GUIDE 2022

What is Continuous Integration?

Are you curious about how to incorporate continuous integration into your product workflow?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

As more companies continue to explore different frameworks and approaches for product management, product teams feel obliged to learn the fundamentals of continuous integration and its application within product development. 

In this article, we go through the fundamentals of continuous integration as well as key insight and strategies for its application in software development. 

To learn more via video, watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

What is Continuous Integration?

Continuous integration is a software development term that refers to the constant delivery of changing code into the production environment. It’s a process that underscores the importance of integrating new code from multiple developers into the singular mainline product. 

Continuous Integration vs Continuous Delivery

Credits: Devonblog.com

Continuous integration is a best practice for the software release process and allows your team to auto-test and analyze your project while hitting key execution speed.

Why is Continuous Integration Important?

When CI is left out of the software development process, development teams have no choice but to complete manual tasks, write tests, pull requests, and push code through the CI-CD pipeline. 

Not only does this slow down the continuous delivery workflow, but it leaks through the entirety of the organization. The automated build process lends itself to heightened communication speed and ensures that you create the highest quality code for your user interface.

By implementing a robust CI pipeline, communication processes between product and engineering become streamlined rather than adhoc. 

A better feedback mechanism is to coordinate sequential launches and fix code defects by assigning transparent responsibilities to every team member. This way, estimation times for delivery requests undercut unknown risks and lend themselves to continuous deployment.

How to Apply Continuous Integration

If you’re familiar with an agile software development practice, then CI is just the next logical step of the delivery process.

CI helps to automate processes such as distributing project tasks to development team members. Let’s break it down into 3 phases.

Phase 1: Continuous Integration

This is where code gets merged from multiple developers as it becomes available for the CI system.

Phase 2: Continuous Deployment

This is the phase where the team gets ready to deliver the code to the end-user. This is a ‘green’ build phase where the team deploys the code at a moment’s notice. 

Phase 3: Continuous Delivery

This is the final extension of the CI-CD pipeline. Here, scripts and tools are automated to distribute the artifact to your chosen public server.

What are the Benefits of Continuous Integration?

Not only does continuous integration allow for more transparency in the development process, but it also helps to organize and execute marketing strategies while scaling team size, new code development, and overall infrastructure.
Let’s take a closer look at these benefits:

  • CI allows for every team member to add their contributions in parallel, removing dependencies between features. Most of the time, developers work best in an independent environment until they’re ready to contribute their code changes.
  • CI speeds up feedback loops while testing ideas and iterating product designs. The shared repository addresses bug issues, tests detect errors, and reaches code correctness.

CI closes gaps between engineering, operations, and management. This leads to enhanced collaboration and camaraderie between teams and allows for developers to garner passive knowledge through request workflows and feature branches of the CI pipeline.

Best Tools for Continuous Integration

The best tools for continuous integration are threefold: test-driven development, pull requests and code review, and pipeline speed optimization. 

Let’s break down each of these best practices to create a better understanding of CI’s comprehensive components.

Test-driven Development

Automated tests are the bread and butter of an efficient CI pipeline. Software quality is dependent on constant feedback from frequent testing. Therefore it never hurts to build self-testing into the production environment.

Test-driven development requires the product team to work alongside software engineers to develop a checklist of code requirements. 

It compares expected outcomes for new features to the automated test suite to get an idea of code change success. Given any test fails, the development team then prepares the code for its final phase.

Pull Requests And Code Review

When a developer reaches the point of merging new code into the main branch, they create pull requests to notify other developers and members of the team of the code changes. 

This is the perfect time to begin implementing continuous integration into the workflow. The pull request commences a series of automated approval steps. However, it still requires a manual approval step from a third-party engineer to review and ensure functionality.

Pull requests and reviews are an excellent way to create underlying communication and knowledge distribution for any engineering team. They also protect against the risk of knowledge silos, preventing the requirement of one specific engineer to handle a code change or feature.

Pipeline Speed Optimization

The CI pipeline is a core tool to create and integrate high-quality software. Delays in continuous integration workflow end up compounding in a detrimental manner if not confronted and solved. 

Measuring pipeline speed and optimization is a best practice that leads to smooth feature release, effective team size, and an expanded code base. 

This feedback loop pushes for a faster, more efficient feedback loop. Software development teams experiment with new features, dispatch bug fixes, and increase deployment speeds to foster the highest quality experience for the end-user.

Key Takeaways for Continuous Integration Tools

CI-CD is a staple for any modern software product team. If you’re ready to start automating new code releases to offer continuous delivery to your end-users, the next step is to follow the practical application process of continuous integration.

The investment into a high-efficiency CI pipeline gives way to faster feedback loops, higher execution speed, and continuous delivery of the final product. The benefits of CI are vast and promising.

The final piece of the puzzle is to identify the opportune moment to begin the transition to continuous integration and continuous deployment. 

Keeping everyone on the same page with continuous integration tools bridges communication gaps, benefits from automated pull requests, and maintains thorough test coverage. 

All of these components lead to quality code through the CI-CD pipeline.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.