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How to do Continuous Integration Right
Continuous integration is no magic wand that will fix all your software errors automatically, for that there are still developers. However, you can make the most out of CI with the right tools and mindset.
This article will introduce you some aspects of continuous integration that are vital for fully embracing the benefits of CI.
Benefits of continuous integration
Before showing you how to unlock the benefits of CI, let’s go over what continuous integration is and what its main advantages are.
Continuous integration (CI) is a software development practice of regularly integrating code changes into the main branch of a repository and testing the changes several times a day. This routine activity helps you to ensure the high quality of the software and deliver healthy code to the end user faster.
The main benefits of continuous integration include:
Risk mitigation. Developers often have their own separate tasks or parts of the code that they work on and eventually have to merge to the main repository. The more individually crafted code, the higher the chance of potential fallbacks. Integrating your code several times a day helps to make sure that your line of code fits to the code in the main repository.
Instant feedback. The true power of continuous integration is revealed when you run automated tests. Tests allow you to get instant feedback on the code changes and fix the errors immediately.
Team communication. With a good CI tool, you can share the status of your pull requests, test results and builds to increase transparency in the team and speed up the process.
Confidence. Continuous integration can really boost your development confidence since it helps you to detect potential issues earlier rather than later. If used right along with proper tests, you can reduce the number of bugs going live to the minimum, if not eliminate them entirely, and release high-quality code. Let your developers write code with greater confidence as your CI tool does its job.
Take a look, how mobile app developers are benefiting from Nevercode and how continuous integration saves them up to 20% of a workday.
So, let’s dig in. How to get the most out of continuous integration?
Deal with broken builds
Yegor Bugayenko makes an extremely bold statement by saying that continuous integration is dead! According to him, CI has no vital power — even though CI tools do a great job by alerting development teams of broken builds, the teams are often simply incapable of fixing all the errors in time.
This can happen as your product and software development team grow. The bigger the code base, the more often builds get broken. It’s easy to get lost in the middle of all the alerts and it may take a lot of time to fix them.
Furthermore, keeping in mind the business goals, it’s often not feasible to deal with all the broken builds. It can easily look like dealing with the issues slows you down and endangers hitting those looming deadlines. And the result is just ignoring the red builds and carrying on the old risky way.
So what can we do?
Although obvious, it’s important to remind ourselves that adopting a CI tool to your software development process doesn’t make absolutely any sense if you’re not going to do anything with the results.
Dealing with the information that’s coming from continuous integration several times a day is crucial in order to maintain high standards of quality and avoid the costly scenario of releasing a business-critical application with defects. Period.
Optimize build time
As your product grows, you dutifully add tests to secure its quality. That, however, increases your build time, which is another common scenario. While you may not even notice the effect of a single test on build time, imagine what happens when you have a massive load of tests. It might compound your suite to take hours to complete, really haltering the true value of continuous integration — getting fast feedback.
In this case, it really makes sense to break your massive build into smaller chunks and use test parallelization.
This killer feature alone can save you hours of testing time every day by splitting your test suite across multiple dedicated emulators running in parallel.
Take a look at The Benefits of Parallel Testing to read more about it.
Embrace continuous integration as a mindset
As stated, continuous integration makes little sense when development teams don’t take alerts seriously. Arming your developers with the best dev tools is only half of the “delivering healthy code” equation.
One has to understand that adopting CI to its software development process is not magic that will automatically ensure the high quality of software and enable you to deliver healthy code just like that.
Adopting CI as a practice starts with changing the mindset of you and your colleagues in general.
Continuous integration mindset stands for continuous improvement and those practices that support it. It takes the whole team commitment and understanding of the value of addressing issues immediately to improve the quality and sustainability of your development efforts. Each issue shows you there’s something to improve and learn from.
Building the culture of continuous actions of check-ins and builds means that it can take different people a different amount of time and effort to change their habits and thought patterns, which means that time and patience are needed to guide them through the change. In addition, larger organizational and process-related challenges may arise when different teams/divisions need to figure out how to work in a new way.
It’s important to emphasize that in this scenario, it’s not about CI not being a good practice, it is a lack of your team’s will to embrace CI. Therefore, aim for the quality in any aspect of application development and deliver some awesome code!
Choose the best CI tools for your project
Having modern, fast and automated tools with an underlying infrastructure that can support continuous actions together with the right mindset is a match made in heaven. The only question that remains is what is the almighty tool for your needs?
We have listed the five main points that help you make a fully-informed decision and find the perfect CI solution for your organization.
Open source vs proprietary software
Surely, an open source CI can be enticing. Being often low cost (if not free), with customization possibilities and their extensive plug-in ecosystem features almost everything you might want to install. On the other hand, this open source heaven might really soon turn into a nightmare in the wrong hands.
The reality might hit your team hard when it’s time for updating & maintaining all these open sourced extensions. One can say that all you need for the job is a highly skilled maintenance pro and time to modify, create patches or create plugins. However, is the amount of overhead and development on hold really worth the stress and can you really count it as saving money?
Software-as-a-service or self-hosted
It really depends on what kind of organization you work in and if it mandates on-site hosting or hosting in a company-controlled data center. There are many cloud-based CI tools available, but this might not suit for your organization on security or legal reasons.
Once in a while there will arise tricky situations in software development that need deeper investigation. And who’re you gonna call when you get stuck or an emergency strikes? That’s right — support (but check the product documentation first, you might be facing a common confusion). However, there are endless variations of support options for your skill and price combination: Slack, Twitter, forums, Personal assistant, paid support, free community support, priority support etc.
In software development, it’s almost inevitable that something will go wrong or some people in the team do not have the same amount of knowledge about CI than the others. In these cases, well-written and easy-to-understand documentation/tutorials are essential.
It’s crucial to make sure that your project integrates with existing tools. To ensure that, check that your preferred CI service is accommodating your preferred integrations out-of-the box or can be extended via plugins.
Keep in mind all the factors that contribute to the total cost of ownership. As mentioned before, free might come at a high price.
There’s no objection that continuous integration is an integral part of delivering high-quality software, but it only makes sense if done right!
Check out how to implement continuous delivery for mobile app development. Real life insight from passwordless authentication service Authentiq.