Optimizing CI/CD Testing: What, Why & How

Maria Homann

Automation Expert

In today's fast-paced software world, Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) are key for companies to release top-quality products quickly.

This blog post will guide you through CI/CD testing, showing you how it fits into the software development process and why it’s crucial for your projects.

 

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Understanding CI/CD in Software Development

What is CI/CD?

What is continuous testing?

How can automation help continuous testing?

What does the CI/CD pipeline look like?

How to find the right CI/CD test automation tool

Leapwork no-code automation: An enabler of CI/CD

 

Understanding CI/CD in Software Development

CI/CD brings a fresh approach to software development, focusing on quick and continuous updates. This method is a big change from the older waterfall model, which moved step by step – first developing, then testing, then releasing. In software development, being quick and flexible is vital, and that's where CI/CD shines.

What is CI/CD?

CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. It's all about merging development work frequently and ensuring that the software can be released at any time. This approach is like a well-oiled machine, where each part works together smoothly and efficiently. 

CI/CD goes hand in hand with DevOps and agile methodologies, as these all work towards a common goal of delivering quality at speed through flexible approaches.

A graphic comparing software development types, agile vs waterfall

 

An example of the waterfall approach

Let’s say we have multiple developers working on the same application. Each one is contributing units of code to certain features or bug fixes. As they write their units of code they’re pushing it into the same code repository.

At some point, however, a piece of code that one developer wrote doesn’t merge with the unit of code written by another developer. 

It's like three people building different sections of a puzzle. And when they try to merge the final puzzle, it doesn't quite fit. 

They now need to spend time on mending these units of code. This process can take more time than initially planned, halting the entire software development process.

In other words, the waterfall approach is not great for developing software in a fast, efficient and lean manner.

CI/CD, on the other hand, is great for delivering quality at speed.

CI/CD is an approach that is more circular than linear, meaning that processes are intertwined, and feedback loops are constant. Where a waterfall is perhaps most easily portrayed as, well… a waterfall, CI/CD is most easily portrayed as an infinity loop.

 

LEAPWORK_CICD_illus5

CI/CD is an automated chain where the idea is to involve as few human hands as possible, in order to avoid unnecessary manual work and error.

This doesn’t mean that humans aren’t involved in the process. It means that the chain should be able to run on its own. It should check for errors and notify testers and developers when something breaks or doesn’t merge. That way, changes can be made much quicker than would be possible in a waterfall approach.

Due to its importance to the entire pipeline, testing is a key area in CI/CD. Let’s zoom in on this area next.

Related reading: How to Create a DevOps CI/CD Pipeline (With Example)

What is continuous testing?

Continuous testing can be defined as undisrupted testing, meaning little-to-no human intervention, that is carried out on a frequent, repeated basis.

Continuous testing is about testing throughout the release pipeline, as soon as a piece of code is delivered by the developer, instead of testing at the very end of a development cycle, as it is done in a more traditional, waterfall approach.

The purpose of continuous testing is to fail fast. Bugs are inherently easier and cheaper to fix the sooner they are found, so testers strive to find those bugs as quickly as possible and pass them back to the developers, before they build on top of a broken piece of code.

Teams leveraging continuous testing become capable of delivering quality at speed because they:

  • Test at earlier stages of the release pipeline
  • Test more often before release
  • Test everywhere, that is, across environments and devices

How can automation help continuous testing?

Testing is one process that can and should be automated to a great extent within the CI/CD pipeline.

Here's why:

  • Efficiency in Repetition: Automates repetitive testing tasks, allowing tests to be run frequently without manual intervention.
  • Speed: Executes tests much faster than manual testing, accelerating the testing process.
  • Consistency: Ensures that tests are performed consistently every time, eliminating human error.
  • Early Bug Detection: Identifies defects early in the development cycle, reducing the cost and effort of fixing them later.
  • Increased Coverage: Enables extensive test coverage, including complex scenarios, which might be difficult and time-consuming to test manually.
  • Continuous Feedback: Provides immediate feedback to developers, facilitating quick fixes and updates.
  • Resource Optimization: Frees up human resources from repetitive testing tasks, allowing them to focus on more complex and creative testing strategies.

Learn more about continuous testing in our blog post on the critical role of continuous testing in devops.

What does the CI/CD pipeline look like?

Let’s start with Continuous Integration (CI).

Let’s again say that we have multiple developers working on the same application. Each one has its own feature or bug fix that they’re working on while contributing to the application.

As they write their code their pushing it into the same code repository (typically GitHub), which keeps an overview of the different versions.

From there, a build system (typically Jenkins), takes it and builds it.

Since there are several developers contributing with code, the tricky part is to make sure that their contributions don’t introduce any bugs to the application.

This is where test automation comes in. As we’ve established, test automation is an essential piece of the CI/CD puzzle as it ensures that everyone is instantly notified in case something breaks within the application. 

Once the tests pass, the entire build cycle is considered successful and complete.

This construct of having multiple developers working on the same application at once, without experiencing any issues with merging code is what we call Continuous Integration.

Next is CD. Most talk about Continuous Delivery, though some also talk about Continuous Deployment.

So far, we’ve seen how the application is coded, built and tested within an automated pipeline using code repositories and build and testing systems.

Once the tests pass, the next step is to release the new version of the application. This means making it available to the end-users in some shape or form.

If this is done automatically through a pipeline, this is called Continuous Delivery.

The next step is to take the packaged application and automatically deploy it in a target environment. This is called Continuous Deployment.

How to find the right CI/CD test automation tool

By now, we've established that test automation is an enabler of CI/CD. However, some test automation tools are better enablers of CI/CD than others.

As the point of CI/CD is to deliver quality at speed in an agile matter, the test automation tool should be easy to work with so that it doesn’t take up an unnecessary amount of time from the tester.

If testers spend more time on programming or maintaining tests than they do on exploratory testing and test design, tests won’t be continuous. Similarly, if the automation tool doesn’t allow for easy hand-overs and collaboration by providing an easily understandable overview of test cases and troubleshooting therefore becomes a struggle, tests also won’t be continuous.

Leapwork no-code automation: An enabler of CI/CD

If you’re on the lookout for a test automation tool that will work seamlessly with your CI/CD pipeline, you’re going to need one that is both easy to use and maintain and works with all your existing technologies.

Leapwork’s no-code automation platform offers a user-friendly approach to test automation that will integrate easily in your CI/CD pipeline.

To learn more about no-code test automation and to understand how it contributes to continuous testing and CI/CD, download our whitepaper:

View 'Continuous Testing in Agile'