DevOps Pipeline | Best Practices, Tips, & Techniques
Looking into DevOps pipelines? We explain what a DevOps pipeline is, how to build one, and the best practices for building one for your team.
What is a DevOps Pipeline?
A DevOps pipeline is the set of practices and processes a DevOps team implements to quickly and reliably build, test, and deploy software.
The DevOps pipeline is designed to be an iterative and largely automated process. You can consider a DevOps pipeline as an assembly line for a project. At each stage, something is added, removed, balanced, or tested to ensure a high quality end-product.
The important question is why it’s important to develop an efficient DevOps pipeline.
Before we answer, take a look at the deployment frequency table of various tech enterprises:
Companies like Amazon and Google are deploying thousands of times per day as compared to a typical enterprise deploying every few months. The secret behind the deployment frequency is a well-made and ever-improving DevOps pipeline.
Components of a DevOps Pipeline
At the core of DevOps is continuity. In a DevOps environment, code is continuously integrated, delivered, deployed, and so on. This way, bugs are identified early and the team can release them more often.
Continuous Integration (CI) is the practice of integrating small chunks of code into a shared code repository. Since the code is continuously integrated into the codebase, any conflicts can be resolved comparatively early and easily. That can result in increasing deployment frequency and efficiency.
Before continuous integration became a common practice, developers used to wait for a long time to submit their code leading to large integrations that affected many areas of the codebase. This increased the risk of code-integration conflicts significantly, and the code integration process was rarely smooth. CI is the solution to this issue.
To ensure that only quality code passes through the pipeline, the entire process is repeated every time a developer submits new code to the central repository.
Continuous delivery (CD) is an extension of CI, and the two terms – CI/CD are often heard together. The goal of CD is to encourage developers to release code into production in incremental chunks. Not only does it make troubleshooting easy but you can also deliver updates more frequently.
In a typical DevOps environment, developers push their code into a production-like environment to assess before deploying it. They push the new build into production as soon as it passes these tests.
Continuous deployment and continuous delivery are similar in many ways, but there are significant differences between the two. Continuous deployment is an advanced version of continuous delivery where the goal (deliver frequent updates) is the same but the process is different.
Continuous delivery enables teams to deploy their code updates manually with low friction whereas continuous deployment is all about automating the release cycle. At this stage, updates are automatically released to the end-user, which makes the process more efficient and faster. However, implementing an automated release strategy can be tricky. You may end up deploying bad code into the production environment if all errors are not mitigated, which can even lead to downtime, in the worst-case scenario.
The best way to use automated deployment is for minor updates. That way, even if something goes wrong, you can roll back the changes before they can cause any application malfunction.Tools like Kubernetes orchestration can allow you to safely control these small and discrete deployments.
CI/CD are the most talked-about DevOps components, but continuous feedback is equally important. It’s the practice of evaluating the software updates based on customer feedback. A major benefit of DevOps is releasing updates frequently enough that end-user feedback can improve the product before future changes.
In DevOps, continuous monitoring is done to ensure that the project runs smoothly and securely while meeting all the compliance requirements. The goal of CM is to observe and detect any security threat or compliance issues in time. Any system will produce tons of data, most of which is irrelevant to the system’s health. Monitoring tools allow you to sort through this data to find the most essential signals of service health.
For any system, it’s important to have a continuous operations strategy to maintain maximum availability. The goal of continuous operations is to limit the planned downtime and prevent unplanned downtime or incidents. By staying ahead of the issues and having an action plan on hand, you can even achieve a four or even five-nines availability. However, another key component of operations is to understand the availability that will satisfy users. Overspending on reliability past that point will have diminishing returns.
DevOps Pipeline Stages
There are generally eight stages in the DevOps pipeline, four stages for each phase of Development and Operations. In the development phase, we have four stages, plan, code, build, and test. Operations pipeline stages include, release, deploy, operate, and monitor. The entire process is iterative and you usually repeat each stage multiple times throughout the project.
Development Pipeline Stages
Stage 1: Plan
Planning is the first stage of every project. Before starting to code, first, you should create a development roadmap to help yourself and your team through the process. At this stage, the team decides which technology, programming language, and tools they will be using and gathering feedback and relevant information.
DevOps teams can work in sprints – a short, defined period during which a scrum team works on a given task. The complete project is further divided into smaller and more manageable segments. With sprints, not only can you deliver faster but it’s also easier to adapt to changes.
Stage 2: Code
In the coding stage, the development team starts working on the software code to create a testable product. The developers start with installing code editors, IDEs, and other tools for maximum productivity and follow certain coding standards to ensure a uniform coding pattern. Coding is likely the longest and most substantial part of the process, as it’s where the actual project is created. Throughout the later stages, developers will likely return to the coding stage in response to tests and changing requirements. .
Stage 3: Build
The build stage of the DevOps pipeline is when the team checks the code for errors before it moves down the road. It starts with the developer sharing the code to a shared code repository by submitting a pull request (PR) – a request to merge their code into the repository. Before merging the code, another developer reviews the changes and approves if there are no issues.
Sending a pull request also enables an automated process to build the codebase and runs various tests to identify regressions – a software bug where new code causes issues with an existing feature. This happens side-by-side with the developer manually reviewing the code. If the build or the tests fail, then the pull request fails, and the developer is notified to fix the issue.
The build stage allows developers to continuously check for code changes by running builds and tests, and they can detect bugs earlier in the development lifecycle.
Stage 4: Test
After completing the build stage, your code is deployed into a staging environment – a nearly exact replica of the production environment for further testing. Here, the testers run various automated and manual tests to validate the integrity of the code. The automated tests are mainly security scans to check for infrastructure changes and compliances. Whereas, manual testing such as user acceptance tests (UAT) is when testers interact with the application as users would to find issues and address them before deploying the code into production.
Operations Pipeline Stages
Stage 5: Release
After the testing stage, the software code is handed over to the operations teams. Depending on the DevOps maturity level of the organization, the code build will be automatically or manually deployed into the server. The developers may turn off new features for the customers until it’s ready for action.
This is an important point as it’s where the code is checked one last time for vulnerabilities before deploying into the production environment.
Stage 6: Deploy
Deployment is the stage where we release the code build into the production environment and the customer or end-user can access the new features. Implementing the blue-green deployment strategy can make the process seamless and result in no outages.
In blue-green deployment, two identical production environments run side-by-side, where one environment hosts the old application and the other hosts the updated version. If there are any issues then the developers can simply revert to the previous version and fix the issue without disrupting the service.
Stage 7: Operate
Now that the software release is live in the production environment, it’s up to the operations team to make sure that everything is running smoothly. The team often relies on automation tools to maintain the project. They also collect feedback from the consumer to improve the service.
Stage 8: Monitor
Monitoring is the final stage in the DevOps pipeline. Here, the operations team collects data from various sources such as customer feedback, logs, analytics, and monitoring systems to gain insights into any issues or gaps.
How to Create a DevOps Pipeline: Step-by-step
Step 1: Source Control Management
The first thing you need to create a DevOps pipeline is to decide where you will store your code. Currently, the most popular source control management tool is Git. You can also use GitLab or BitBucket to store your code.
Git is an open-source free distributed version control system that is designed to handle projects of any size. To store your code on Git, you start by installing it on your computer and push the code to the shared source code repository. Developers can also collaborate with their peers and run manual tests on the code before merging it with the application code.
Step 2: Select a Build Server
Once your code is up and running in the source control management tool, the next step is to test it. Running tests from the very beginning allows you to find and prevent bugs and errors from being deployed into the production environment.
Jenkins or Travis-CI is among the most popular solutions for creating builds. Jenkins is open-source and free, while Travis-CI is also free but only for open-source projects. To get started with Jenkins, you can install it on a server, and connect it with your GitHub repository. Configure the solution to run tests each time to code is modified, compiled, and the build is created. Jenkin notifies if there are any issues during the build process.
Step 3: Run Automated Tests on the Code
Whichever development environment you may be using, it’s important to run automated tests such as unit tests, functional tests, integration tests, etc. We recommend running the shortest test (for example, unit tests) at the beginning and longer ones (for example, functional tests) by the end.
If the code passes both manual and automated tests, then you can move on to deploying the code in a production or production-like environment.
Step 4: Set up a Web Application Server
The last step in the DevOps pipeline is deploying the code to production, which requires setting up server infrastructure. For example, deploying a web app, you will need to install a web server like Apache or Nginx. If the application will be running on the cloud, you will deploy it on a virtual machine.
Deploying an app on the server can be done manually or automatically. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Manual deployment is more reliable but slower, whereas automated deployment is faster but risky as bad code may end up in production.
How Can Blameless Help?
Starting your journey with the DevOps pipeline and its implementation can be a daunting task for any organization. Not only are you creating a workflow but any issues can cause further trouble in the future. Blameless can help you through this journey by providing tools and resources to build reliable software products, satisfy your end-users, and stay competitive in the market. To learn more, request a demo or sign up for the newsletter below.
About Noor-ul-Anam Ruqayya
I'm a software engineer and love to explore new topics. Turning complex information into engaging and interesting content is my passion.