Software Success: Continuous Integration for a Coordinated Strategy

Why Use a CI Model?  
A small software development project may not seem overwhelming if you’re a single developer with a set launch date. But these fictionalized, straightforward scenarios are seldom the case when it comes to developing complex integrated software systems for today’s most demanding markets. In the real-world, software teams may include dozens of developers on different machines, each using distinct programming logic but all contributing to the same code.

Continuous Integration for a Coordinated Strategy

With such demanding requirements, software teams divide and conquer – breaking down the problem to have different team members find a fix for each problem. But what happens when your team brings together their separate code contributions only to discover unanticipated bugs? How can today’s software teams remain organized, operate efficiently, and avoid errors when there are so many moving pieces at play?

Continuous integration (CI) offers a strategy for programmers to coordinate expansive projects through a standard framework. CI platforms allow numerous developers to work simultaneously, submitting their code to a central repository that performs automated tests and verifies the new code’s accuracy before integration.

Because an entire software team works through the central CI system, errors can be caught in real-time as the central repository is continuously filled with completed code. This collaborative process provides end-to-end visibility through a standard platform. By facilitating a high-level view of software projects, CI platforms support approaching problems from a functional perspective with end requirements in mind. Not only does the collaborative process ensure that the central repository contains completed code that is free of build errors, it offers a means of tracking measurable progress across areas of active development. Effectively implemented CIs deliver maximum data collection to support optimization of efficiency over time.

Continuous Integration Infographic

Using a CI platform presents the opportunity for coordination, visibility, and optimization over time, but it also offers a chance to accelerate development through partial automation. Most CI platforms include automated testing and quality control capabilities. Rather than requiring developers to meticulously test, identify, and correct errors, completed code is automatically confirmed prior to integration into the central repository. If bugs are found, the sophisticated systems can even help to identify the source of the problem, saving valuable time that would’ve otherwise been spent troubleshooting. With a CI server automatically catching errors early in the build process bugs can be fixed preemptively, avoiding potentially costly late-stage fixes.

How To Use a CI Model
Continuous Integration models all start with a central CI server such as GitLab or GitHub. Using a CI server each developer can run both the CI server and unique build runners on their specific machine. This provides the framework for effective collaboration between team members that catch errors in real time and provides the visibility to avoid duplicating work. CI platforms are the basis for real-time collaboration, but for a CI model to work, testing must be just as continuous and comprehensive as the integration process.

Most CI platforms offer the tools to configure automated testing upon code submission to the central repository. Capable of automating a wide variety of target stress tests, regression tests, and system integration tests, CIs help to ensure the finished code repository is free of broken code. With new code committed to the repository continuously and high-speed build testing, developers can identify and resolve conflicting code contributed by different team members before deployment.

What About Continuous Deployment?
Continuous deployment applies the principles of CI to deliver completed code to the end application’s production environment. Continuous deployment strategies depend on thorough testing throughout the CI process to ensure that, upon passing the tests, code is ready for the continuous deployment model to carry out the automated deployment. By automating the final push of code to the live production environment, developers can focus on continuing code generation.

Not every software project requires continuous deployment. Code developed using CI strategies can often be pushed to the production environment through a similar, though more manual, process of continuous delivery. Unlike continuous deployment, continuous delivery retains some manual aspects of the final testing and push to production environment. If updates are to be somewhat limited or infrequent, the time cost of establishing an automated continuous deployment may outweigh simply engaging in continuous delivery. Continuous delivery can also be advantageous as one final check to fix broken code. In the end, both alternative CD models simply act as a means to distribute code developed using CI, and the decision on push method will depend on the specific details of the project.

Am I On My Own Here?
No! In today’s highly connected environment intricate software packages are everywhere and our expectations for bug-free performance are only rising. To exceed ever-changing user expectations, sometimes it is worth bringing in outside experts. There are myriad development companies prepared to help you develop software using a continuous integration, continuous deployment model. If you opt to set out on your own, there are still plenty of publicly available Docker Images to help jumpstart your code development. Platforms such as GitLab and GitHub even provide baseline code to use in custom server construction.

What if your end requirements necessitate a more comprehensive software/hardware approach? More common still, what if security and regulatory requirements make cloud-based repository hosting impossible? Especially in unique and critical applications like aerospace, defense, medical, or industrial computing, the specific requirements of an individual software system can facilitate the need for an end-to-end product development partner.

At Compass Electronics Solutions our combined hardware and software capabilities are positioned to help you realize a perfectly integrated end product. Our software team is well-versed in CI/CD strategies, even when security requires in-house repository hosting. Furthermore, our in-house hardware and manufacturing teams bring the expertise to support developing software packages that are already optimized for your device. Develop and manufacture your entire product with Compass Electronics Solutions for a streamlined process that minimizes risk and time-to-market.