Continuous Integration: 5 Best Practices and Tools

The Continuous Integration principle of Agile methodology assists developer teams to tide over integration issues and helps build and deploy products as per customer needs, more efficiently.

Frequent changes in customer requirements are compelling organizations to constantly make changes to their product output which is heavily dependent on coding and development. This has pushed the need to adopt iterative developmental processes by software development teams which is where continuous integration (CI) comes into play.

The prime objective of continuous integration is to help build and integrate code continuously and thus enable development teams to operate without confusion and also be more efficient, in other words, to help prevent integration problems.

Continuous integration achieves success when software development practices like source coding, build automation, auto testing, automated deployment, commits to the baseline and documentation.They must be combined to form and provide a unified service.

There are several tools that can be used to implement these practices, but integrating all of them at the production stage is not easy, so let’s observe some best practices and popular tools of Continuous Integration –

  1. Maintain central code repository:

Source code control repository is central to the CI process, for it is the main source and repository for code built by developers.

As multiple developers simultaneously work to develop several code files, it becomes essential to have a version control tool that enables several teams to work on the same code without the worry of having files delivered back and forth.

The tool also helps teams keep the latest and most clean code for use at any point in the developmental process.

Tools: CVS, Apache Subversion (SVN). Mercurial, Bazaar and Git are some of the popular and widely used version control tools.

  1. Automate build encourages uniformity:

This is the process of assimilating raw components and building a cleaner and efficient version of application, website or product by a single action.

A great advantage of build automation is that it cuts the time taken to accomplish a task multi-fold. Say, a one-hour task is reduced to just a few minutes. Auto build encourages developers to follow a pattern of production, staging and development of a build.

Tools: TravisCI, Jenkins, BitBucket, Codeship, Bamboo, TeamCity and CircleCI are some of the popular build auto tools that help development teams to seamlessly manage and maintain build management process.

  1. Automated Deployment saves on efforts:

It is the process of helping developers quickly and consistently push the product to several environments and in that process, save time. The advantage here is that automated deployment enables developers to quickly learn every time a build is deployed automatically and thus reduces the number of errors.

Automated deployment also enables teams to roll back the site to a previous working state through automating the contingency plan allowing for sites and applications to continue during fixes. Also, a contingency plan can be improved, self-tested and version controlled.

Tools: GitHub, Codeship, SemaphoreCI, Bamboo and TeamCity are some of the top auto deployment tools.

  1. Auto or Unit Testing:

Usually, a two-way approach is followed for unit testing. One is manual testing by the developer which helps in developing the code. The other is the auto or unit testing which helps overcome the shortcomings of manual testing where developers sometimes miss to run the test before proceeding to check-in.

Unit testing prevents the code from check-in when it fails to qualify the unit-testing round. This process helps developers identify and fix bugs quickly and also facilitates a more efficient process.

Tools: Selenium, TestWhizz, HPE UFT, Ranorex and TestComplete are some of the widely used software testing tools.

  1. Software documentation:

A comprehensive documentation of all tasks and developments is very essential to avoid redundancy, having clarity and achieving efficiency in the development process.

Documentation allows for automatic parsing of information by appropriate systems and also allows for automatic generation of project documents. Documentation is of great use when new developers are employed to take over a project or a task and even when existing developers move to a new project or back to a previously completed project after a long gap.

Tools: Process Street, Atlassian Rest API Browser and Apiary are some of the major software documentation tools.

Software development in today’s world is more about teams than individuals. Lack of coordination, increasing confusion and leadership conflicts have resulted in disadvantages to enterprises. This has given rise to information silos where one team is not aware of the other’s work making it very difficult to break the barriers leave alone orchestrate the process.

Continuous Integration helps to sync all tools and break the information silos, helping teams coordinate better and together achieve their product development objectives.

Agile methodologies and DevOps are helping organizations quickly respond to customer/stakeholder feedback and thereby come up with superior customer service. CI plays a key role in streamlining software development practice and helps developers from falling into the ‘’integration hell’’ where time is taken to integrate is actually more than the time taken to make original changes.

The aforementioned continuous integration practices and tools will help developers build and deploy products much more efficiently and quickly, helping cut down on rework and reducing time and costs. Organizations, in turn, can achieve better Return-on-investment.

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