Enriching Dev Experience with Speedy Continuous Integration
It is proven that continuous integration (CI) accelerates software delivery and improves the quality of code at the same time. With CI, organizations can automate their testing process, identify issues faster and release new versions of their software more often.
The type of CI you choose will depend on your specific needs and goals as an organization or team. An effective continuous integration platform streamlines your software development process by automating processes, reducing errors and increasing efficiency. Therefore, a fast continuous integration platform should be one of your top considerations. In this article, we will discuss some important traits and facts to consider to choose the right CI tool/platform.
Continuous integration requires developers to integrate code into a shared repository several times a day. The aim of a CI system is to find mistakes early in the software delivery life cycle (SDLC) process. This helps to detect and mitigate problems, even if they are small, and will help the team stay up to date with the latest changes.
When a developer is finished working on his code/software and checks it into a source control management system like GitHub, the CI server will build the project and run any associated tests.
The developer will be notified immediately if the build or tests fail. This practice allows teams to work on independent features and modules without stepping on each other’s toes or getting blocked by waiting for others to finish work. It also makes it easier for developers to contribute patches from their home computers. This promotes the idea of always having an up-to-date codebase and provides a clear history of changes.
There are many advantages to implementing continuous integration in your workflow. One major benefit is that it reduces the time it takes to detect errors in the codebase and find bugs before they happen. It can also improve developer productivity, as more time can be spent on actual work, rather than fixing bugs.
Continuous integration encourages communication between team members, as they can see each other’s changes and identify potential conflicts early on.
In order to be able to implement continuous integration, it is necessary to have the following:
- A DevOps culture and mindset
- A version control system in place
- A build automation system/server
- Testing frameworks planned
- The willingness and ability of developers to commit their code frequently
Why Fast Continuous Integration?
We are in a fast-paced cloud native world where new tools and processes pop up each day. All these tools aim to provide fast software delivery and better developer experience. Developers care about speed and easy setup when it comes to cloud native tools and platforms. When developers try any tool/platform for the first time, they would like it to be easy to understand, quick to set up and speedy enough to do their job. Anything that blocks them from doing their job causes them to leave and move on to another tool/platform.
As CI becomes the first stepping stone toward the practical DevOps approach, it is crucial for CI vendors to offer features developers are looking for, such as speed, ease of setup, good documentation and tutorials.
A great CI tool/platform gives the initial boost to your further stages in the DevOps pipeline. Hence, having a fast and reliable CI tool is critical for your organization’s DevOps success. Using scripting to do CI is not an option, and it is time we understand that Jenkins is not a modern and suitable CI tool anymore.
Not all CI solutions are created equal. Some are faster than others, and some are more effective. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that your continuous integration solution is fast and accurate. Otherwise, the time you save trying to speed up your process could be thwarted if it’s ineffective.
With a slow CI/CD tool, everything gets delayed, as shown in the image below.
Choosing a CI Platform
As CI/CD forms an integral part of the DevOps life cycle, it’s essential to pick the right tool. Here are some things to consider:
- Cost: What are the costs associated with each solution? What does the long-term cost of each solution look like?
- Scalability: How easy is it to scale each solution when your team or organization grows? How quickly can you add new servers or workers to meet demand?
- Speed of build: How quickly does the solution build your code? How long does it take for the CI platform to pick up changes, compile the code and deploy the new build?
- Speed of deployment: How quickly does the CI solution deploy your code? How long does it take to push the new version of your software out to your customers?
- Hosted or on premises: Where will your CI solution be hosted? Some platforms are hosted online, while others are installed on premises.
- Multiple languages and frameworks: Will your CI solution support all languages and frameworks? Or will you have to switch to a different solution if you need to support something specific?
- Ecosystem and app integration: Does the CI solution integrate with other apps or tools you use to support your company or team? If so, which ones?
- SCM integration: How does the CI solution integrate with different source control management systems (SCM) like GitHub, BitBucket, GitLab, etc? Does it allow you to automate your project’s build and release processes through customizable triggers?
- Reliability: It becomes essential to determine how reliable the CI tool is so the test and build stages execute fast consistently and the deployment becomes quick. There should be no downtimes with the CI tool because it will start to affect your business.
Continuous Integration Tools: Points to Note
Start with Something Simple and Upgrade Slowly
First, you must ensure that the continuous integration tool/platform is reliable and fast. This will determine how effectively your team can test and build software. Keep it simple to start by following the product documentation, guides and tutorials. You don’t want to overcomplicate your CI system from the beginning. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can add more tools and integrations to make it better.
Automate Your Software Testing Processes
Let’s assume your CI system is set up and your environment is ready. You start building and testing your code, but you notice that your CI process is taking a long time — sometimes even longer than you anticipated. Instead of manually testing and validating your code, you can use test automation and tools that will run your tests for you in the CI stage and provide you with the results. This can save a lot of time because it will execute your tests much faster than a human, and it will do so consistently every time. This is essential if you want to speed up your CI process and ensure that your code is ready to be deployed.
Use Automation and Test Intelligence to Speed Up
There is a new approach in testing where your CI platform/tool can choose only the relevant tests that need to be run instead of running all the tests for all the jobs. A tool smart enough to pick the tests to run for a particular job can save a lot of developer time, rather than having developers wait for all the tests to pass.
Perform Code-Related Validation Checks
Your CI tool should be able to check code-related mistakes and vulnerabilities with the help of third-party tools, and the integration of these tools should be as smooth as possible.
- Code quality checks — Code formatting and code quality checks help improve your team’s productivity and keep the codebase consistent. This is why many CI systems come with code formatting and quality-checking tools out of the box. You can integrate these into your CI system to have them run automatically.
- Code analysis — Code analysis helps you identify patterns and make predictions about your code. You can run code analysis tools as part of your CI process to ensure your code follows a certain standard and is ready to deploy.
- Dependency management — Dependency management is essential to building and deploying software. You can speed up your CI process by integrating a dependency management tool into your system. This way, the tool will resolve any dependencies before you run your build.
Caching and Parallelism
The CI tool should have a caching mechanism because caching ensures faster job execution by reusing the expensive fetch operation data from previous jobs. Also, the tool should be able to handle parallel jobs with the same speed without degrading performance. The more tests you run, the longer it takes for them to be completed if they are run sequentially. To reduce test cycle time, you can split your tests and run them across multiple groups at the same time. Test intelligence plus caching and parallelism makes a great feature combination for any CI product/platform.
Choose the Fastest CI Platform
Keep in mind that there is no “perfect” CI solution. Start by identifying the key traits you’re looking for, and then you can begin comparing different CI platforms against your requirements.
Recently, Harness announced several new speed enhancements for the Harness Continuous Integration (CI) module and claimed that Harness CI builds up to four times faster than other leading CI solutions.
Engineers at Harness designed the tests to run the same builds with Harness CI, GitHub Actions and another popular CI tool across the Apache Kafka, Apache RocketMQ and Apache Zookeeper repositories.
The chart above shows those results in minutes. (Note: The Harness “best case” results were achieved where the code changes were minimal, and there was no test case run (this was an actual code change in the open source repo where few test cases were identified to run). The median test results show that Harness CI is two to five times faster than the closest competitor, and three to four times faster than GitHub Actions. Try this sample to reproduce the results and see for yourself.)