How to Build an Azure CI/CD Pipeline?
By Sourojit Das, Community Contributor - August 11, 2023
The DevOps methodology has gained prominence over the years since its inception. More and more organizations are employing the DevOps mentality to achieve better results as they address the primary challenges of siloed data, obsolete practices, and development team competency. The adoption of DevOps has proceeded apace over the last few years.
- According to research conducted by Techstrong, the DevOps market is projected to reach $5.9 billion by 2023, expanding at a CAGR of 31.2% during the forecast period.
- Gartner research indicates that by 2025, more than 85% of organizations will embrace the cloud-first principle.
Azure DevOps (now known as Azure DevOps Services or Azure DevOps Server, depending on the deployment model) is Microsoft’s development tools and services offering a comprehensive solution for continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) workflows. Let’s explore this in the following sections.
- What is Azure CICD?
- Does Azure DevOps have CI/CD?
- Top 10 Benefits of Azure DevOps for CI/CD
- Key Components and Stages in Azure CICD Pipeline
What is Azure CICD?
Azure CI/CD refers to the practice of Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment, which are key components of the software development lifecycle. CI/CD helps automate and streamline the process of building, testing, and deploying applications, resulting in faster and more reliable software releases. Let us examine a few more Azure DevOps statistics to cement their rise.
- The number of Azure DevOps users is rapidly approaching 1 billion.
- According to Azure Active Directory, 722,2 million Azure users exist.
- Microsoft Azure’s revenue grew by 31% during the first quarter of fiscal year 2023.
While we are on this topic, let’s address an important FAQ –
Does Azure DevOps have CI/CD?
Here’s a breakdown of CI/CD in Azure:
- Continuous Integration (CI): CI involves frequently integrating code changes from multiple developers into a shared repository. Automated build and test processes are triggered whenever code changes are pushed to the repository. In Azure, you can set up CI pipelines using Azure DevOps, which automatically builds and tests your code whenever changes are committed. This ensures that code is continuously validated, reducing integration issues and catching bugs early in the development cycle.
- Continuous Deployment (CD): CD extends the concept of CI by automating code deployment to various environments, such as development, staging, and production. With CD, you ensure that every successful code change that passes tests in the CI pipeline is automatically deployed to the appropriate environment. In Azure, you can set up CD pipelines using Azure DevOps to automatically deploy your application to Azure services like Azure App Service, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), or other cloud resources.
Top 10 Benefits of Azure DevOps for CI/CD
- Unified Platform: Azure DevOps provides an integrated and unified platform that covers the entire software development lifecycle, including source code management, build automation, testing, and deployment. This unified platform fosters collaboration among development, testing, and operations teams.
- End-to-End Automation: enables end-to-end automation of the CI/CD pipeline. You can define and automate build, test, and deployment processes, reducing manual intervention and potential errors.
- Diverse Language and Platform Support: supports various programming languages, frameworks, and platforms. This flexibility makes it suitable for various applications, from web and mobile to desktop and cloud-native.
- Azure Integration: seamlessly integrates with Azure resources if you already use Microsoft Azure cloud services. This integration allows you to deploy applications directly to Azure services, such as Azure App Service, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), and more.
- Build and Release Pipelines: provides a robust and customizable pipeline configuration environment. You can define build and release pipelines as code, which can be versioned and stored alongside your application code.
- Artefact Management: includes artefact management capabilities that allow you to store and manage build artefacts, packages, and other artifacts generated during the CI/CD process. This ensures consistent and reliable artefact versioning and distribution.
- Testing and Quality Assurance: offers various testing and quality assurance tools and integrations. You can run automated tests, perform code analysis, and integrate with third-party testing frameworks.
- Security and Compliance: provides security features like role-based access control (RBAC), audit logs, and compliance standards to help maintain security and meet regulatory requirements throughout the CI/CD process.
- Scalability and Performance: Azure DevOps is built on the Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure, which offers scalability and reliability. This is especially important for handling large-scale CI/CD workloads.
- Extensibility: Azure DevOps supports a marketplace of extensions and integrations, allowing you to customise and enhance the platform according to your team’s specific needs.
Key Components and Stages in Azure CICD Pipeline
Azure Pipelines is a powerful tool within Azure DevOps that allows you to automate your build, test, and deployment processes. It provides a flexible and customizable platform for setting up Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines.
The key components and stages of an Azure Pipeline include:
1. Pipeline Definition: This is where you define the structure and stages of your pipeline. Depending on your preference, you can create a pipeline using either YAML or the visual designer.
The pipeline definition includes information about the repository, triggers, stages, jobs, and steps.
2. Triggers: Triggers determine when the pipeline should be executed. You can set up various triggers, such as manual, scheduled, or triggers based on code changes (e.g., pull requests, branch updates).
3. Stages: Stages represent logical divisions within your pipeline. Each stage typically corresponds to a specific phase in your CI/CD process, such as building, testing, and deploying. Stages can be defined to run sequentially or in parallel.
4. Jobs: Each stage consists of one or more jobs. A job represents a unit of work that can be executed on an agent. Jobs can include multiple steps, scripts, and tasks that need to be completed.
5. Steps: Steps are individual tasks that make up a job. Each step performs a specific action, such as checking out source code, running a script, or deploying artefacts. Steps are executed sequentially within a job.
6. Agents: Agents are the execution environments where your pipeline jobs run. Azure Pipelines supports both Microsoft-hosted agents and self-hosted agents. Microsoft-hosted agents are maintained by Azure DevOps and are available for common platforms, while self-hosted agents run on your infrastructure.
7. Artefacts: Artefacts are built outputs or files produced during the build process and can be used in subsequent stages or jobs. Artefacts can include compiled code, binaries, configuration files, and more.
8. Variables: Variables allow you to define values that can be used across your pipeline. They are useful for storing configuration settings, connection strings, or any other dynamic values.
9. Environment: Environments represent target deployment environments (e.g., development, staging, production) where you want to deploy your application. Environments provide a way to manage and track deployments.
10. Approvals and Gates: You can set up manual approvals or gates for more complex deployment scenarios before deploying to certain environments. This ensures that deployments undergo a review or meet specific criteria before proceeding.
11. Notifications: Azure Pipelines provides various notification options to keep team members informed about pipeline status, such as email notifications, integration with collaboration tools like Slack, and more.
12. Logs and Monitoring: Azure Pipelines generates detailed logs for each pipeline run, allowing you to monitor the progress and troubleshoot any issues that may arise during the execution of jobs and steps.
These components collectively allow you to define, automate, and manage your Azure CICD pipelines. By configuring the pipeline stages, jobs, and tasks, you can create a streamlined and automated process for building, testing, and deploying your applications.
How to build an Azure CI/CD Pipeline?
Creating a Build Pipeline in Azure DevOps
Building an Azure CI/CD pipeline involves several steps that allow you to define, automate, and manage your application’s continuous integration and deployment process.
- An Azure DevOps account.
- A repository containing your application code, typically hosted on a version control system like Git.
11 Steps to Create an Azure CICD Pipeline:
- Access Azure DevOps: Log in to your Azure DevOps account.
- Create a New Pipeline: Navigate to your project. Go to “Pipelines” from the left sidebar. Click on the “New Pipeline” button.
- Select a Repository: Choose the repository that contains your application code. Select the appropriate source control system (e.g., Git).
- Configure Pipeline Settings: Choose a template that matches your application’s technology stack (e.g., ASP.NET, Node.js, Python). If a template isn’t available, you can choose the “Starter pipeline” option and define your pipeline using YAML or the visual designer.
- Define Build and Test Stages: Configure the build stage to compile your code, restore dependencies, and generate build artefacts. Add steps to run tests, code analysis, and any other required quality checks.
- Define Deployment Stages: Set up deployment stages for each target environment (e.g., development, staging, production). Configure deployment tasks to deploy your application to the respective environments using Azure resources such as Azure App Service, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), etc.
- Configure Triggers: Define triggers to automatically start the pipeline when changes are pushed to specific branches, pull requests are created, or on a schedule.
- Add Variables and Secrets: Define variables to store your pipeline’s configuration settings. Securely store sensitive information, such as API keys or connection strings, in the pipeline’s secret store.
- Review and Save: Review the pipeline configuration to ensure everything is set up correctly. Save and commit the pipeline configuration to your repository.
- Run and Monitor the Pipeline: Trigger the pipeline manually or let it be triggered automatically based on the defined triggers. Monitor the pipeline’s progress and review logs to identify any issues.
- Customise and Iterate: As your application and requirements evolve, you can customize and iterate on your pipeline by adding more stages, tasks, or adjustments to the configuration.
Remember that the exact steps and options may vary depending on the technology stack you’re using and your specific project requirements. Azure DevOps provides extensive documentation and tutorials to guide you through creating and customizing CI/CD pipelines. It’s important to continuously test and refine your pipeline to ensure that it meets your quality and deployment standards.
Pro Tip: Regardless of the CI/CD pipeline used, Azure, as well as Jenkins, can be integrated with BrowserStack Real Device Cloud to ensure that your testing infrastructure has access to the most up-to-date browsers and devices in the cloud.
Integrating Azure DevOps with BrowserStack
Integrating BrowserStack with Azure DevOps allows you to run automated tests on real browsers and devices provided by BrowserStack as part of your CI/CD pipelines.
By integrating BrowserStack with Azure, you can leverage Azure’s infrastructure to enhance your testing capabilities and simulate real-world scenarios across various browsers, versions, and platforms.
- BrowserStack Automate enables you to perform Selenium tests with Azure pipelines, simplifying configuring Azure Pipelines for test execution.
- Teams can also incorporate Appium tests with Azure Pipelines by connecting the CI server to the BrowserStack Appium Grid via an extension.
- Teams can also Integrate Microsoft Azure DevOps for issue reporting
Here’s a high-level guide on integrating BrowserStack with Azure DevOps:
- An Azure DevOps account.
- A BrowserStack account.
Steps to Integrate BrowserStack with Azure DevOps:
- Set Up Azure DevOps Pipeline: Create a new CI/CD pipeline in Azure DevOps for your project if you haven’t already.
- Add BrowserStack Credentials: In Azure DevOps, navigate to your pipeline’s settings, add the BrowserStack credentials (username and access key) as environment variables or securely store them using Azure DevOps’ secret store.
- Install Necessary Packages: Depending on your programming language and testing framework, install the necessary packages or dependencies to interact with BrowserStack’s API.
- Configure Automated Tests: Write or update your automated tests to use BrowserStack’s API for interacting with their browser and device testing environments. This might involve configuring the desired browser, version, operating system, and other settings.
- Modify Build Pipeline: In your Azure DevOps pipeline configuration (YAML or visual designer), add a new job or step to run your automated tests on BrowserStack. Use the credentials and settings you configured in steps 2 and 3 to connect to BrowserStack’s testing infrastructure.
- Run Automated Tests: When your pipeline runs, it will trigger the execution of your automated tests on BrowserStack’s real browsers and devices. The tests will execute and generate results based on the configurations you specified.
- Capture Test Results: Depending on your testing framework, capture and parse the test results from the BrowserStack tests. You should configure your testing framework to output results in a format easily interpreted by Azure DevOps.
- Reporting and Notifications: Configure your pipeline to report test results to Azure DevOps. Set up notifications or alerts to inform the development team about test failures or issues.
- Iterate and Optimise: Review and optimize your integration to ensure efficient use of BrowserStack resources and a smooth testing experience within your CI/CD pipeline.
Top 14 Best Practices for Azure CICD Pipeline
Implementing DevOps practices in Azure CI CD involves technical, cultural, and process-related changes.
Here are 14 best practices to consider when implementing DevOps in Azure:
- Use Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools like Azure Resource Manager templates, Terraform, or Ansible to define and provision infrastructure in a repeatable and automated manner.
- Automate deployment, configuration, and scaling of resources to ensure consistency and reduce manual errors.
- Continuously integrate code changes and automatically deploy them to different environments, promoting a fast and reliable release process.
- Use a version control system (such as Git) to manage and track code changes.
- Define a clear branching strategy to effectively manage feature development, bug fixes, and releases.
- Implement automated testing at various levels, including unit, integration, and end-to-end tests.
- Use Azure Test Plans, Selenium, or other testing frameworks to ensure code quality and prevent regressions.
- Implement monitoring and test observability practices to gain insights into application performance, availability, and user experience.
- Use Azure Monitor, Application Insights, or other monitoring tools to collect and analyze telemetry data.
- Integrate security checks into your CI/CD pipeline and use tools like Azure Security Center to identify and mitigate security risks.
- Use collaboration tools like Azure Boards, Teams, and Confluence to improve communication and visibility.
- Optimize application performance by using Azure features like Azure Cache, Content Delivery Network (CDN), and Autoscale.
- Implement performance testing as part of your CI/CD pipeline to identify and address performance bottlenecks.
- Implement backup and disaster recovery strategies for critical data and applications using Azure Backup, Azure Site Recovery, or other solutions.
What is the difference between Azure CI CD Pipeline and Jenkins?
The key differences between Azure CI/CD and Jenkins can be captured as shown below –
|Group Tasks||Azure Pipelines enables us to encapsulate a sequence of tasks already defined in a pipeline into a singular, re-usable task similar to any other task,||A single user typically performs Jenkins management, resulting in tracking and accountability issues with the pushed code.|
|YAML Interface||Using YAML in Azure Pipelines, we can configure the CI/CD pipeline as code||the Jenkins pipeline lacks a YAML interface.|
|Platform and Language||We can build, test, and deploy Node.js, Python, Java, PHP, Ruby, C/C++,.Net, Android, and iOS applications on Linux, macOS, and Windows, and then deploy to on-premise, Azure, AWS, and GCP,||Jenkins only offers Groovy-programmable Scripted Pipelines.|
|Analytics||Azure Pipelines provides metrics such as run rate and duration after each run||Jenkins does not offer any analytics on the end-to-end deployment cycle|
|Plugins and Tasks||Downloadable tasks/extensions and built-in modules can be found in the Azure DevOps marketplace.||Jenkins is loaded with plugins, as it has a vast selection of plugins.|