CI/CD Pipeline: What, Why & How to Build The Best One

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To gain full potential of the software development workflow, developers today must familiarize themselves with the best workflows, practices, and tools. Fast software production is no longer enough to win today’s technology marketplace. Deployments have to be faster, more reliable, and more accurate than the competitors. 

A sturdy CI/CD pipeline is the solution to this challenge.

Current CI/CD Trends

Before diving into the whats and whys of Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipeline, let’s start with how it has become a trend in the software delivery domain.

CI/CD trend

The surge of CI/CD trends over the past two years is prominent in the software product industry. For instance, the keyword receives an increasing interest by global users in Google Trends in 2019, and is projected to continue to rise in the upcoming years. 

Another explanation is that CI/CD plays an integral part in DevOps – a powerful practice in software development. A CI/CD pipeline enables more frequent code changes while optimizing and streamlining the product development cycle. Automated software testing practices and continuous workflow are keys to the success of DevOps.

What is a CI/CD Pipeline? 

A CI/CD pipeline is a deployment pipeline integrated with automation tools and improved workflow. If conducted properly, it will minimize manual errors and enhance the feedback loops throughout the SDLC, allowing teams to deliver smaller chunks of releases within a shorter time.

The components and tools needed to build a pipeline depend on the team’s particular needs and existing workflow. Here’s an example of a CI/CD pipeline:

CI/CD pipeline

Benefits of Employing a CI/CD Pipeline

Enhances “Quality at Speed”

For many teams, product quality and deployment speed are what first come to mind when applying a new workflow. The old-fashioned way of deploying updates stretches the time spent on identifying and reporting underlying issues. The more manual the feedback loop is, the longer it takes for the engineering team to find and fix bugs.

A well-functioning CI/CD process is a productive solution to speed up the deployment pace and make each release more valuable to the end users. It streamlines the deployment cycle by enabling constant communication between teams and utilizing automated processes. 

Adds technical values for product teams

Automate tedious tasks

First, business resources are used in other more critical areas rather than invested in the repetitive, redundant testing tasks. When the process is automated and streamlined in a pipeline, it effectively reduces the complexity and production costs for repetitive tests.

Help developers stay focused

The CI/CD pipeline allows developers to stay focused on what they do best: writing code. Without it, developers have to handle all kinds of tasks — from environment setup, build making to issue investigation, and even product delivery, which is time-consuming and distracting from their primary focus. 

Reduce regression testing effort

The Quality Assurance (QA) team’s job is very fragile to change. One small change can lead to many regression efforts. Therefore, having access to all versions of the system is crucial to QA as well as other stakeholders. Moreover, keeping the latest version updated will help improve the quality and reliability of QA feedback of bug logged.

Easier test logs archiving 

Keeps logs of all code changes, testing, and deployments so that team members can inspect at any time. It also allows rolling back to previous versions with a single routine push-button action.

Effortless product updates

When the release process gets streamlined in the CI/CD process, product updates are much less stressful for the development team. 

More effective feedback loop

A rapid, accurate, and continuous feedback loop will effectively give shape to an organizational culture of learning and responsibility.

CICD pipeline benefits

Adds business values for organizations

Having a CI/CD pipeline in place brings many benefits not only to the product team but also to the organization’s business values. 

Generate builds faster

Integrating CI and CD into your production line will establish a continuous and automated cycle in which deliveries are completed faster with more values. All team members can stay on track of their projects and provide feedback in real time; thus, any bugs or issues can be quickly identified and resolved. 

Over time, your product will be refined thanks to the constant review from the team, resulting in more satisfying user experience.

Improve time-to-market

Deployment timing is one of the key elements that decide the success of your product release. Timely deployment helps increase engagement with customers, gain profit, support pricing, and boost market goals for your business. With the right time-to-market, the product’s ROI will significantly increase. 

Improved code quality

The CI/CD pipeline provides a workflow that allows developers to integrate their codes more frequently and share with team members to avoid possible conflicts in future builds. This will help reduce the cost of fixing defects and eventually improve the code quality for all updates.

Better developers’ efficiency

Once a continuous and automated software delivery process has been established, defects will have been minimized. This means the developers will have more confidence in integrating their codes in smaller chunks daily. An effective CI/CD process ensures that the team has all the tools needed to commit daily, stay on schedule, and drive more product values.

Attract more talents

And as a cherry on top, an integrated CI/CD pipeline makes you a more attractive employer to developers. Hiring talented developers is hard; that’s why having a well-established CI/CD process will help you attract talents more easily.

Components of a CI/CD Pipeline

A typical CI/CD pipeline must include these phases:

  • Build phase
  • Testing phase
  • Deploy phase
  • Automated testing phase
  • Deploy to production phase

In such a pipeline, things started with the developer team to write the initial lines of code. The developers then commit these codes into a version control system, which is the first phase of the pipeline. 

As a linear workflow, the developers will commit new codes and push them to the version control system with an updated version tag. 

CI/CD pipeline Build phase

The build phase is triggered when new codes are pushed to a repository. Because the initial codes are stored in small branches of the repository, the compiler will gather all features of the codes and its dependencies, then compile them into a new build.

CI/CD pipeline Testing phase

The testing phase comprises of multiple types of tests, with the most crucial one being unit testing. Unit testing will test the individual units of the product from its source code.

Product-feedback-deploy

Once the builds have passed the tests, they are moved to the deployment phase then pushed into a test server. This phase allows developers to simulate the product in a production-equivalent environment to examine see the product features.

CI/CD pipeline Automated testing phase

The automation test phase will perform the final tests to qualify the built features before they are deployed to production. Automated and continuous testing is applied in this phase to utilize the builds and make sure there are no bugs remaining. 

CI/CD pipeline Deploy to production phase

Throughout the pipeline, whenever there is an error, feedback will be instantly sent to the development team so that issues are immediately addressed. Code changes to fix bugs will then go through the production pipeline once again. 

After codes or the product passed all the tests without defects, they move on to the production server in the final phase. The constant feedback loop helps make the pipeline a closed process where builds are continuously committed, tested, and deployed to production.

Test Automation in a CI/CD Pipeline

It is important to maintain a quick and responsive feedback loop so that the whole team can “fail faster” thus resolves issues quicker and more efficiently. If your team does manual testing, it is almost impossible to set up a continuous development environment when the test phase takes lots of time to test thoroughly. 

However, since manual testing is still important for exploratory testing; software production teams shall adopt automated testing into their workflow. 

By integrating test automation into the pipeline, teams can enable faster builds and deployment by continuously generating feedback based on test results. Ideally, automated tests should be applied to as many test phases and as iteratively as possible.

Choosing the right automation tools is the most important step that brings automation test practices into reality. 

From functionality, security, performance to regression tests, a powerful automation tool makes sure these tests fully cover what needs to be tested. Additionally, some automation tools are capable of conducting parallel testing – which is running many tests or test cases simultaneously, cross-browsers, and cross-systems. Parallel testing and end-to-end testing are the key capabilities that help increase test coverage and shorten the time to market of the software.

The tests pre- and post-conditions, as well as infrastructure and test environment, are also challenging factors for teams that still operate manually. It takes hours, even days to fully build, upgrade, and tear down test environments. An automated environment provisioning process can provide that in just a few clicks. 

More importantly, the powerful automated testing tools are those that can provide the latest versions of browsers, systems, and resolution configurations; so the QA teams will not have to spin up, maintain, or tear down environments altogether.

Katalon is one of the most comprehensive solutions which can cover a wide range of automation requirements mentioned above.

Katalon Studio supports all popular end-to-end testing types: Web, API, Mobile, and Desktop testing. The tool offers a robust execution mechanism with parallel testing for the diversified environment from local to cloud services. Katalon also provides automated environment infrastructure that eventually, you would not need to manage their own server. 

CICD pipeline CTA

What makes a good CI/CD pipeline

Ultimately, the purpose of employing CI/CD is that teams can generate fast, accurate, reliable, and comprehensive feedback for their development cycle. Therefore, a proper pipeline should cover these factors: speed, accuracy, reliability, and comprehension.

Speed

Continuous integration is meant to be rapid with instant feedback. If the developers have to wait longer than 10 minutes for their build to be verified in the QA environment, the flow will be considered ‘disrupted.’ Because then, developers have to switch between contexts and wait for one build to pass before moving on to another.

In a CI/CD pipeline, the time it takes for each commit will limit how many times developers can deploy new codes in a day. Today, businesses require fast update pace and quick adaptation to changes, which means the engineering team needs a CI/CD process that supports a fast-moving workflow accordingly.

As the business continues to grow, the CI/CD tools must scale just as quick to meet new demands. A powerful tool is the one that is programmable and applicable to the existing development workflows. Plus, the CI/CD configuration needs to be stored as codes that allow reviewing, versioning, and restoring for future uses.

Accuracy

Applying automation to the deployment process is a great starting point. However, automation is not enough to make a functional and beneficial CI/CD pipeline; it must accurately run and visualize the entire software delivery process. The pipeline, combined with other tools have to precisely handle both simple and complex workflows, leaving no space for manual errors when performing repetitive tasks. 

The more accurate the pipeline is, the closer it gets to being fully automated — from continuous integration to continuous deployment without any human interference needed.

Reliability

Having a reliable CI/CD pipeline improves the speed of building and deploying new commits significantly. The pipeline must ensure the output is always stabilized with the same input without oscillations in runtime. 

As mentioned above, the need for CI/CD infrastructure to operate and scale accordingly to the growing pace of the product team is high. When the number of teams and projects increase or the workflow changes, the pipeline should stay reliable and resourceful to support the increased workload. 

Comprehension

A good CI/CD pipeline needs to cover as many as possible all the aspects of a seamless software delivery process. It takes just one phase left uncovered in the CI/CD tools to significantly affects the whole pipeline chain. 

Once teams have received comprehensive feedback from the pipeline, they can make optimizing and enhancing decisions to improve the development process, thus refine their final product thoroughly.

Further reading: Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment: Where to draw the line?

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