Continuous Delivery Best Practices: 6 to Adopt Right Now

Written by: Kiley Nichols
7 min read
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The folllowing blog post is written by Aditya Khanduri.

Continuous delivery, along with continuous integration, is a faster and more reliable method of software development. Despite its advantages being widely known, CI/CD adoption is still remarkably low. And even fewer development teams have successfully adopted continuous delivery than continuous integration.

Why? Well, what sounds easy in theory is much harder to implement in reality. This article aims to simplify continuous delivery adoption by providing some best practices you can adopt.

Why CI/CD?

CI/CD, or continuous integration and continuous delivery, has become a cornerstone of modern software development. This popular practice has enabled teams to ship features faster and deliver higher quality products. Moreover, businesses that have successfully implemented CI/CD can innovate faster to market changes and customer demand.

Thus, continuous integration and continuous delivery can help you outperform the competition. Not only can your business be the first to get the product in the hands of the customers, but you can also continuously improve the product with frequent updates.

Let’s look at how the two systems work together.

  • The CI part, or continuous integration, is concerned with build and test. It makes sense for developers to frequently integrate their code into a shared repository several times a day. After this, a CI tool runs automated builds and tests to identify any bugs early.

  • The CD part, or continuous delivery, is concerned with release and deployment. Every code change triggers an automated process that tests and then stages the update. After this, a CD tool automatically prepares and deploys the changes into production. Thus, new features and bug fixes get into customers’ hands quickly.

Very Few Businesses Are Successfully Implementing CI/CD

However, despite CI/CD’s popularity and undeniable benefits, the adoption for CI/CD practices is still surprisingly low. According to a survey by Codefresh, one in every three organizations isn’t using any CI/CD tool.

And continuous delivery is even more rare. Almost 77% of respondents take more than a week to go from commit to production. In fact, 39% of respondents said that they’ve automated less than 10% of their company’s deployment process.

Many development teams agree on the benefits of continuous delivery. But they’re unsure how to implement it in practice. This article will discuss some best practices that you can adopt to get the maximum benefits from the CD process.

Continuous Delivery Best Practices

To appreciate the best practices for continuous delivery, keep its fundamental benefits in mind. Your aim is to make development and delivery more efficient. This includes improving developers’ productivity. Another major objective is to reduce or even eliminate the errors and bugs that users encounter. CD can help verify all updates and discover issues early. No business can be truly agile and lean without a strong continuous delivery system in place.

To achieve a near-perfect system, follow these best practices:

1. Develop a Shared Continuous Delivery Vision

Continuous delivery was primarily designed to make software development more efficient. This involves reducing the friction between the development team, the product team, and even executives. Having a clear vision for your organization’s continuous delivery process helps align everybody’s efforts.

Each member of your team needs to set up automated tests and ensure their builds are deployment-ready. They need to know the precise steps of how to do so. All stakeholders need to be aware of these processes, checklists, and expectations. This can happen only if you clearly communicate your common vision and goals.

What else is on the list?

2. Use Feature Flags

Feature flags (also known as feature toggles or flippers) let you integrate code into a shared repository and push a feature to the customer’s hands, even if you haven’t finished the feature yet. Financial institutions and other large firms often use feature flags.

The basic idea is that you can remotely enable or disable a feature on the live app using a feature flag without having to redeploy the code. This enables you to control the release of a feature.

You can release it to a limited set of users, observe if it performs as planned in the production environment, and then gradually release it to the entire user base. You can even release it for certain geographies and demographies to gauge customer interest.

What happens if there are technical issues or bad customer feedback from the limited launch? Then you can easily kill the feature without any need for redeployment.

The business teams can control this release without depending heavily on the tech team to deploy and redeploy. Thus, feature flags help product managers and engineers collaborate more efficiently. The product teams can continuously tweak multiple features in response to user feedback, market dynamics, and changes in business strategy.

Thus, it makes sense to use feature flags for all feature launches.

It may seem tempting to build your own feature flags. However, if you do, then soon your product will have more feature flags than you can manage. Moreover, it’s most likely that building, deploying, and managing hundreds of feature flags isn’t your developer’s strong game.

Thankfully, many high-quality, affordable, and scalable “feature flags as a service” tools are available.

What’s next?

3. Improve Your Continuous Integration Process

Continuous integration precedes continuous delivery. That means an effective CI process is essential for a high-quality CD process.

Your continuous delivery process won’t deliver great results if the preceding automated builds and automated tests aren’t good enough. A high-quality continuous integration process will allow developers to push reliable code to the continuous delivery process much quicker.

Number four on the list probably won’t surprise you.

4. Automate as Much as Possible

You can extract the maximum benefits of continuous delivery only if the process is highly automated. Having a ton of manual processes defeats the purpose of adopting the CI/CD methodology.

Automation helps free up time for developers so the development team can be more productive. It also removes human judgment errors. And even more important, automation ensures developers can work independently without having to rely on another teammate to deploy their work into production.

DevOps teams need to carefully and meticulously create a detailed workflow of their continuous delivery process. Then they need to break it down into smaller steps and design a process flow chart. This chart will help them identify bottlenecks that are still controlled manually. Once identified, the teams must strive to automate these steps as well.

More automation in the continuous delivery process is almost always a good move.

5. Use the Same Release Mechanism for Every Environment

A best practice for continuous delivery is to deploy to all environments with the same automated processes through the same steps. Why?

  • If you use different deployment techniques for different environments, you may face more issues to fix.

  • A different release mechanism for every environment will result in more complications individually in the integration, QA, and pre-production steps.

  • A constant deployment mechanism will reduce the chance of a potential problem arising because of the deployment process adopted.

This is the last best practice we’ll cover today, but it’s still important.

6. Design a Version Control System

A version control system is one of the key components of a successful continuous delivery process. A good version control can help you revert to a previous version in case the current version has some issues.

What happens if the last recorded version is from a long time ago? Then all the recent changes by all your team to the product will also be reverted. Thus, experts strongly advise that development teams should version control for every single change and every single script. You should also handle the binaries separately and store them in a package repository like Nexus.

Conclusion

A high-quality continuous delivery process that your entire team religiously follows has major benefits. But to get the best out of your CI/CD process, there are certain best practices you must follow. These guidelines will help your business push seamless code to your users faster and more precisely. Systems such as Cloudbees Feature Flags can also help your team.

Aditya Khanduri currently handles product and growth at Cryptio.co, and he's also built a couple of B2B products. He's proficient in data analysis with Python and has worked with multiple startups in the blockchain and artificial intelligence sector.

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