With user demands reaching an all-time high, market dynamics changing overnight, and innovations in technology happening with the blink of an eye, software applications have become extremely complex.
Yet, the disjoint nature of development teams is one of the main reasons for delayed time-to-market, poor product quality, and a high cost of development. Poor integration between teams also makes it difficult to incorporate code changes and often results in multiple product versions being released into the market.
This necessitates the need for Continuous Integration. Continuous Integration or CI allows multiple development teams to work in tandem and easily incorporate new and improved features to meet the evolving needs of the market. By integrating the efforts of developers frequently, CI results in faster feedback loops, early discovery of bugs, and improved quality of products.
What challenges does CI solve?
Application development is no longer the handiwork of a handful of developers. As applications get more and more complex, a plethora of developers and other team members need to work together to drive value.
However, the larger the number of members working, higher is the integration hell. This can lead to a pool of challenges including code conflicts, loss of application functionality, loss of work, increase in testing efforts, as well as frustrated developers and project managers.
By integrating individual work of individual developers into a central repository, CI lets development teams focus on their core job of writing code. Constant collaboration between teams not only helps in early detection of bugs but also in better-quality products.
Listed below are some challenges CI aims to solve:
Problem: Manual builds
Manually compiling source files, packaging them and updating database schemas cost software teams a lot – both in terms of development effort, as well as development time and cost.
With Amazon steadily scaling up to accommodate for unforeseen traffic spikes, using CI, developers can deploy code every 11.7 seconds, on an average!
CI automates the process of running the scripts after a build finishes. By integrating code into a shared repository several times a day, CI verifies every check-in using an automated build and prevents defects or regressions.
Problem: Unhappy clients
Any software application that is developed with longer periods between integrations is sure to make it exponentially more difficult to find and fix problems. This can easily knock a project off-schedule or cause it to fail altogether – resulting in unhappy clients.
Serving 139 million customers is not easy for Netflix. However, using a suite of CI tools, it can continually stress test its infrastructure and proactively identify and resolve vulnerabilities before they impact customers.
Since CI enables frequent integration, there is significantly less back-tracking to discover where things went wrong. By catching issues early and nipping them in the bud, developers can spend more time building features and less time in waiting to find out if the code is going to work.
Problem: Slow release process
Did you know that Apple users have to contend with 15 iOS updates every year and that Apple releases iOS security updates every 1-2 weeks?
How do you think Apple manages such a frequency of updates? It is through CI, of course! When developers work separately on different parts of a software product, and later integrate their code with the rest of the team’s, the end result can be duplicated coding efforts, as well as the creation of several hard to find and fix bugs. In a CI environment, since developers merge their code changes in a shared repository several times a day, the working product is continuously tested and validated.
It speeds up the release process by encouraging collaboration between developers and ensuring bugs are caught earlier in the cycle.
Problem: Insufficient testing & Visibility
Unclear testing responsibilities, inadequate test resources, and infrequent communication often cause applications to be delivered with defects – which is a major cause for unhappy users.
Have you ever imagined how Facebook’s user experience would be, if the testing teams carried out insufficient testing of the latest features?
Adobe uses CI to integrate with a variety of software; the multi-project view allows them to see how a change to any one product affects the others in the ecosystem.
CI solves the problem of insufficient testing by laying the foundation of automated test suites. By monitoring the central code repository and running tests on every change that is made, CI collects test results and communicates them to the entire team working on the project. Such automation ensures the status of a project’s source code is constantly communicated to all the developers involved. Defects become easier to identify and fix, teams have the confidence to make changes, and a working application is always available.
What is the impact?
When a large number of changes are made to working software, integration becomes extremely complex and can have a considerable effect on the productivity of the team.
Integration hell can have several negative consequences for any business: testing and fixing bugs can take forever. Releases can get delayed. And teams can get stressed out because of long and unpredictable release cycles.
However, with CI, developers can ensure a faster and well-integrated deployment and positively impact the software development process. When used correctly, CI can result in:
Regular working releases: Since CI allows the smallest of changes to the source code to be made, and integrated with the rest of the code base on a regular basis, the end result is regular working releases. Development teams can get new features into production quicker, and get the product into the hands of clients quickly, and regularly.
Reduced risk: By releasing new updates or features continuously, CI reduces the risk of bugs ending up in production. CI makes each release a less-dramatic and painless experience for development teams and allows them to resolve deficiencies faster.
Lower development costs: Since CI automates the testing process, it eliminates the costs associated with building test suites and manually testing changes to the product. Automated builds and parallel testing ensure developers spend less time (and therefore less money) on fixing bugs.
Better quality products: By running tests and inspections several times every day, CI ensures bugs are discovered the minute they are introduced. Automated tests improve test coverage, ensuring the application is bug-free and works across a wider range of environments. Continuously delivering updates to your software result in better quality products, and hence happier customers.
Higher value: CI, through constant collaboration between various teams, cuts down on repetitive process across code compilation, database integration, testing, inspection, deployment, and feedback. It ensures the process runs the same way every time, allowing developers to drive their focus on more thought-provoking tasks, and deliver real value, sooner.
Get the business advantage
In the modern world, traditional application development processes are incapable of meeting the evolving needs of customers. With each developer working on their own or in a team, changes are made in isolation, and issues are solved in isolation – without knowing the context of the bigger scheme of things.
When individual teams try to integrate the code, issues are harder and costlier to fix, projects get delayed, and it becomes extremely difficult (if not impossible) to deliver real value. CI gives development teams the flexibility to make alterations to software on-the-go and meet new market trends, and user needs more efficiently.
By making the process of integration a simple, easily-repeatable everyday task, it reduces the build costs and unearths defects early in the cycle. When used correctly, CI will help meet rapidly changing demands and will turn the release process into a competitive advantage.