What Role Does Continuous Integration Play in Agile Software Development?

If Marie Kondo were a developer, she would've invented continuous integration. This Agile practice means you save what works—and has been tested and updated—and delete what doesn’t.

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by Matias Emiliano Alvarez Duran


Continuous integration (CI) helps developers keep the source code updated to avoid compiling errors and ensure a high-quality product. Without it, developers would work on the same file and feature on their computers, edit it, and then face merging errors when adding their changes to the codebase. 

Following principles of Agile development, developers can create an automated build that ensures all the code that enters the repository is working, meeting business standards, and it’s not clashing with other edits.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of continuous integration, tools to use, and best practices to follow. 

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What is continuous integration?

Continuous integration (CI) is an Agile technical practice that allows developers to work on the source code and integrate changes at least once a day to ensure everyone is working on the most updated version. It’s an automated process for building and testing every new commit.

CI changed the way programmers used to collaborate on the same file. Developers would take the file to work on their computers and then upload it online to merge it. But they’d then find their peers had edited a feature or the same lines of code, When they combined the files, they’d see a lot of compiling errors—also known as merge hell. 

Continuous integration ensures all programmers are consistently testing changes and avoiding merge hell. That simplifies edits and bug fixes because they can know exactly what part of the software needs to be fixed. 

What are the benefits of continuous integration in Agile?

Continuous integration has several advantages:

  • Eliminates merge hell 

  • Fosters team communication and collaboration on shared files 

  • Reduces the project risk levels by frequently testing and integrating code in the repository

  • Increases the quality of the final software version because developers can easily identify errors or get alerted if features aren’t passing the quality standards

  • Reduces the time spent between development and deployment as it ensures code is frequently integrated into the code base and then, pushed to production

  • Reduces cost of development by reducing the time spent identifying bugs and code issues

  • Lets you increase code coverage by running all the tests automatically in an organized way and collecting information about code coverage

  • Runs the test suite automatically every time a new code change is checked in the repository 

  • Reduces technical debt because code is always tested and edited by different programmers

Continuous delivery vs continuous deployment vs continuous integration

There are three different practices for pushing code to a different environment:

  1. Continuous delivery

  2. Continuous deployment

  3. Continuous integration

Continuous delivery

Continuous deliverymeans that, as soon as you have a working piece of code, it’s ready to be deployed to production. You and your team ensure the software is deployable before coding a new feature, but the only way to deploy your code is by manually choosing to do it.

Continuous deployment

Continuous deployment is similar to continuous delivery but automated. Every time you get working code, it’s automatically deployed to production without manual intervention.  For this to work, it should go through a series of automated tests to ensure the new code won’t break anything.

“This technique is mostly used when startups already have an app and want to keep working on it. We can implement user feedback and add more value quickly this way,” explains Julian Alessandro, Co-founder of NaNLABS and Senior Developer.

“Currently, we’re working on a new version of a real estate client's main product. In order to gain more users fast, we’re publishing fixes and features as soon as they are tested and validated by stakeholders.”

Continuous Integration

Continuous integration  uses an automated build to ensure that all changes are frequently tested and integrated into the code repository—or pushed to the integration environment. Like an automated code review.

Which one is best?

At NaNLABS, we configure the integration and development environment setup at the very beginning of a project. It’s crucial that all NaNLABS developers can deliver working software from the first sprint. Continuous integration helps us achieve that. 

NaNLABS developers prefer to lower the deployment daily rate but make sure changes aren’t impacting the overall business. We use continuous deployment when the stakes of deploying several times a day aren’t high or when we can’t take down the app to work on updates.

How to practice continuous integration in Agile

Continuous integration is a powerful development practice that allows developers to collaborate as an Agile team, shorten the time it takes to deploy code to production environments, promote continuous improvement, and increase the overall quality of the software product.

These are some tools and practices that will help you incorporate CI in your development lifecycle.

Agilecontinuous integration tools

Continuous integration is a mechanism that needs to be set up at the beginning of any new project. For CI to succeed, you need to use the right Agile tools. These are the ones we use the most:

  • AWS Amplify. It’s a part of the Amazon Web Service suite and helps developers build full-stack apps easily. In Amplify, you have an out-of-the-box CI setup that lets you develop the front-end of mobile and web apps from scratch.

  • Github Actions, Jenkins, and AWS CodeBuild. These are great build tools for custom deployment processes. AWS CodeBuild requires no installation. 

  • AWS CloudFormation, Kubernetes, and Terraform. These infrastructure and container tools are useful for building cloud-based apps or projects with more complex architectures.

  • CircleCI. It’s a lightweight yet very powerful tool to incorporate into DevOps practices, connect to various different tools, and execute deployment jobs.

  • Gitlab CI/CD. This tool helps you work on all the stages of your software in the same place. If you use Gitlab, this is definitely worth trying since the deployment process will be completely integrated into your development workflow. You can run pipelines in the cloud or on your own servers. 

  • ArgoCD. It’s a declarative GitOps continuous delivery tool for Kubernetes—a way of building programs without its control flow. It has an intuitive UI and a very easy deployment rollback functionality. 

  • Bitbucket Pipeline. This CI/CD tool is for developers who use Jira. It’s similar to Github Actions but uses a Bitbucket code repository.

7 Best practices for continuous integration 

When using continuous integration, programmers should create an automated build to automate the deployments from one environment to another and alert developers of any integration error.

Here are some more best practices for doing CI properly.

1. Use a source code management (SCM) system

It's common for development projects to have several files for the same product. But not having them organized or even saved in the same server can make people misplace files or edit the wrong version, possibly causing merge hell. 

The best way to fix this is by using an SCM system. At NaNLABS, we use Git as the main code repository. It helps us with version control, eases the integration process, and reduces conflict using modern merge resolution techniques.

2. Incorporate feature branches into the daily workflow

Features branches are copies of the code source where developers can work on new features until they’re ready for deployment. It helps ensure high-quality code because it allows other developers to test the new feature before adding it to the codebase. 

For every large feature, we make sure we’re frequently checking in the code to the corresponding feature branch several times a day. For every bug fix or small change we also run CI.

3. Develop with pair programming 

Whenever a NaNLABS team starts a new project, or when we’re adding new features to the same file, pair programming helps us avoid big integration problems. Having two sets of eyes on the layout helps reduce mistakes. 

Pair programming allows developers to work on big features together while integrating their code several times a day. This also enables other software features or changes, that were started after a feature branch, to be released earlier to production. 

4. Simplify communication and source code access 

CI needs great communication to work. If your team members don’t communicate with each other, they might end up duplicating efforts or have a hard time finding the right file to work on. 

5. Automate deployments to different environments 

When you do continuous integration, you need to test your code in different environments before integrating it into the code base. This helps incorporate other testing methods like test-driven development or behavior-driven development and makes CI much more effective. For example, you can use the unit tests from test-driven development as one testing environment. 

6. Integrate code regularly

It’s important that your team makes a daily habit of code check-in. That’s what keeps CI working as it should. When refactoring or working on large features, you need to push the code regularly. When more than one person is working on the same code section, you can push the code on a daily basis to reduce conflicts and keep the team in sync.

7. Get help

If CI or any form of CD sounds too complex for you, or you have a messy workflow that delays production times, but you’re too busy to identify the root cause, get help. Book consultation hours with experts in software engineering or augment your team to help you find solutions to your ineffective workflows.

How NaNLABS used continuous integration with HyreCar

We use CI for all of our clients. We ensure high-quality code from the first sprint, and continuous integration is one way to achieve that standard.

During the initial sprint, our developers check-in the code they’ve been working on many times per day (then reduce the frequency to at least once per day after a few sprints). 

At the beginning of a project the code is almost non-existent, so there’s a greater chance that at least two developers will be working on the same feature and generate clashing changes when they merge changes with the code repository. When NaNLABS developers finish the first sprint, we demonstrate the progress to the client in a real environment.  

In the case of HyreCar, a two-way car-sharing platform, we were able to migrate from a monolithic to a microservice architecture that breaks the application into several individual services. That made it easier for continuous integration and deployment because code is loosely coupled and independent, so one change won’t modify the rest of the application. 

We’re also currently working with a client whose development process needs improvement. Their biggest challenge is to shorten the time it takes them to deploy a feature to production—around one month. Our goal is to reduce that time. To do so, we’re working as consultants to analyze their development workflow, branching strategy, and CI/CD deployments and come up with a plan to reduce this lead time to one day or less. 

As you can see, CI can have different angles. It’s not only about how you set up the development process, but how you manage your team, and how you identify and remove bottlenecks in the lifecycle. 

Is continuous integration necessary?

At NaNLABS, we believe continuous integration is non-negotiable and you should include it in all of your development projects. Here’s why:

  • CI eliminates code repository merging issues

  • This practice reduces risk levels 

  • It helps increase code coverage and quality

  • It improves the communication and collaboration between team members

  • It reduces costs of development and maintenance

There are many tools to help you incorporate CI to your development process like Amplify, Gitlab CI/CD, CircleCI, and ArgoCD. But if you still find it difficult to implement or can’t spot the problem in your ineffective workflow, you can always get an experienced team like NaNLABS to help you out, either as consultants or as an augmentation of your development team.

Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about you.

Frequently asked questions about continuous integration in Agile

What does continuous integration mean? 

Continuous integration is a practice that uses an automated build to test code in different environments and integrate it into the repository at least once per day. It allows developers to work on the most updated version of the same code base file to avoid merging mistakes. 

What is an example of continuous integration? 

An example of continuous integration would be when you’re working on a greenfield project using test-driven development. You can integrate all the new features into the repository after you’ve run and passed all the required unit tests.

Is continuous integration part of continuous delivery?

Continuous integration and continuous delivery work very well together. In fact, continuous delivery needs CI to work. You can only do continuous delivery after you’ve run all the CI requirements. 

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