5 Key Differences Between DevOps and CI/CD

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If you’ve spent time with software developers, you have probably encountered the terms DevOps and CI/CD.

You may also be a little confused about which does what, what should be used when, and why you would choose one over the other.

DevOps and CI/CD are both cyclical processes, and they both aim to make the whole development lifecycle more efficient. They’re both about analysing the development process and continuously improving. However, they focus on this problem at different scales using different techniques.

Definition and scope

DevOps is as much a cultural shift as a process. It achieves this by integrating practices that promote continuous feedback between the teams, so they can deliver more reliable software quickly. It can cover anything from the way your company does data management to the way developers work together as a team.


While tools like help streamline source code management, DevOps teams uses every technique they think willl work to simplify developers' lives. The idea is to shorten and streamline the development lifecycle while delivering frequent updates. It’s a holistic approach that emphasises people as much as processes and tools.


Since the early days of programming, businesses have split software development teams in two. The developers primarily focused on designing, coding, and testing systems. The operations team, on the other hand, were responsible for managing and deploying infrastructure like servers, ensuring they ran smoothly at all times.


Before DevOps, these two teams were separate concerns. Developers would build and refine feature until it satisfied a user requirement. Once they were finished, they would hand it over to the operations team for deployment.


This split the process into distinct phases with lengthy feedback loops between them. That became a problem when it lead to issues in the code going unnoticed or unresolved for extended periods, even making it into the users’ software. Someone could implement cached data on the website to speed up the user experience, only for someone else’s code to cause a bug with it.


With DevOps, developers deploy code into the product side-by-side with the operations team. Code is regularly tested, integrated with the rest of the product, and tested again in context of operations. Teams are working closely together to catch any issues and figure out how to address them earlier in the process, before problems can hide in the code for customers to find them.


DevOps toolchain - Wikipedia


Image sourced from Wikipedia.


CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, or sometimes, Continuous Deployment. CI/CD is a set of practices and tools that automates integrating code changes from multiple programmers working on different aspects of a program.


Again, if we return to the (not so) good old days, software development often involved numerous people assigned a different aspect of the program. One frontend developer starts working on the user interface, while another gets cracking on database design.


Off they’d go, both doing a fantastic job, regularly testing their code. Both parts worked great by themselves. However, six months later, when they combined the two projects, you ended up with what industry calls “merge hell”. It’s a rat’s nest of conflicting changes to the code that developersneed to reconcile into something that works flawlessly, at the risk of introducing new bugs that could live anywhere in the codebase.


Perhaps this wasn’t too much of a problem when codebases were smaller and simpler. But if you’ve ever wondered “what is a snowflake schema?” you’ll have seen how intricate modern server infrastructure can get.


CI/CD breaks these huge changes up into smaller chunks that are easy to test and verify. If problems emerge in production, it’s easy to track their root cause. Changes are pushed into the codebase several times a day, and highly automated testing means that most problems are flagged before they start causing problems for end users.


Purpose and goals

DevOps focuses on a culture of collaboration and feedback between traditionally siloed development and operations teams, DevOps is not so much a dogmatic set of rules that must always be adhered to but rather a way of thinking. It uses whatever processes are appropriate at the time to make rapid, reliable, and frequent releases sustainable for the team.


CI/CD is all about automating code integration, testing, and depolyment. It does this by reducing manual processes, maintaining code quality, and improving collaboration.


Reducing manual processes: One of the primary purposes of CI/CD is to automate the manual steps in the software release process, such as integration, testing, and deployment.


Maintaining code quality: Every code change developers make with CI/CD is automatically tested. This ensures that issues are found and fixed before the code is released into the world, leading to more robust, reliable software.


Improving collaboration: Since all changes are continuously integrated and shared, developers, testers, and other stakeholders can collaborate more effectively. This sharing helps teams work together, as it reduces the chance of somebody’s new code causing a problem for other developers on the team, which makes for happier teams and helps retain IT staff


In recent years, with many software teams spread worldwide and relying on a remote management solution, improving team collaboration and bonding has become even more of a priority.


Tools and techinques

DevOps is a mindset, so teams can use whatever tools suit the job. However, that’s not to say there aren’t valuable tools to help with DevOps. For example, Docker and Kubernetes are useful for keeping infrastructure consistent and organised, and Nagios is useful for monitoring operations.


CI/CD tools focus on source code management, delivery, and automated testing. Jenkins is the primary go-to, especially as it is fully open-source and free. Still, Travis CI, CircleCI, and GitLab CI are well-known, regularly used CI/CD tools.


Practices and processes

DevOps encompasses a broader set of practices like infrastructure as code (IAC), a process that allows you to manage your IT infrastructure by using configuration files, maintaining a consistent structure throughout the process. 


Likewise, DevOps integrates with software project management concepts such as Agile, Lean, (and other similar best practices in software development) to help create a comprehensive development cycle.


It is, in short, a flexible methodology that can integrate any processes or best practices into its workflow, so long as it allows for an integrated process between the developmental and operational teams.


CI/CD focuses more narrowly on continuous integration and automating the integration of code changes. As such, the process of CI/CD is much more easily definable and generally goes through the following processes…


Source: In the “source" stage, developers commit their code changes to a version control system, ensuring that every modification is systematically tracked, tested, and approved before integration.


Build: During the build phase, the committed code is compiled into executable artifacts, ensuring it's free from any basic errors and is correctly structured for deployment. It’s worth noting that this stage often depends on your programming language. Programs you have written in languages like Go or C/C++ must be compiled. In contrast, Ruby applications, or programs written in Python and JavaScript, typically work without this step.


Test: In the test stage, the built code undergoes various automated tests to validate its functionality, security, and performance. This process ensures it meets quality standards and is free from any pesky defects that can cause issues before deployment.


Deploy: In the final "deploy" phase, CI/CD validates and tests code before automatically releasing it into a specified environment, be it staging, production, or others, making it available for end-users or further evaluations.


Mindset and culture

DevOps’ sense of collaboration can significantly shift your teams’ outlook. If done correctly, they will no longer see themselves as separate teams, which can lead to an “us and them” mentality, especially if one team’s work keeps causing issues for the other. This sort of team integration is especially important with the rise in hybrid working in the software development industry.


With greater collaboration between developers and operations teams, DevOps can lead teams to solutions like headless Drupal development. Rather than depending on it for everything, Drupal is just used as a backend content repository. The frontend team gets to use whatever framework is fastest for them—React, Svelte, etc.—while the backend operations team gets to use whatever they know is stable.


CI/CD can (and does) play a crucial role in fostering collaboration and bridging gaps, but its primary focus remains on automating specific stages of the software release process. Nevertheless, a smooth integration process can goes a long way to helping teams work harmoniously.


Think of a site like Only Domains, a domain management solution businesses depend on, who can employ CI/CD to automate and streamline their new releases. Whenever they release a new feature to thousands of businesses, everyone on the team is confident that integration will go off without a hitch.