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CI/CD Pipeline | What It Is & How It Works

Myra Nizami

Wondering about CI/CD pipelines? We explain what the CI/CD pipeline is, the steps involved, and best practices along the way.

What is a CI/CD pipeline?

A CI/CD pipeline is a series of processes in software development each version goes through before it is released.  The stages of a CI/CD pipeline include the following:

  • Build
  • Test
  • Release
  • Deploy
  • Validation

DevOps teams use continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) to build, test, and deploy code more frequently and with more reliability. The CI/CD pipeline is built with automation to make updates a seamless process as they go from development to deployment. The idea is to ensure that development is reliable but accelerating at a rapid enough pace for customers to have a better experience. 

Using CI/CD tools, teams can automate testing and deployment and commit code in small increments to release through the CI/CD pipeline. Instead of working on huge chunks that may lead to instability and issues, teams work through a more manageable workload without compromising the code. 

What does the CI/CD pipeline look like?

The CI/CD pipeline has four phases, although the work increments may vary depending on the team structure and resources. The CI/CD pipeline is designed to go from development to deployment as smoothly as possible, with automation ensuring that each part of the pipeline is streamlined. 

By testing earlier in the process, teams are able to work faster and spot issues earlier on rather than releasing buggy software to customers. The CI/CD pipeline can be as simple or complex as needed based on business requirements and the team, but it needs to be fast and accurate with a major focus on reliability. There is also a need to define what ‘continuous’ looks like in the specific business context and what teams are willing to commit to. 

But the pipeline could potentially look like this, with CI/CD tools in place: 

  1. Build: The continuous integration phase involves building and compiling code wherein multiple people develop code and submit it into a shared repository. By continuously integrating new code, teams can identify issues early on and solve them before sending them into the next phase.
  2. Testing: New code is tested using CI/CD tools for automation. Testing will vary depending on the software and usage, but it can occur in both the delivery and deployment stages. Testing can include unit testing and integration testing, but the goal is to have extensive testing coverage to ensure quality before moving to the next phase. 
  3. Delivery: Once the code has been tested, it’s sent to be a production environment, and deployment is automated.
  4. Deployment: This is when the product moves from the production environment into customers' hands, and it can be automated or done through manual approval depending on what teams decide. 

However, it’s crucial to note that a CI/CD pipeline is only successful if the team clearly establishes and agrees upon workflows. Therefore, before setting up a CI/CD pipeline, teams need to sit down together to understand priorities, bottlenecks, and what a CI/CD workflow would look like based on business requirements, resources, and milestone plans. It’s also important to acknowledge that CI/CD pipeline implementation will come with added workload initially, such as writing automated tests and setting up testing servers. 

While this will recede over time, the time needed to build the pipeline and automation does need to be considered with the wider team to understand feasibility. Keeping scalability as a long-term consideration will also help in designing a CI/CD workflow that can work as the product scales.

Benefits of an automated CI/CD pipeline

Once the pipeline moves from the build phase to the test phase, you’ll see that automation begins to play a huge role until deployment. CI/CD pipelines are valuable because of the opportunity for automation and eliminating tedious tasks. 

In addition, continuous integration can be configured using CI/CD tools to automatically test code based on parameters that are agreed upon by the team. As a result, development velocity is accelerated without compromising the quality of the code, which is a significant benefit of the CI/CD pipeline. 

CI/CD tools like Jenkins are integral in automating CI/CD steps and reporting. Other tools, such as incident response management tools, can be useful depending on what teams need. For example, automation tools for the CI/CD pipeline can alert teams when code tests fail at a certain point, making it faster for teams to solve issues and send code back into the pipeline. 

With automation, teams can have a standardized testing process and deployment process. Not only does that reduce manual tasks, but it also ensures consistency for team members on roles and responsibilities. While automation may take up time in the beginning, over time, it’s a valuable investment that reduces costs over time. Instead of resources and budget going to fixing development issues, automating testing and deployment ensures reliability before release. 

How Blameless can help

A CI/CD pipeline provides the most benefit when automated and when teams have the right tools in place to maximize each phase of the pipeline. With Blameless, teams can automate each stage of incident response, ensuring streamlined incident management with better response times. Blameless also enables teams to accelerate development velocity and improve service reliability by structuring service level objectives (SLOs) and providing deep reliability insight. Request a demo today to learn more!

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