What is a CI/CD Pipeline?

CI/CD Pipeline infographic with laptop

The tech industry moves at lightning speeds, with companies racing to the finish line as they release their latest and greatest products. This makes the need for speed and efficiency a huge priority for development teams. One of the most popular practices for streamlining projects in modern software development is the use of continuous integration and continuous deployment/delivery, also known as the CI/CD pipeline. Learn about this valuable concept, what makes it so important, the professionals who put it to use, and how you can integrate it into your own future in tech.

Defining Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment/Delivery

The CI/CD pipeline is a set of practices and processes that help automate the building, testing, and deployment of software, especially in agile and DevOps environments. CI/CD pipelines are important for software development because they allow for faster, more frequent, and reliable releases. The automation of repetitive tasks, such as testing and deployment, helps to reduce human error and increase efficiency. This, in turn, can lead to faster time-to-market, improved quality, and better customer satisfaction. The ability to continuously deliver new features and updates to customers can also help corporations stay competitive in today’s fast-paced market.

The CI/CD pipeline is made up of several stages, including building, testing, and deployment, and each one consists of its own set of automated tools and scripts. So, let’s look at each of the pipeline’s components:

  • Continuous Integration (CI) is the process of making incremental code changes in a timely and reliable manner. Developers check in on a shared code repository several times a day and integrate code which is then validated by an automated build. This allows teams to identify and address any potential issues swiftly.
  • Continuous Deployment (CD) means once code passes the necessary automated tests in the CI process, it is released into production through additional automated steps.

So, if CD stands for continuous deployment, what’s the deal with continuous delivery? Are they the same thing? Not exactly. Jez Humble, software developer and co-author of The DevOps Handbook, says continuous deployment may actually benefit from being called “continuous release” since the process constitutes releasing a build to a production environment. Continuous delivery, however, is more about making sure a build is potentially ready for production release.

And why the different terminologies? It all comes down to the fact that not every build needs to have an actual release. The term continuous delivery exists because there are builds, such as embedded software, that can potentially be released but don’t require an automatic deployment. Look at it this way: if continuous deployment is implemented, one can assume continuous delivery has been implemented as well, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

The CI/CD Pipeline in Action

It’s important to remember the CI/CD pipeline can look very different depending on the unit of production-ready software being built and the software development team behind it. They can be extremely complex, with multiple stages, tools, and processes. Or, they can be simple — maybe something like this, in which a development team creates a CI/CD pipeline for a web application:

CI/CD Pipeline infographic showing the continuous stages of software development as an infinity symbol on a blue background.

  • Commit Stage: A developer writes some code to add a new feature to the application and commits it to a version control system such as Git.
  • Build Stage: The pipeline triggers a build process that compiles the code, resolves dependencies, and creates an executable package.
  • Test Stage: Automated integration tests are run on the executable package to ensure that the code works as intended and doesn’t break any existing functionality.
  • Delivery Stage: If the tests pass, the pipeline automatically sends the package to a staging environment that simulates the production environment.
  • Verify Stage: Manual testing is performed on the staging environment to verify that the new feature works as expected and doesn’t have any bugs.
  • Deploy Stage: If the testing is successful, the pipeline automatically deploys the package to the production environment, and the new feature becomes available to users.
  • Monitor Stage: Finally, the pipeline monitors the production environment to ensure that the application continues to work as intended and to catch any issues that arise.

Who Uses the CI/CD Pipeline?

Because the CI/CD pipeline is such a prevalent practice in today’s software development process, it is used by almost every member of a development team. This includes:

  • Developers

    Developers are responsible for writing and integrating code into a shared repository. They use tools like version control systems, build automation tools, and testing frameworks to ensure their code is compatible with the existing codebase.

  • Testers

    Testers use automated integration tests to confirm the software’s quality standards and performance. They also work with developers to ensure testing is integrated into the CI/CD pipeline and any issues are caught early in the development process.

  • DevOps Engineers

    DevOps Engineers automate the deployment and release processes of the software. They set up and manage the CI/CD pipeline, including the build, test, and deployment processes. They also work to verify the pipeline is efficient, reliable, and scalable.

  • Site Reliability Engineers (SREs)

    Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) maintain the production environment and verify the software runs smoothly. They work with DevOps engineers to ensure the deployment process is seamless and can be rolled back if any issues arise.

  • Project Managers

    Project Managers oversee the development process and ensure the team is following the best practices for their CI/CD pipeline. They work to confirm the pipeline is efficient, reliable, and delivers the software on time and within budget.

Learn the Skills for a Tech Career

Your pathway to tech includes learning the most in-demand skills in the industry, such as CI/CD pipeline concepts and more. By learning new knowledge, understanding new concepts, and putting it all into practice with hands-on training, you’ll get the experience you need to get much closer to your first tech job. In the Kenzie Academy program from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), we can help you get started.

Whether you choose our Software Engineering, Cybersecurity, UX Design, or Full-Stack certificate programs, you’ll be guided through fundamentals, earn relevant experience through a collaborative approach, and prepare to enter the job-seeking process. So, are you ready to get started with Kenzie Academy from SNHU? Apply today.

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