Pre-Production Environments: Key Concepts and Best Practices
There are several steps between writing code and putting it into production. These steps often fall under the umbrella of “pre-production.” Pre-production refers to the various staging environments that help developers safely develop, test and integrate new code.
You might expect these extra steps to slow down development and progress. But pre-production environments — when set up correctly — can drastically improve the performance and time it takes for developers to push code.
In this article, we’ll explore the various pre-production environments and discuss what components are required to create an ideal one.
The Primary Pre-Production Environments
Pre-production environments are usually built before applications go into production. The two primary environments include:
- Development environment: The development environment provides a layer on which software engineers can build and test their code. These tests are usually limited and focus mostly on unit-style tests.
- Test environment: Test environments are usually where QA engineers will run a long list of test cases to make sure the code acts as expected.
In the past, much of this was done manually, but now some of these steps are starting to meld together. In order to understand how this is happening, we’ll cover some other concepts — like CI/CD and environment monitoring.
Key Concepts to Consider When Setting up Your Environment
Setting up pre-production environments is a critical step for any business that maintains software. How your development team organizes its pre-production environments impacts the speed and ease with which they can maintain their code.
Small teams might use manual processes to push changes to code, such as manually pulling code from their repo and replacing the old code with it. But this isn’t sustainable for large companies with large development teams and complex software — and this is where setting up a pre-production environment is key.
Here are some concepts that can improve your pre-production environment.
Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) represents a combination of best practices and operating methods that allow engineering teams to push code quickly and reliably.
Continuous integration’s technical goal is to develop, establish and maintain a consistent and automated process to build and test applications. The key word here is consistent. Having a consistent integration process in place ensures that the code being tested and packaged is reliable. With a solid CI system, teams can switch to pushing more commits because they aren’t waiting for manual processes.
Continuous delivery takes up where continuous integration leaves off.
CI/CD acts as a complete code integration and delivery pipeline. The CI portion helps automate integration and then CD finishes the process by pushing the applications to the targeted environments. For example, as the code is pushed through the testing environments it is automatically tested by prewritten test cases. This is much easier than a QA engineer manually testing the code changes and recording the output in a spreadsheet.
Monitoring is not just for your DevOps production systems. Setting up monitoring in your pre-production environments can provide multiple benefits.
Chief among them is knowing that developers haven’t accidentally altered the way the monitors work with their code changes. In particular, monitoring your testing environments, test cases, and possible user paths can provide a lot of insight into what could go wrong when your code goes into production.
It’s difficult to track every possible user path and bug in modern software. Monitoring ensures that you can trace future errors more easily. Even if the test cases pass.
The ability to conditionally monitor various environments is key for your agile development teams and well-orchestrated DevOps processes. Above all, it helps push lots of code changes quickly.
Debugging and Testing Set-Up
Developing a solid testing and debugging process helps your team constantly push out high-quality code. This means implementing automated testing and intentional logging, as well as tracking for bugs.
Many of these systems used to be onsite and/or manually managed. However, with the current cloud-driven development environments and the push for automated testing, new tools have arisen.
For example, Thundra Sidekick provides developers with several debugging and testing tools — such as non-breaking breakpoints — to help simplify and streamline the testing process. In addition, Thundra Sidekick is integrated with distributed tracing, which provides the ultimate visibility for development environments.
All of these benefits can help make your pre-production processes smoother, especially in cloud environments.
Modern Design Considerations
The concepts referenced above can help improve your pre-production environment best practices. But there are new concepts that play a role in simplifying pre-production and making deployment of code simpler. In particular, the practices of containerization and microservices have been focused on trying to improve the pre-production process.
Containers give developers the ability to create isolated modules that are contained in single units. Companies are moving to containers because that shift allows them to break up large software projects into concurrent releases from multiple small agile teams.
In theory, containers simplify the process of pushing code to your various layers. This is because the container itself should already have all of the libraries and dependencies required for the application to function. Of course, there is still the issue of databases and technical components like codebases, servers, and infrastructure that need to be managed.
Another modern development practice is using a microservices architecture. This design method allows teams to build isolated, manageable services. This practice should make pushing code through your various environments somewhat easier. However, it also adds a layer of complexity, because tracing and monitoring become more difficult if you don’t have the right tools in place.
In short, microservices can work well in your pre-production environment as long as you’ve developed a system around it.
Maintaining Your Pre-Production Environment
Pre-production environments are not static. They don’t remain pristine with multiple developers constantly testing, editing, and updating them. This can lead your various environments to un-sync and cause problems in the future.
There are several tools and best practices your team can use to ensure that you are maintaining a robust pre-production environment.
- Automation: Your pre-production processes should have automatic checks to ensure that each layer is staying in sync as required. For instance, implementing automated processes that scan your databases and code bases for changes in the files or data.
- Code repository practices: This is one of the simplest ways to ensure that both pre-production and active production environments are staying in sync. Your team should not be editing code in production or test environments. This allows developers to edit code in the development environment and see, at least theoretically, how it will interact once live.
- Version control: Tracking the many iterations of a single project allows you to revisit previous versions and ensures that your codebase doesn’t change unless it’s meant to.
Overall, these extra layers help you maintain a robust pre-production environment.
The Take-Away: Don’t Neglect Your Pre-Production Environment
A successful development process includes an organized pre-production environment. Having the right tools and best practices to manage your code integration and delivery ensures that your team is always able to put out reliable code. Maintaining your team’s CI/CD process and setting up pre-production monitoring will have a huge impact on your team’s performance.
Thundra Sidekick combines cloud debugging and distributed tracing in pre and post-production environments, empowering developers to troubleshoot and debug remote applications. Get your code into production quickly and easily. Get started for free with Thundra Sidekick.