What is Pipeline as Code

(and How to Leverage it)

Software builds should represent completion — a moment when development teams can breathe before the next cycle begins. Unfortunately, builds can take too long. There can be too many, and some are too complex. Chaos ensues when builds can’t cycle as quickly as software releases. 
Using a pipeline-as-code approach, organizations can minimize the difficulties of software builds that sometimes occur in continuous deployment (CD) environments. It can make build automation less time-consuming and more reliable. So, what is pipeline as code? How can you implement and leverage pipeline-as-code in your software development workflow?

What is Pipeline as Code?

Traditional continuous integration (CI) relied on a user interface to configure a build. Sometimes, a team member became the build designer; other times, developers did their builds. The process required the builder to check out the latest code from version control, then add steps through the user interface for building, testing, and error correction. 

These early attempts presented challenges because: 

  • Auditing was limited. 
  • Collaboration was restricted. 
  • Troubleshooting was time-consuming. 
  • Rollbacks were questionable. 
  • Pipelines were fragile. 

With pipeline-as-code, the build process is defined in code and uses version control in a source repository. It becomes a repeatable process that incorporates logging, notifications, and testing into a configurable program complete with libraries. 

Benefits of Pipeline as Code

The “as code” approach to software addresses the challenges of traditional continuous integration and delivery. Because the build process is a program that can be placed under version control, changes are tracked, making it easier to identify the last stable build. 

Storing the source code in a repository allows developers to create branches off the mainline. These changes are reviewed before being merged. This process enables collaboration among team members as multiple branches can co-exist off the main branch. 

Programmatic builds have the flexibility to develop looping structures, use code libraries, and employ object-oriented coding practices. The pipeline-as-code approach provides a more comprehensive auditing process with automatic notification when a problem is identified.

Implementing Pipeline as Code

Integrating pipeline-as-code into a continuous integration and delivery model has the components to create a more predictable deployment into a production environment. However, each part of the pipeline should start with a baseline that adheres to established standards. Baselines ensure a reliable starting point for any pipeline implementation. 

For example, start with the baseline code that is in version control. Create a branch to build any libraries that do not exist and add a configuration file. Keeping the baseline untouched ensures a known starting point for subsequent builds. 

As part of the program, build in logging and testing to automate the process. Be sure to include security measures in the design. When finished, check the code into a version control repository. The build program is then used with the associated application. 

This approach has become a best practice for automating complex processes that are hard to manage. The same tools and methods that are used to develop applications can be used for builds, creating a more robust deployment tool. 

When using as-code, keep the following in mind: 

  • If a build breaks, fix it quickly. Don’t place it on the back burner. It will only slow the process. 
  • If complex testing is required, start with the fundamentals. It will make the process move faster. 
  • Prepare a consistent test environment. When a problem occurs in production, there’s a standard set of variables to assess. Know the pipeline speed. 
  • Document. 

The focus should be on finding the right tools to ensure a secure and reliable pipeline. 

Challenges and Concerns 

Pipeline-as-code is not without challenges. As with any program, the build code can become overly complex. The more lines of code there are the more potential for error and the harder to debug. Establishing best practices to simplify code should be part of any implementation. 

  • Communication. Pipeline as code is designed to speed the deployment process. Make sure everyone is aware of upcoming changes that may impact the user. Otherwise, support staff may be unable to address basic questions. 
  • Microservices. Use a configuration management tool to track dependencies among microservices to avoid cascading failures. 
  • Monitoring. Use a platform that monitors and reports problems so that they can be addressed quickly. 

Security is always a concern. Pipeline code needs to have the same rigorous security checks as any application. An exploited vulnerability can deliver malicious code to thousands of users. 

Choosing a Deployment Partner 

Pipeline as code automates processes in a continuous integration and delivery model. It helps expedite the release process while maintaining control over the code. The approach allows more complex builds to occur without human intervention, minimizing possible errors in delivery. 

Finding the right platform for continuous deployment is essential for a robust implementation. The solution should have the ability to scale without visibility loss. Armory’s continuous deployment platform enables developers to deploy software quickly and reliably. 


How do you implement pipeline as code?

How does pipeline as code enable DevOps culture?

What are the advantages of pipeline as code?

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