It's no secret that CI/CD is the best way to build and deploy software. It can help you deliver faster, with fewer bugs, and with more confidence in the quality of your code. But how exactly does it work? In this blog, we'll walk through how CI/CD Pipeline works, why it's so important and some of the common pitfalls that can trip up even experienced teams.
DevOps, indeed, is a boon to the IT industry. It empowered businesses to rethink their software development model to develop an optimized flow from an idea to value. This optimized flow enabled continuous delivery of high-quality software products and services, in a faster and more secure manner. As DevOps is taking the world by storm, it is clear that the unsung hero of this success story is CI/CD Pipeline. At this juncture, let’s take a look at what this CI/CD Pipeline means, and why it’s the secret ingredient for DevOps success.
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Before we delve deep into the ins and outs of the CI/CD Pipeline, let’s take a step back and understand what CI/CD is.
Continuous Integration (CI) / Continuous Delivery (CD) is a strategy that paves a way for integrating the work of different people into one cohesive product, in a faster and more precise manner. In DevOps, CI/CD streamlines and automates every phase of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), from development and testing to delivery and deployment. CI/CD enables this by facilitating DevOps teams with a single repository to store work and automation tools to continuously integrate and test the code to ensure quality. While continuous integration (CI) is the practice of continuously integrating code changes into a shared branch, CD refers to the process of automating the release and rollout of the application after integrating.
"CI/CD is nothing but Continuous code delivery to meet the increasing demand for speed, with little to no manual intervention. In the growing agile world, much faster delivery of products to customers is the dream of every business".
- Vishnu Vasudevan, Head of Product, Opsera and DevOps Institute Ambassador
Read: What is a modern ci/cd pipeline? Here’s what DevOps leaders think
On the other hand, CI/CD Pipeline is the CI/CD approach in practice. It represents the combination of processes, tools, and people that help achieve a CI/CD approach to software development. In other words, CI/CD pipeline is a software deployment pipeline ingrained with automation tools and optimized workflows. If implemented rightly, the pipeline reduces manual errors and enhances the feedback loops throughout the software development lifecycle, enabling DevOps teams to deliver frequent releases and smaller updates, effectively and efficiently.
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Now, let's find out how the CI/CD pipeline works by understanding what continuous integration and continuous delivery are all about:
CI/CD pipeline process starts with continuous integration. The CI process enables Dev teams to work simultaneously on different features of an app and create their own code branch to make small code changes. Moreover, the team can retrieve the source code, most often within a versioning tool. So, they can work freely on new features. If any issues sprout up, the versioning tool can easily revert the codebase to its initial stage.
The code changes of individual developers are then integrated into a shared branch or trunk using an automated system. Instead of making code changes separately and submitting them to the master code at the end, which can be tedious, resource-intensive, and error-prone, the CI process lets teams submit & merge code changes more frequently. Once the code changes are merged, it is validated by continuous testing to ensure code functionality and ultimately better software quality.
The next step in the CI/CD pipeline is continuous delivery. The CD process automates the releases of that validated code changes made in the CI stage into code repositories or live production environs. The software is tested and the identified code bugs, if any, are fixed through an automated process. In the final stage of CD, the DevOps will be notified of the new build, and they push it into the deploy stage. The ultimate aim of the CD process is to deploy new code with minimal manual intervention.
CD, also known for Continuous Deployment, is an extension of continuous delivery. It automatically releases code changes and updates to end-users. Continuous deployment heavily relies on a series of predefined tests to test code in a copycat environment to ensure high code integrity. Once the code passes testing, it is deployed to production automatically, without any wait for human approval.
Read: What's the difference between Agile, DevOps and CICD?
With a detailed understanding of CI and CD processes, let's look into the stages involved in a CI/CD pipeline:
A typical CI/CD pipeline includes the following stages. These stages make up the development lifecycle and workflow from source code to production:
Source: Typically, the pipeline run is triggered when a developer commits a code change to a source code repository. This change in the code notifies the CI/CD tool, which runs the corresponding pipeline. Some common triggers include automatically scheduled workflows and user-initiated workflows. GitHub and SVN are some of the popular repository tools that provide source code management and versioning in a CI/CD pipeline.
Build: This stage involves the process of creation and compiling of source code. The compiler gathers all features of the code and its dependencies, establishes links to relevant libraries and modules, and then compiles them into a new build. Any issues or conflicts in the new build are quickly determined and addressed at this stage.
Test: At this stage, teams run automated tests to validate the code’s accuracy and ensure its quality. The automated testing begins with functional and unit testing to ensure that the new features and functions are working as planned, followed by integration and regression testing to make sure that the new updates do not disrupt the already stable features. If any error or issue is discovered during this stage, the feedback is looped back to developers for analysis and rectification in the subsequent builds.
Deliver: Once the codebase is approved in the testing stage, it is delivered to a run-time environment for integration, quality assurance, and preproduction. At this stage, functional and performance testing is conducted on the application.
Deploy: Finally, the code changes are deployed, and the complete product moves into the production environment. This is the stage where DevOps teams can orchestrate software releases to production environments. You can configure your pipeline to schedule code deployments or dole out software to all end-users or just a selected group or roll back releases if any issue arises. You have the freedom to decide the best strategy to roll out updated software to your customers. All these processes can be automated as part of your CI/CD pipeline.
So far in the blog, we have discussed how a CI/CD pipeline plays a vital role in enabling businesses to leverage DevOps methodologies. But how can you build a robust CI/CD pipeline? Let's see...
A CI/CD pipeline varies with the needs of the businesses. So, there is no rigid process to build a CI/CD pipeline. However, there are some fundamental steps that businesses need to follow to build any CI/CD pipeline:
1. First of all, choose a version control system to maintain code repositories. Based on your business objectives, you can either choose a hosted version or a hosting provider. All the major cloud providers, including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud offer these options.
2. Build source code repositories to deploy application source code and pipelines.
3. Choose which built, or CI, or server you want to leverage. You can either choose the self-hosted option, such as Jenkins, or an outsourced option such as Azure Pipelines, GitHub Actions, and CircleCI.
4. Setup a task in the pipeline to compile application code and its dependencies into a build. In some implementations, this process produces a Docker image.
5. Run basic tests, such as static analysis and style checks, on the code to ensure its quality and consistency with the business protocols.
6. Now the artifact, or container image, generated by the build must be published to a store or registry.
7. Then run further tests on the build, such as functional testing or user acceptance testing. If the code quality doesn’t meet the predefined thresholds, fail the stage. It's wise to publish the results of the tests and code coverage for further analysis and remediation in the subsequent builds.
8. Once the build is validated by the tests, it is all set for production deployment. This may include multiple staged environments.
With Opsera, building your CI/CD pipeline is as easy as drag-and-drop, plug-and-play, without any need for manual or code-based integrations.
With a host of CI/CD pipeline tools available in the market, it can be a tricky task for your organization to choose the right set of tools that best suits your business requirements and objectives. So, in order to make the selection process easier for you, we have curated the list of most popular CI/CD tools:
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So how does a high-performing CI/CD pipeline look like? Here are some common qualities of an effective CI/CD pipeline:
Speed is the prime quality of an efficient pipeline. The speed of the pipeline depends on a few factors, such as the time taken to build a new pipeline, or the time it takes to build, test, and deploy an application, or the time taken to receive the feedback. A powerful tool is one that expedites these processes, supports fast-moving workflow, and scales with the new demands.
It is good that CI/CD brings automation to the software development lifecycle. However, the automation factor alone cannot make a CI/CD pipeline efficient. The pipeline must accurately and precisely run and handle the entire software development process and workflow, leaving no room for errors.
A reliable CI/CD pipeline ensures that the output is always stabilized for a given input without oscillations in runtime. An effective pipeline stays reliable and scalable to the ever-changing workflows or projects.
An effective CI/CD pipeline covers almost all aspects of a seamless software delivery process. Even a single-phase left uncovered can be significantly determinantal to the whole CI/CD pipeline chain.
Read: How to troubleshoot CI/CD pipelines and fix issues faster
When issues arise in the pipeline – and they often do – businesses need visibility to analyze the root cause of the issue. Continuous observability enables teams to rapidly identify and respond to the issues in their CI/CD pipeline. However, you can’t realize an observable CI/CD pipeline without having the right metrics.
Read: What is DevOps observability and how to implement it
In this section, we’ll dive into the key metrics that help you gain observability and measure the performance of your CI/CD pipeline:
Quality metrics help DevOps teams to evaluate the performance of the CI/CD pipeline in terms of code quality. By tracking these metrics, you can enable your team to build confidence in their code:
Some of the most common quality metrics are:
Velocity metrics focus on the key elements that contribute to the speed to the market. These metrics help evaluate the productivity and efficiency of CI/CD pipelines. By tracking these metrics, you can understand the time taken to build and deploy new features and updates, resolve an issue, and identity bottlenecks in your CI/CD pipeline:
A few velocity metrics to track are:
DevOps teams must quantify the performance of the automated processes in their CI/CD pipeline. Tracking the automation metrics can help identify the bottlenecks in the automation efforts and improve the process accordingly. These metrics enable you to evaluate technical debts, deployment success rate, and total error rates of each pipeline stage:
Read: 13 KPIs every DevOps leader should track
With Opsera's Insights platform, you can gain visibility into the entire CI/CD pipeline. Our Insights platform aggregates software delivery analytics across your CI/CD process into a single and unified view. You can view metrics in true CI/CD categories, including pipelines, planning, SecOps, Quality, and Operations.
We have already understood that the CI/CD pipeline is foundational for the DevOps software development lifecycle. Thus, any security vulnerabilities or gaps in your CI/CD pipeline can potentially put your application, in worst cases your whole business, at the risk of cyberattack. So, it is imperative to ingrain security across the CI/CD pipeline.
Some of the best practices that help you ensure the security of your CI/CD pipeline are:
Apart from the aforementioned best practices, you can directly rely on DevSecOps to embed security across your CI/CD pipeline. What to know how? Read our blogs on How DevSecOps can secure your CI/CD pipeline. Or you can also leverage Kubernetes to seamlessly integrate security across your DevOps CI/CD pipeline.
Typically, CI/CD pipeline runs several security tests across all stages to deliver more reliable and better software. Usually, all these tests are categorized into two testing types, namely, Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST). Let’s understand what they are:
SAST testing is a white box software testing technique that involves the process of scanning the source code for security loopholes. Such scans help identify security vulnerabilities and gaps early in the CI/CD pipeline even before deploying the code to an actual runtime environment. As the DevOps teams get early feedback with this testing, they can quickly address the issues and prevent them from reaching the production environments.
On the other hand, the DAST testing is a black box software testing technique that involves the process of scanning security vulnerabilities in the applications running in deployed environments. So, in this method, the security issues are identified towards the end of the SDLC.
As the defense layers offered by these two tests are almost different, it is wise to use the combination of all these tests to achieve full security defense. And the most fascinating aspect is that these tests can be automated. Want to know in detail about continuous testing in CI/CD pipeline?
Read : https://www.opsera.io/learn/continuous-testing-ci-cd
A lot of things and considerations go into developing a functional CI/CD pipeline. In order for the CI/CD pipeline to work properly, a long chain of interdependent, automated processes must take place successfully. So, it is ok to say that you will encounter at least a few challenges and bottlenecks when your CI/CD pipeline is working. Here are some of the most common issues and the ways to troubleshoot the CI/CD pipeline:
As the CI/CD pipeline includes a lot of automated processes, there is a significant scope of experiencing a lot of performance issues if things are not done properly. And you may end up releasing a poorly performing software build to your customers.
The best way to prevent this havoc is to implement an automated testing system to check for possible performance issues and alert the team if the threshold values are not reached. In this way, you can prevent the potential release of a sub-optimal product.
Performance testing is simple, yet effective, way to compare and analyze build performance. This testing detects bottlenecks and other bugs that could potentially deteriorate the performance. You also need to conduct load simulation testing as part of your performance testing.
Flaws in your automated testing system are the last thing you should expect. It could be a nightmare for your team. Even if one test fails, you could be paving the way for faulty code deployment.
To prevent this issue, you must diligently implement the right set of tools and tests within your CI/CD pipeline. Keep an eye on potential red flags of your testing system. Moreover, ensure that your tests are completely up to date and sufficient for the type of program you are deploying.
To make a CI/CD pipeline work properly, you must ensure that all the components, processes, and resources are functioning on a stable version. Even if a single process gets updated, then the entire CI/CD pipeline could come to a halt. So, managing and maintaining version control is crucial.
One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to completely disable the auto-updates. Automated updates forcefully update crucial processes of the CI/CD pipeline into the new version. Unfortunately, if the new version of the process is incompatible with the CI/CD pipeline deployment process, then you must have to restructure the entire process. So, it is best to stay with the latest stable version of the process.
Need an in-depth understanding of the top challenges in troubleshooting the CI/CD pipeline? Click here
The CI/CD pipeline demands a seamless collaboration between development, test, and operations teams to create a cohesive release process. And automation is the key here.
The challenge here is that manual processes have not vanished completely. Many businesses are using manual processes, like exploratory testing, across the development cycle. Though it serves its distinct purpose, it can impede an iterative delivery purpose. The slower the feedback loops, the longer it will take to address the issues and release the product. So, it’s wise to automate the CI/CD pipeline.
By automating CI/CD pipelines, there's no more need for developers to handle repetitive, time-consuming, manual tasks. They can now keenly focus on what they do best – writing code. Moreover, automation completely eliminates manual errors. This means the developers will have more confidence integrating their codes in small quantities, frequently. The result: high-quality applications are delivered at speed, while DevOps teams have the freedom to focus on delivering better value to the end-user.
CI/CD pipeline enables DevOps teams to deliver business value quickly. However, the teams end up reeling under the complexity of maintaining the CI/CD pipeline and toolchain. Maintaining these pipelines requires extensive scripting and glue code, such as scripts that integrate various CI/CD tools. The glue code used to write these scripts and maintain the pipeline makes it difficult to change or add new functionality without extensive refactoring and testing. Addressing this challenge is the no-code CI/CD pipeline.
No-code CI/CD platforms such as Opsera eliminate the need to write custom scripts to collect data or build monitoring solutions—it does this automatically, so you can focus on what matters, which is building great software. It enables you to scale already-tested workflows for improved efficiency and productivity.
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Although an effective CI/CD pipeline delivers a range of benefits, building one from scratch can be a difficult, complex process. With Opsera, you don’t need to worry about this.
Opsera’s no-code pipelines cover a variety of domain-based use cases for Software and Salesforce development across product and IT engineering to help increase productivity, release efficiency, and visibility.
- Head of Commercial Apps, Fortune 500 Telecommunications Company.
There is no easier way to build and maintain a flexible and high-quality CI/CD pipeline than Opsera’s Orchestration platform. Build drag-and-drop declarative pipelines, with no manual or code-based integrations. You can easily build the perfect CI/CD workflow and automate all the pipelines for any language, service, Salesforce, or AI/ML model deployments.