shift within the development team, encouraging frequent, small commits, shared responsibility for the codebase and a strong emphasis on automated testing. When properly executed, continuous integration lays the foundation for continuous delivery and continuous deployment, further streamlining the software release process.

Continuous Delivery

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Continuous Delivery (CD) is the next step of CI/CD. It extends the continuous integration process by taking all the committed and tested code and getting it ready to be released to production with minimal manual intervention. The main goal is to make the release process as fast and efficient as possible by automating the delivery of applications to selected infrastructure environments.

Key components of continuous delivery

  1. Automated deployment: CD automates the deployment process, allowing for the rapid and reliable provisioning of applications in various environments, including testing, staging and production, including all necessary components like databases and network configurations.
  2. Environment consistency: Maintaining consistent environments across development, testing, staging and production minimizes the “it works on my machine” reasoning and ensures software behaves as expected in production.
  3. Release automation: Getting a release ready to go live becomes automated, including the final steps to make software available to end-users. Depending on how an environment is set up, this could mean pushing the code to production or staging environments, where it’s ready to be released.
  4. Configuration management: Configuration management tools manage infrastructure as code ensuring all environments are provisioned in an automated, repeatable and consistent manner.
  5. Rollback capabilities: Mistakes happen and code gets released that shouldn’t, being able to rollback a deployment quickly is an important safety net ensuring the user experience is never impacted negatively.

Benefits of continuous delivery

  • Rapid release cycle: Teams can rapidly and frequently bring new features, fixes and updates to market, ensuring a competitive advantage
  • Higher quality software: Elimination of most deployment errors is enabled by automating the deployment process and keeping consistent environments
  • Reduced deployment risk: Utilizing smaller and more frequent updates means fewer changes are introduced at a time, making the identification of issues simpler and faster
  • Efficient resource utilization: Automating repetitive and manual deployment tasks frees up developers and operations team to contribute to other tasks that bring more value
  • Improved customer satisfaction: New features and fixes can be delivered faster, helping to address the customers’ needs and demands

Continuous delivery is a game-changer in the world of software development. Thanks to build, test and deployment automation, software teams can speed up the delivery lifecycle without sacrificing quality or stability.

Continuous Deployment

Continuous deployment is the final step of automation and deploys every change that passes through the pipeline to production, without human intervention. This practice is the pinnacle of automation in the software development lifecycle, aiming to make the release process as quick and efficient as possible.

Core principles of continuous deployment

  • Full automation: Continuous deployment requires the entire CI/CD Pipeline to be automated so any commit that passes all automated tests can be deployed to production automatically.
  • Robust testing framework: Since deploying to production is done automatically, it is crucial to have comprehensive and reliable automated testing, which includes unit tests, integration tests and end-to-end tests, as well as any relevant tests, to maintain code quality and function.
  • Real-time monitoring and rollback: Continuous monitoring and alerting systems help detect release issues quickly. Adding the ability to rollback to a previous version automatically or with minimal effort reduces downtime and user impact.
  • Incremental changes: Small and incremental changes are preferred since changes are easier to test and deploy, reducing the chances for significant bug fixes.
  • Culture of responsibility: Developers are responsible for their code from inception to deployment encouraging higher code quality.

Benefits of continuous deployment

  • Rapid innovation: Teams can develop and add new features and updates faster than ever before.
  • Increased release efficiency: By removing manual gates, organizations can increase release frequency and deliver value to users continuously.
  • Improved product quality: The rigorous automated testing and quick feedback loop increase product quality and user satisfaction.
  • Enhanced developer productivity: Developers would be able to focus on creating new features and less time managing releases.
  • Faster time-to-market: Companies can gain a competitive edge with faster and more frequent releases.

Representing the ultimate form of automation in DevOps practices, the goal of continuous deployment is to use technology to enable a seamless flow from development to production. While it demands a robust infrastructure of testing and monitoring, the advantages can transform a company’s agility and responsiveness to its market.

CI/CD vs DevOps

CI/CD abbreviation of the terms continuous integration/continuous delivery and continuous integration/continuous deployment, respectively and DevOps are two buzzwords in the software development lifecycle that are often made to mean the same thing. Nevertheless, they serve distinct roles in software development, deployment and operations. Knowing the difference helps define their contributions to software quality, speed and efficiency.

CI/CD is a methodology that focuses on automating and monitoring the software development stages to ensure quick and reliable software updates.

DevOps is a set of practices and cultural philosophies that combine software development (Dev) and software operation (Ops). DevOps’ main goal is to reduce the development lifecycle, offer continuous delivery with high software quality and accelerate the way development, testing and releasing software occurs.

  • Collaboration and communication: Breaking down silos between development and operations teams to foster better collaboration and communication.
  • Shared responsibility: Encouraging ownership and accountability across the entire lifecycle of a product, from development through to operation.
  • Continuous improvement: Emphasizing the importance of learning from failures, continuously improving processes and aiming for operational excellence.

Where CI/CD focuses on automating the software delivery process, DevOps is a broader approach that combines cultural philosophies, practices and tools to improve an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity. CI/CD is a pivotal part of DevOps, acting as the operational backbone that makes it possible to achieve the DevOps goal of fast, frequent and reliable software delivery.

Enhance your DevOps and CI/CD pipelines with workload automation

Companies looking to take their automation past software development integrate their CI/CD pipelines with a workload automation or job scheduling solution, Workload automation platforms automate complex workflows and tasks across various systems and environments, extending beyond the scope of CI/CD to include operational tasks such as database backups, infrastructure provisioning and more. Systems like Tidal Automation are designed to handle dependencies between tasks, manage task queues and ensure that tasks are executed at the right time and in the correct sequence.

Tidal Automation helps businesses with batch processing, mainframe job scheduling, data integration, big data processing tasks, retrieving data from web services, ETL, job scheduling for ERP systems and more playing a pivotal role in this ecosystem. By integrating with the CI/CD pipeline, Tidal automates release management and fortifies DevOps practices with audit trails for compliance.

Accelerating CI/CD processes is a breeze with Tidal’s capabilities. It bridges the gap between DevOps and IT automation, allowing DevOps teams to focus on creating new features while IT oversees workflow and code quality through centralized management. Tidal’s robust scheduling functionality outpaces native schedulers, streamlining applications and schedule updates.

The seamless integration with DevOps CI/CD processes accelerates the implementation of updates, freeing developers from the intricacies of scheduling and automation and teams can ensure their codebase, from GitHub or GitLab, undergoes continuous testing and deployment, aligning with the best practices in software delivery.

The evolution of DevOps CI/CD pipelines has revolutionized software development, enabling faster, more reliable delivery of new code and features. Tidal Automation amplifies this transformation, providing a robust platform that integrates with existing DevOps tools and practices, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of development teams. Schedule a demo to see how Tidal can integrate with your CI/CD processes to accelerate application and schedule updates.