What is CI/CD?

Tori Crawford November 12, 2020


The Importance of a CI/CD Pipeline in Incidence Response

CI/CD is a software development strategy which allows for faster development by introducing automation while still maintaining the quality of code deployed to production. Implementing a CI/CD pipeline not only promotes a safer deployment process but also improves the incident response process. CI/CD is broken down into multiple parts. The CI refers to continuous integration, meanwhile, the CD can refer to continuous delivery and/or continuous deployment.

Let’s dive into what each of these components of a CI/CD pipeline entails.

Continuous Integration

Continuous integration is a software development practice which enables developers to merge small code changes to the main branch as often as they’d like. In other words, CI allows teams to integrate changes to their codebase continuously rather than periodically on a specified day of the week.

Continuous integration involves automated testing and builds to ensure that the new code is deployment ready. By using these tactics, it ensures that the code is built and tested in a consistent and reliable way each time someone merges to the main branch. While it doesn’t 100% guarantee that production won’t break, it greatly decreases the chances of this happening.

Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is a continuation of CI that allows us to ensure that new changes to the code are released in a sustainable manner by automating the release process. This code could be released to either a staging environment or to production, if that is desired. Prior to being released to either environment, continuous delivery requires the code to successfully pass through integration tests, Q/A tests, security tests, as well as builds to ensure that the code is production-ready.

Once the code is production-ready, that does not necessarily mean that it will be released. Continuous delivery can include a human intervention period that allows for discussion of the new changes, how they may impact customers or other aspects of the product, or perhaps further changes that may need to be made. Once it is decided that the code is ready to be released, it can be through an automated deployment process.

Here is a quote from Jez Humble that does a great job at summarizing continuous delivery:

“Implementing continuous delivery means making sure your software is always production-ready throughout its entire lifecycle - that any build could potentially be released to users at the touch of a button using a fully automated process in a matter of seconds or minutes.”

Continuous Deployment

The final stage of CI/CD is continuous deployment which automates releasing new code to production after the changes have officially passed all stages of the production pipeline AKA all of the tests and builds. Unlike continuous delivery, continuous deployment is a continuous release of every new change that is production-ready and relies heavily on well-designed automated tests and builds. If a test or build were to fail, the code would be prevented from deploying to production, so the quality of these automated tests and builds are strongly correlated with the quality of releases.

Key Takeaways

  • Continuous integration allows for ongoing changes to the codebase and leads to less downtime thanks to thorough and consistent builds and tests.
  • Both continuous delivery and continuous deployment utilize automated builds, tests, and releases.
  • Continuous delivery leaves room for human intervention prior to releasing to a customer-facing production environment whereas continuous deployment is an automatic release to a customer-facing production environment.

What is a CI/CD Pipeline?

A CI/CD pipeline is the path that a change in the codebase follows, from development through deployment. It is common for a CI/CD pipeline to consist of 4 phases:

  1. commit
  2. build
  3. test
  4. deploy

Benefits of CI/CD

There are many benefits to implementing a CI/CD pipeline, which include but are not limited to

  • a faster release rate.
    • This helps build a culture of learning and responsibility and accelerates the feedback loop between a company and it’s customers.
  • fewer bugs that get shipped to production which leads to a more reliable product.
  • releasing smaller batches which means easier troubleshooting.
  • the quality of the product increases daily, thanks to the constant stream of improvements.

How a CI/CD Pipeline Helps with Incident Response

Despite implementing great automatic tests and builds to create a safer deployment process, there will still be times that a bug or broken code sneaks its way into production. Don’t worry though because having a CI/CD pipeline makes incident response easier. Thanks to continuous delivery and deployment, we now have smaller releases making their way to production which allows us to narrow down which release may be directly causing the issue.

In addition, smaller releases give us the ability to easily roll back the suspected release(s) in order to get the production environment functioning properly again. Implementing a CI/CD pipeline can also provide the possibility of safely automating rollbacks. Finally, having a CI/CD pipeline helps get the fix out to production quickly if a rollback is not possible.

Further Reading

View the following link to read “How FireHydrant’s CI/CD Infrastructure Fixes Bugs Faster” written by our Site Reliability Engineer, Mark Starkman, in order to get an idea of how we implement a CI/CD infrastructure here at FireHydrant.

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