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Continuous Deployment Practices

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 19 April 700.
Planet PHP

I may be a pedant, but I'm here to tell you that continuous deployment is a total misnomer. It's discrete. A true continuous process would have code flowing naturally from your brain, through your fingers, keystroke by keystroke, to production, through some sort of bizarre stream of consciousness pipeline.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I'll give you the common definition, which is that you ship changes on a commit-by-commit basis, or alternatively, as frequently as you desire. What most people think of is push-per-change, which is often not actually the case.

In practice, most CD setups are automated, not automatic. What this means is that although every step from code commmit to ready-to-push may be automated, at the end of the day there's some kind of Big Red Button or one-line script or IRC bot that you activate in order to deploy.

Why would I want to do CD?

Hipster cred. Seriously, though, the goal is to minimize the amount of work needed between finishing an idea and making it real. That's a worthy goal.

A side benefit is that building the tools, processes, and skills needed for CD will make your working life better.

Good practices for CD

I put up a list of practices in a talk and called them aorequirements.a Laura Beth Denker called me on it. She said these things are not true requirements for doing CD, because people do it with none of these requirements satisfied. She's right. Let me suggest instead that it would be a good idea to do some, if not all, of these things before adopting CD. Most of these practices are a good idea in any case.

The practices in the following sections are not all-encompassing, and I'm sure there are great practices of which I am totally unaware.

Continuous integration

This is the practice of having developer changes land on a shared version control system as they are completed. (The original version, in Extreme Programming, says aoseveral times a daya but velocity is irrelevant in my view.) CI presumes you are using a VCS. You are, right? Since GitHub made version control a commodity, there is no longer any excuse to not have a source repopository.


aoBut, I'm writing code in PHP/Python/Ruby, and I don't need to build anything. That's for compiled languages.a It may be true that, in your environment, the build part of the process is a NOOP, however, it may involve steps like:

  • Minification of CSS and JS
  • Running a localization script to combine templates with string files
  • Converting your dynamic code to some kind of intermediate format

The net result of a build process like this is to spit out at the other end a build artifact which will be deployed.


This is where you take that build and run your tests on it. Tests. Yep, I said it. I sincerely hope this part of your process isn't a NOOP. There are great tools for this now. My team uses Jenkins, and lots of people like Travis CI.

Recently, we've been automatically running tests on pull requests using Leeroy. Travis CI does this, too. It's so nice to avoid a code review, because I can see that your pull request doesn't pass tests!

Good test coverage

Having 100% unit test coverage is nice, but it can make developers over-confident. Full test coverage doesn't cover integration testing, or performance testing, and in an ideal world, your automation would do both of those things. The most important thing is to know what your tests cover and have a realistic assessment of what the holes are, and the level of risk.

A staging environment that reflects production

The developer's own machine is a horrible staging environment. Get a real one. Make it as close to production as possible. The biggest issue I see in staging environments is what I call the aosingle box of fail.a In staging, you have one machine. In prod you have, say, ten web heads, one DB master, three DB slaves, some Redis or Memcache machines, and a queue, all running on different servers. In this environment, you will have failures.

I have been bitten by this a hundred times, and it still bites me. It bit me last Wednesday, in fact, when it turned out our PostgreSQL puppet manifests were ever-so-slightly different in staging and production. Don't

Truncated by Planet PHP, read more at the original (another 3678 bytes)