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Beginner Steps in Setting up a CI/CD Pipeline

The challenge in CI/CD development is perfecting its implementation. And that depends on how you set up your CI/CD pipeline. Here are the steps you need to take to succeed doing precisely that.
Daniel Zacharias

Eugenio de Tomaso

October 31, 2023
Team optimizing CD/CI pipeline

Working in the CI/CD world for quite some time now, you realize a unique truth: the challenge isn’t understanding CI/CD development — it’s perfecting its implementation

How you go about the implementation part depends on how you set up your CI/CD pipeline and all the key steps you take in the process. Make a wrong move, and you end up in a domino effect that doesn’t end well for your CI/CD development. 

CI/CD pipeline blueprint: A step-by-step guide

Over the years of working in the industry, I’ve developed my CI/CD pipeline blueprint. It’s made of a series of pivotal steps in your development. 

The goal was to craft my own pipeline guide that’s functional, optimized, resilient, and aligned with my team’s unique needs and challenges

Here’s what it looks like:

1. The CI/CD foundation: Infrastructure readiness

You’ve surely heard about the proverbial fool that built his house on the sand. No matter how grand the design or impeccable the craftsmanship, it’s bound to face issues down the line. The same goes for the CI/CD infrastructure.

It’s the platform upon which all your CI/CD processes will stand, and its robustness will determine the stability and efficiency of your entire pipeline.

In this case, I always ask myself, “Are my current servers, storage, and network configs scalable enough to accommodate the rapid iterations CI/CD will introduce?”

If not, I lean on cloud-computing solutions that provide that extra dynamic resource adjustment based on the needs of my pipeline.

Another critical component of an unshakable infrastructure that most team leaders tend to miss is security, redundancy, and disaster recovery mechanisms. Too many times I saw powerful CI/CD pipelines fall and crumble only due to poor access control and shady encryption protocols. 

2. Perfecting version control in your pipeline

“Git is the GOAT of version control!” is a very popular sentiment nowadays. And, sure, Git is powerful in what it does, but its fame and clout overshadow one key component — a branching strategy that resonates with your development team. 

 I’ll share with you two branching approaches that haven’t failed me yet:

  • Gitflow — Offers a clear separation between feature development, releases, and hotfixes. I often use it when I have a large team or a multi-feature project to manage.
  • Trunk-based development — Methodology that promotes frequent commits to the main branch, ensuring rapid iterations and continuous integration. It’s a strategy best used for agile teams aiming for swift deliveries.

Here’s the catch: Version control strategy is just one side of the coin. To come full circle, you also need consistency. Whether it’s naming conventions, merge strategies, or commit messages, maintaining consistency in version control creates clarity and reduces errors in your CI/CD pipeline.

3. Ensuring quality with automated testing

There are two sides to the automated testing equation. One is well-known, and it’s all about catching sneaky bugs in your code. Another less-known side is ensuring your code is on a premium quality level.

I’ve tested dozens of tools across my CI/CD career, but Selenium and JUnit are my favorites. When integrated into your CI/CD pipeline, they run tests with every code commit, acting as vigilant gatekeepers, catching discrepancies before they escalate.

The truth is that sometimes you can have the best tools, but test cases in your pipeline will still keep on happening. 

The real art lies in discerning which test cases hold paramount importance. Core features, which users interact with daily, should be tested rigorously. Prioritizing test cases based on feature importance guarantees that the most critical components of your product are always functioning flawlessly.

4. Deployment mastery: Choosing the right strategy

Imagine you’ve got two versions of your app: the current one – let’s call it “Blue” and the new one with all the cool updates – let’s call it “Green.” 

With the Blue/Green strategy, you can keep both versions ready. When you decide to go live with the new version, you’ll only need to switch users to “Green.” The beauty of this is that if something goes wrong, you can quickly switch back to “Blue.” 

It’s like having a backup plan! And it’s an integral part of every deployment stage in your CI/CD pipeline.

Now, using the Canary deployment strategy is a bit different. Instead of immediately releasing the new version to everyone, you roll it out to just a small group of users first. It’s like testing the waters. If everything looks good and there are no issues, you gradually release it to more and more users. 

I’ve worked with both deployment strategies, which have their perks. For example, Blue/Green is super quick – great when you want speed in your CI/CD pipeline, while Canary creates that safety net that’s always great to have.

5. Continuous monitoring in the CI/CD pipeline

Once your app or software is out of the pipeline, you can’t just sit back and relax. You need to keep an eye on how it’s performing. 

That’s where continuous monitoring comes into place. It’s an often overlooked piece of the CI/CD pipeline but equally essential in ensuring everything runs smoothly. If a sudden error spike or something takes too long to load, your CM security tools will launch those warning signs. Think of it as having a security camera for your CI/CD pipeline.

But your pipeline won’t be complete without one crucial component of its monitoring segment – the feedback loop. Catching the issue is one thing, but sending it to your development team is a different “beast.” 

My three favorite loops are: 

  1. Integration feedback loop. Focuses on gathering feedback from the integration and deployment processes in the CI/CD pipeline.
  2. User feedback loop. Involves gathering feedback from users about the performance, usability, and reliability of your app/software.
  3. Operational feedback loop. Focuses on gathering feedback from the operations team responsible for maintaining and monitoring the infrastructure and systems.

6. Continuous improvement: The CI in CI/CD

We’ve come to the last step of setting up your CI/CD pipeline — the “big” CI. Many call it continuous integration, but I think of it as continuous improvement.

Think of it like building a high-rise skyscraper. Instead of constructing each floor in isolation and then trying to stack them up, you integrate each floor seamlessly as you progress. As you add each level, you inspect, reinforce, and integrate them with the existing structure. That’s the essence of your coding process with CI. 

Every time you introduce a new feature or fix, you ensure it’s not just tacked on but is harmoniously integrated, tested, and fortified within the existing codebase and your pipeline.

It’s about feeding into the first step and having that solid software foundation, no matter how tall your skyscraper (CI/CD pipeline, that is) grows. 

So, don’t wait for massive updates to trigger this step and roll out your improvements. The best software quality is achieved and maintained with little, constant, and proactive releases. 

CI/CD pipeline mastery: Your journey ahead

Perfecting your CI/CD pipeline is a journey, not a destination. I’ve seen so many project leaders approach this key development topic with a simple copy-and-paste Google search with little quality consideration. The amount of time you spend crafting a sound CI/CD pipeline is direct to the software output quality. The more steps and nuances you take into account, the better your pipeline becomes. 

But even CI/CD pipeline development isn’t immune to the paralysis-by-analyses. Start with the essential steps I’ve listed and gradually improve them. 

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