When creating software, a CICD pipeline makes the process clearer and less prone to error. Along with dividing the development process into easily understood stages, which are then broken down into tasks that need to be performed, pipelines also test and deploy the software, so there is less risk during said deployments.
With so many people swearing by a CI/CD pipeline process, there is a popular way of implementing it to get the best results. Here we are looking at the seven stages that every pipeline should have, guaranteeing optimized workflow and stress-free software deployment.
Why CI/CD Pipelines Are Important
To begin, let’s cover why CI/CD pipelines are important when developing and deploying software.
They minimize risk by creating a fast feedback loop with the software and allowing for repeated deployment. When practicing DevOps, the ability to deploy your software more frequently is one of the key metrics for successful, high-quality services.
Pipelines run unit tests on the code you have written. This way, it generates feedback and can let you know when software code fails one of those tests, and so isn’t ready for production and distribution. By automating the deployment process, tests can be run regularly and with no laborious human oversight.
As you can imagine, there are many nice-to-haves when it comes to implementing a CI/CD pipeline. At its core, every pipeline should do the following three things:
- Continuous Integration – Compiling and testing code.
- Continuous Delivery – Producing code artifacts ready for deployment.
- Continuous Deployment – Deploying applications automatically to servers.
Anything outside the scope of these three functions is a nice-to-have and will differ depending on the nature and goal of your software. The main aim of a pipeline is to test and deploy the software without issue.
Guaranteeing CI/CD Pipeline Success
When building an end-to-end, there’s a lot to think about – especially if you’re used to delivering software without CI/CD.
You may also get pushback from those you are working with if they haven’t used CI/CD before. Being wary of new methods is natural, especially for devs who have become efficient at another way of doing things.
To make a transition to CI/CD more appealing, you need to nail these three things:
- Implement Writing Tests – Many people think that CI/CD can result in bugs. It can, of course, which is why unit and acceptance tests should be used to make sure no bugs make it through.
- Make Execution Easy – Even the best pipeline ideas can suffer from poor execution. The pipeline should be easy to run and everybody with permissions should understand it. With every single commit, set up a trigger to make sure the pipeline runs automatically and seamlessly.
- Safeguard Credentials – Speaking of permissions, some worry that CI/CD pipelines can become compromised if they aren’t kept under lock and key. Any test/production server credentials should be restricted to trusted individuals. It helps to be familiar with the CI/CD tool you’re using so that you can follow the recommended security settings. Look into tools that offer secrets management, RBAC, and audit trails.
With that covered, let’s take a look at the seven essential stages that every CI/CD pipeline should have.
It all starts with a trigger. In an effective pipeline, this happens automatically when new code is added to the repository. With a Git repository, this is done by configuring the CI/CD tool to poll. You can also establish a Webhook to notify the CI/CD tool that a push has been made.
This ensures the pipeline runs automatically. A manual pipeline will suffer the human errors you’d expect, like people forgetting to run it and other disruptions that can be avoided with automation. Making everything automated means you don’t have to worry about these small but detrimental errors occurring.
An automated pipeline can give developers a lot of relief since testing happens for every single change. Conducting all testing manually can take a lot of time, and the more times you touch the work the more likely you’ll create an error. Again this is another reason why creating these automated triggers are extremely important.
2. Source Code Repository
After the trigger, the CI server should check the code that’s stored in the source code repository. This can be hosted on GitHub, Bitbucket, or other compatible services of your choice.
As we said, CI/CD tools gather information from polls or webhooks that track which commits triggered the pipeline and provide details on it. With that, the pipeline checks the source code at the relevant commit point and starts its processes. Those processes are detailed in the next five steps below, along with some suggestions of popular tools.
3. Continuous Integration
For developers who are working with compiled programming languages, you will also need to compile the program. As we discussed before, this is also known as Continuous Integration.
Continuous Integration is needed if you’re working with Java, to use a popular example, and so you’ll need to introduce a build tool to your CI tool. For Java, many use Gradle or Maven, and there are others out there you can use to compile.
When running these compilers, you should make sure the environment is as clean as possible. Docker containers are great for creating fresh build environments, which can be repeated without much hassle.
The cleaner the build environment here, the more predictable and repeatable your results will be. This is essential if you want to create a pipeline that can run automatically every time a dev commits code, without generating different results that interfere with the process.
4. Allowing Your Codebase Space To Grow
From here, you’ll probably need to add unit testing to your CI/CD pipeline. This is where your CI/CD tool is configured to execute the correct tests, those being the ones that are in your codebase. This verifies that every unit test passes and that the tests are being maintained.
You don’t want the tests to stop working when your codebase grows. If it does, then you haven’t tested it properly – the tests need to maintain and enhance to grow with your project.
Some applications and software grow rapidly. In those cases, you can’t use the same number of tests since large sections of the codebase don’t get tested. This means errors and other issues can sneak through!
Most tests will be unit tests. These are the most efficient, being cheaper to maintain and run, and easy to write for devs of all skill levels. Where needed, other tests can be implemented if you know what you’re doing.
5. Code Packaging
After the code is tested (and will continue to be tested as the pipeline operates) you need to work on packaging the code. Packaging methods depend on the programming language you’re using and the target environment that you are coding for.
With a Docker container, you’ll need to build a Docker image. With Java, you’ll need to make a JAR file instead.
No matter which one you choose, you should build the binary once. Building a different binary for each environment will make the pipeline too complex, to the point where it becomes disruptive to its processes. It’s better if you build one binary that is easier to manage.
6. Acceptance Testing
After running unit testing and code packaging, you should perform acceptance testing on the application or software that you are creating. Acceptance tests are exactly what they sound like – tests that make sure the software does what it should do, meeting the objectives that you set out when starting the project.
This is a very tedious process for devs who are doing it manually, so one of the biggest advantages of a CI/CD pipeline is the automation of this process. With a pipeline, it’s no longer so time-consuming and there are many different ways to automate testing to fit your needs.
Many different acceptance tests can become automated as part of a CI/CD pipeline. There are dedicated tools like Selenium, which can simulate user interactions like clicking around and opening sites online. Acceptance test criteria can also be modified through the Gherkin syntax system.
Acceptance testing reduces or outright eliminates the time you can spend manually testing the software. A CI/CD pipeline is ideal for devs who build their binary and then need to send it to a manual testing team. This can take a lot of time – time that gets saved with automating the process with acceptance testing. By saving time, you can finish the dev process and get the software/application to customers as soon as possible.
7. Continuous Delivery And Continuous Deployment
Finally, the last essential step of a CI/CD pipeline is the delivery/deployment of the software or application. This is the goal of your dev process, in both manual and automated development cycles, and you don’t want to fall at the final hurdle.
So, now that the software you are working on has been tested, it’s time to deploy it for use. At this stage, you should have an artifact that is ready for deployment, which is crucial for Continuous Delivery. In more advanced pipelines, you may instead aim for full CI/CD through software automation, to achieve Continuous Deployment.
Not every pipeline achieves automated deployment. Many don’t, but there is enormous value in achieving automatic deployment for your software.
Continuous deployment needs a production environment that it deploys into. Some devs prefer to deploy onto a public cloud, in which case you’d be using the cloud provider’s API to deploy the software. Others use Kubernetes, which allows for the use of a Helm chart to properly deploy applications.
No matter which option you go with, you will have reached the end of your pipeline. Of course, the goal of a CI/CD pipeline is that it’ll start all over again when a developer next commits code.
With that, you should now understand why implementing a CI/CD pipeline can be a good idea. With dev teams that struggle with manual development and the time constraints related to it, a CI/CD pipeline is great for automating certain tasks and ensuring smooth, stress-free software deployment.
We have covered why CI/CD pipelines are important and what you need to do to guarantee that the pipeline is successful. Every pipeline is different, depending on the nature of the project and the software that is in development. There are many nice-to-haves but these are the seven essential stages that should be in every pipeline, as of writing.