Here’s what you need to know about continuous deployment
June 19, 2020
Deployment is the stage when all of your developer’s hard work goes live. And the longer you’ve worked on something, the more nervewracking deploying it can be.
If there is an issue, all other development work will need to go on hold while your team untangles the problem, effectively halting progress. It can lead to upset customers and hours of lost time. But this isn’t how deployment has to feel. All you need is to adopt a continuous deployment process.
Continuous deployment automatically moves every change that goes into the main repository into production. It sounds scary and uncontrolled (and in some ways, it is) – but ultimately, it’s less risky and has heaps of benefits. Read on to learn what it is, why it’s useful, and how to start using it.
What is continuous deployment?
Continuous deployment comes after continuous delivery, which itself comes after continual integration (it’s the last phase in the cycle of three).
It uses automated testing to check whether a codebase is accurate before automatically deploying it to production. Because the checks are automatic, you can eliminate the previously resource-heavy deployment phase.
It allows managers and dev teams to turn all of their attention towards development. Meanwhile, clients and customers get regular updates they can enjoy.
What’s the difference between continuous deployment and continuous delivery?
They are two identical acronyms, two similar-sounding names, and two processes that achieve similar things. But there are differences, and it’s important to understand the distinction.
With continual delivery, there is a last manual approval stage before deployment. With continual deployment, everything is automated.
To help you picture it, think of a factory floor. In some factories, employees perform checks by eye. There’s a quality control team that visually monitors each item, then either rejects or moves the items on to the next stage.
In other factories – like bottling plants – machines with lasers perform checks automatically. The same principles apply: if it passes, it can go on to be used (i.e., deployed), and if it fails, it’s rejected – but this choice is made without the need for humans. This is the difference between continual deployment and delivery.
What are the advantages of continuous deployment?
Continuous deployment benefits the whole organization, as well as the customer. Teams are more collaborative, while the heightened transparency and smoother feedback loop mean the project can move along faster and with a higher degree of certainty.
- It’s easier to solve issues.
Because releases are smaller and more regular, code is easier to understand (and untangle) if there are errors.
- You can work faster.
Automating certain tasks means the developers – as well as managers – have more time to dedicate to other business challenges. Removing the layer of manual approval also means the process is less bureaucratic, which speeds things up, especially within multi-developer teams working on larger projects.
- There’s better scaling.
The more people involved, the more complex it all becomes. That’s just science, right? With continual deployment, businesses can respond to changing demands faster, while developers can test and then reject or validate ideas and features automatically (and therefore with less time-consuming manual checks).
- It’s a more agile way of working.
With builds being continually submitted, teams can react to customer feedback, requests, and reports faster. It also means that new features can send immediately (if the code doesn’t work, it won’t pass the automatic check; if it does, it goes straight through.)
Continuous deployment best practices
In the spirit of Agile working, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep iterations short, tests regular, and maintenance ongoing.
- Test regularly and make it automatic.
Once the project’s specifications have been defined, the developers can write automated tests that measure work against these pre-defined criteria. Then, every bit of code that runs through the system will then be rejected or accepted based on these parameters.
- Make sure you have a good test base.
In addition to testing regularly, you’ll need to make sure your tests are comprehensive enough to challenge your codebase adequately. You’ll soon be relying on these tests to pick out errors in place of a real person, so really interrogate your checks and be sure to point out issues or weak spots: the health of your project will depend on it.
- Create a set process and stick to it.
Once you’ve implemented a continuous deployment pipeline, it’s vital everyone follows protocol. This means no manual checks if you have an automatic system in place. Doing so would mess up the flow and create extra tasks where none are needed. Trust the process.
- Use containers.
Containers – such as Kubernetes – keep systems up and running uniformly when changes are made. Something especially crucial during automated testing and deployment.
- Let it go… (release notes, that is).
As you move towards automatic releases, you’ll find it near impossible to keep up with your release notes. And that’s a good thing. Save announcements for major feature updates – and let your ticketing system handle everything else.
How to choose continuous deployment tools for your team
There are dozens of continuous deployment tools to choose from, but some of the most popular include Jenkins, GitLab, and SVN. When you make your choice, remember that your software must support your DevOps team throughout the entire deployment pipeline.
Your tool needs to be able to deploy stable code after each successful build. You also need software that’s able to continually test and deploy all that code automatically, in a live environment – as well as reverse deployments automatically, if a bug is introduced.
Continuous deployment is about rolling progression, so in the spirit of this, choose issue tracking software that can give you real-time monitoring, kanban boards, and automatic sprint notifications that both you, your team, and your client can access. This boosts collaboration and saves time sending email updates around to everyone. Your software should also offer you quality version control so that you can revert failed deploys, should there be an issue.
If you’re in the market for a project management tool, Backlog has built-in Git and SVN repositories. It’s also cloud-based, works in real-time, and allows your team to set up private repositories, compare code changes, and leave in-line comments. This boosts collaboration, helping you stay agile.
Keeping up-to-date with the overall health of your project not only keeps you on top of all the crucial developments. It also means you’ll have useful metrics, which you can use to monitor and measure the overall efficiency of your team throughout the entire deployment pipeline.
Want to learn more about the full software development lifecycle? Make sure to check out our DevOps Guide.