continuous integration

Benefits of Continuous Integration: 8 Things for Devs to Love

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The following is a guest post written by Michiel Mulders

You may have a great product but if you don’t release often, it won’t be easy to keep up with your competition. If you want to speed up software delivery, continuous integration (CI) can help you become more efficient. At its essence, CI helps you to standardize processes related to software testing and releases. For those unaware of what CI involves, it’s concerned with different types of automated testing, feature flags, code coverage metrics, and code builds.

This article presents eight benefits of implementing CI in your organization. Let’s explore those benefits!

1. Shift Towards Atomic Coding

Continuous integration allows you to shift towards a more agile coding approach. It lets you keep code changes small, making atomic code commits. You may wonder why this is important. When organizations don’t have access to a CI pipeline, they often spend a lot of time performing manual testing or passing code to the operations team to receive feedback. Because of long waits to receive code feedback for each little change, many organizations discourage developers from making small code changes.

However, developers who implement CI can help change their organization’s behavior. A continuous integration pipeline provides developers with fast feedback about their code via automatic testing, allowing for smaller commits.

Atomic coding indirectly leads us to the next benefit: more frequent releases.

2. Release More Often

Continuous integration allows for implementing continuous delivery (CD). With CI your organization can develop software in short cycles and release product updates quickly to the market using their CD. A CI helps you build and test software, whereas a CD process automates the tasks related to releasing a new version of your product. For example, some organizations like to include smoke testing in their release process. Smoke testing is when a small set of core functionality is tested before releasing a product.

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In other words, the combination of a CI and CD process enables your organization to release more often, reducing time to market. This is an important metric for startups to gain an edge over their competitors.

3. Catch Bugs Early

With every incremental release, users can try out a new feature. Therefore, bugs are found more quickly. Also, you can resolve bugs with a relatively low effort, thanks to fault isolation.

Imagine that a bug goes undetected by your team for months, until a group of features is released to users. When users find this bug after waiting for the release for months, your development team may need much more time and effort to solve the bug than if it had been discovered sooner. When months go by, a small bug can quickly become a big problem. It’s much harder to undo changes or to modify the code because months of development have been built on top of the bug.

This principle is referred to as fault isolation. CI helps ensure that the negative outcomes of a bug are limited in scope. Thus, CI reduces the potential damage a bug can do.

Note: To catch bugs early in the software development lifecycle, you should invest in an automated test suite that integrates with your CI.

4. Roll out Features via Feature Flags

Feature flags allow you to create a more advanced setup for your CI flow. For example, they allow you to develop features and merge them into a shared code repository without first exposing the features. This means you can build, test, and merge features before releasing them to your users.

This gives your team more agility. It often happens that features have to wait for the next pull request (PR). As the days pass waiting for this PR, more code gets merged and you’ll likely have to update or rewrite parts of your PR to avoid code conflicts with PRs that were merged before yours. You can totally avoid this problem by using feature flags. For this reason, CloudBees offers feature flag capabilities that enable you to create and manage flags across the SDLC.

Using feature flags allows your organization to have fine-grained control over the features you expose. Furthermore, if something goes wrong, you can quickly reduce risks by disabling a feature through a feature flag.

5. Decrease Time Needed for Code Reviews

When code has already been tested through automated testing, which is normally part of your CI process, the job of a code reviewer becomes much easier. A developer doesn’t need to spend time checking out code to see if it works. Your CI will tell the reviewer if the code meets the quality requirements for being merged to the shared code repository. In addition, a code coverage metric that defines what percentage of the code has been covered by tests can tell a reviewer if the code coverage has decreased or increased. If code coverage has decreased, it can be a sign that the author of the pull request (PR) didn’t cover all possible test scenarios for the newly created feature.

However, remember that it is sometimes useful to try out code locally, especially when you’re working with front-end-related changes. You might catch a bug that hasn’t been covered by your CI flow.

In short, with CI, developers spend less time validating the quality and correctness of newly added code. Therefore, they can maintain focus on their code changes.

6. Save Resources With Your CI Implementation

Imagine that your CI pipeline is a human who never makes mistakes. This human always sticks to the process you’ve defined. Moreover, this human can verify code and run tests in a matter of seconds to minutes.

In other words, CI helps you save costs because it allows you to automate slow tasks in a standardized way. And it makes those processes fault-free.

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How often have you encountered a situation where you’ve released a new version of your product too quickly on a Friday evening? Everyone wants to head home to their families, but the new release needs to be manually built and tested, which requires you to complete a slow setup. Because you only do this setup every two months, you’re forced to look up the release process you’ve defined. As you can imagine, this scenario is prone to human errors and doesn’t bring your developers a lot of happiness.

Using a CI pipeline to automate all these tasks will save you a lot of time and resources in the long run.

7. Mitigate Risks

Although you might not expect this as a benefit, CI helps your organization mitigate risks. We’ve all encountered a situation where code works locally but it doesn’t work in your production environment. This can have all sorts of causes, such as different environment configurations or a mismatched dependency version.

A CI helps you to quickly set up a copy of your production environment and increases confidence that your code will work for your actual production environment. When you test code in an environment similar to your production environment, chances are much lower that unwanted behavior will arise when releasing the product.

Also, by running your CI-integrated automated test suite for every code change, you’re already mitigating risks. Automated testing helps you catch bugs early, reducing the risk of releasing bad code.

8. Boost Confidence

It’s actually easy to summarize the benefits of implementing CI. A CI pipeline boosts your confidence in the project you’re building. Automated testing directly contributes to a higher quality project. Also, a standardized continuous delivery process boosts the client’s confidence that your team can ship new features quickly. In other words, confidence can become a major competitive advantage for your organization.

In conclusion, it’s worth investing time and money into implementing CI. It reduces the stress on your developers and allows them to focus on their core task, which is developing new features.

Have fun implementing your CI pipeline!

Michiel Mulders is a passionate blockchain developer who loves writing technical content. Besides that, he loves learning about marketing, UX psychology, and entrepreneurship. When he’s not writing, he’s probably enjoying a Belgian beer!

This post was originally published at https://www.cloudbees.com/blog/benefits-continuous-integration

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