I run Dev Spotlight - we write tech content for tech companies.
At the beginning of developing and building a new application or product, before writing any business logic, it's necessary to make some difficult decisions. These decisions can include which cloud hosting platform to use, which continuous integration (CI) tool to use, and various development configuration choices. These decisions can dictate the speed and success of your engineering efforts. Therefore, choosing the right CI tool can make or break the velocity and quality of a team's code production.
Like most engineering problems, a discussion of the trade-offs and constraints as well as an understanding of your team’s specific requirements can help you to pick the best CI tool for you.
In this article, I 'll discuss how to choose the best CI for your team.
Before I discuss the details of specific CI tools, here are some dimensions to help you to make an informed decision for your team. Some of these considerations may be very important to you and your team; others may not be important at all.
Does the tool/service offer parallelization? How does cost scale with speed? I expect most developers would agree that the speed of the test and iteration cycle is one of the most important considerations when evaluating a CI tool.
An important feature is test/prod parity. Does the particular tool offer identical staging and production environments to ensure parity?
Ease of setup and configuration is a commonly requested feature of CI tooling. All the amazing features are great, but they are useless if they are locked behind a wall of incomplete or confusing documentation and complex configuration.
As per the point above, usability is another important aspect of the product. Will new developers on your team be able to learn and interact with your CI system? How steep is the learning curve?
Lower is better assuming feature parity. Some tools are prohibitively expensive, especially for teams working on open-source projects. Other tools are free or available at a reduced cost for these teams.
How easy is it to contact a support representative? Some teams might find this invaluable while others may not. What is the quality of their documentation? Do they provide examples of common applications and operations? Are those examples available in multiple languages?
How widely used is the tool? Does it have a vibrant community of fellow developers trying to solve similar problems with the tool?
Does it play nice with Docker, AWS, or GCP services? In a modern dockerized development world, container support is vital for most teams. Does the service integrate with GitHub nicely?
Are fragile and complex hacks required to make your multi-faceted app behave and test as expected? How easy is it to attach dependent services?
Here are some CI tool options that are currently leading the market, as well as some pros and cons of each.
By using Circle CI, users can add an image that is in a predetermined state for testing via containerization.
I've discussed some trade-offs and constraints as well as some key details specific to common continuous integration services that engineering teams should consider before selecting a CI tool.
Here’s my opinion: My current favorite is Heroku CI because I’m already using the Heroku universe (hosting, Heroku Pipelines) at my firm. I like Heroku CI because it runs tests on Performance Dynos in a disposable Heroku app on each merge to master. So, I don't have to wait for other developers' apps to build or tests to run. It also seamlessly integrates with Github and Heroku Pipelines. Generally speaking, Heroku CI is a real pleasure to work with.
If you aren't using Heroku, then my second favorite is Circle CI. Despite some UI/UX and quality of life issues, it is versatile, quick to set up, and cloud-platform agnostic. You can configure complex workflows with environmental set-up, integration testing, tear-down, and parallelized tasks with plenty of detailed tutorials and a large community of users.
As an engineering team lead, it's important for you to make an informed decision based on your team’s constraints and requirements, knowledge of the market, and trade-offs to pick the CI tool that is right for you.