Continuous Deployment vs. Delivery: The Defining Differences

Apr 20, 2023 | Test Automation Insights

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The “CI” in CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration, but does the “CD” stand for Continuous Delivery or Continuous Deployment? Both have their own benefits and approaches so we’ll break down the differences here. 

 

The speed of innovation is only getting faster, and that means shorter release times and launch windows are a part of every DevOps team’s world. A CI/CD pipeline speeds up the development journey by helping teams identify and remediate errors in their build as they go. But the differences within each part of the pipeline can be difficult to parse out. The “CI” in CI/CD is more foundational, but the CD part tends to carry more nuance. 

Some refer to CD as continuous delivery, while others call it continuous deployment. They’re not as interchangeable as they’re often used, as both describe different types of automation. And there are unique benefits and applications for each. 

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between continuous delivery versus deployment, and show the approaches behind them both that add value to your development team.

Differences Between Continuous Deployment vs. Continuous Delivery

Before you can understand the differences between continuous delivery and deployment, you need to know what goes on in each phase of CI/CD. A comprehensive CI/CD pipeline will consist of three parts: 

  1. Continuous integration, where developers integrate their source code into a shared repository. From here, any changes will be incorporated into the master branch and updated. So, all developers are working on the most updated version and can collaborate more effectively. 
  2. Continuous delivery, where all changes are tested to eliminate any errors before the product launches. The tests can be executed both manually and by automated testing tools. Possible examples include unit testing, integration testing, functional testing, and regression testing. 
  3. Continuous deployment, where all code changes or updates are automatically sent out to the production environment after passing all QA and tests. Since all the testing and debugging has already been completed at the delivery stage, the focus here is on getting each update to the end user automatically. This eliminates the need for a release date entirely. 

The biggest difference between continuous delivery and continuous deployment is that continuous delivery automates the testing performed on any changes that were stored in CI. Continuous deployment automates the releases of each completed change. Both offer multiple benefits to developers and DevOps teams. 

Automated vs. Manual Approval Process

One advantage that continuous delivery brings to the table is that it allows teams to automate much of their software approval process. A software approval process requires extensive testing on many facets of your product, like: 

  • Security 
  • Functionality
  • Usability
  • Reliability
  • Source code evaluation
  • Proper documentation
  • Much more

Continuous delivery allows you to automate many of the testing tools you’ll use to ensure that your product meets the required standards. Thus, simplifying much of the approval process. This not only eliminates the manual steps involved in getting your final product approved. But also frees up your team for more creative work, leading to greater job satisfaction and higher productivity. 

Frequency and Release Process

Continuous delivery allows you to streamline much of your software approval process through automated testing. And continuous deployment lets a development team release updates and changes more often. 

You can configure your release frequency according to what best suits your application (monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly). But as soon as the testing from the continuous delivery phase has perfected your product, you can release it into the production environment automatically. 

These faster, more consistent releases eliminate release-day stress for your operations team. And also ensure better UX as end users are given more current versions of their product more often. Releases become easier to manage too, as the more incremental changes often result in fewer unexpected errors that are easier to remediate. 

Risk Management and Rollback Procedures

Teams that use a CI/CD pipeline also experience improved risk management in changes to their code, and their rollback procedures are easier to follow as well. 

Continuous delivery breaks up your code into smaller chunks and tests them more frequently, making it easier to identify errors and resolve them. The result is you catch errors more quickly. Which in turn means that they’ll have a smaller impact than if they weren’t detected until the final stages before launch. That mitigates the risk of an error and contributes to higher product quality. 

The more frequent updates to smaller code segments also simplify rollback procedures. Testing and implementing any changes to the master branch more often means you’ll have less work to do if you need to return to a previous version in cases of unwanted changes. 

Taken together, continuous delivery results in code changes that are less risky to manage, and easier to roll back. 

What Is Continuous Deployment?

Once all the testing and code changes in the continuous delivery phase have refined your product, it needs to be deployed into the production environment where end users will interact with it. 

Continuous deployment automates software updates and current versions, so that they are sent out without the need for human intervention. That means products that use continuous deployment have no release dates, because they’re updated on such a regular basis.  

Goals of Continuous Deployment

Continuous deployment is sometimes thought of as an extension of continuous delivery. The goal of both is the same: to streamline the development process by implementing automated testing. Continuous delivery seeks to iteratively test code changes for quicker error resolution. But continuous deployment’s goal is to push the changes into the production environment once the delivery phase has refined them.

Both leverage automation to improve the development journey. But the goal of continuous deployment is to automate product release. And the goal of continuous delivery is to automate testing changes along the way. 

Benefits of Continuous Deployment

Continuous deployment offers several benefits. First, it removes the stress that inevitably comes from a much-anticipated launch date. With updates and the most current versions sent to production environments as soon as the delivery phase is complete, there’s no need to coordinate all the logistics that go into a new release. 

Another benefit is that if unexpected glitches do arise, they are probably smaller and easier to remediate since the last update was so recent. And since fewer changes will have occurred from update to update, rollback procedures will be easier to generate and implement as well.

What Is Continuous Delivery?

While continuous integration is the foundation that supports continuous delivery, continuous delivery is the foundation that supports continuous deployment. The process of bringing smaller changes from your repository into a staging environment to undergo the necessary testing sequence continuous delivery evaluates your code’s progress as you go. 

Continuous delivery works by breaking up your source code into smaller snippets and performing your specified tests at predefined intervals. There are many different types of tests that could be run during the delivery phase, like:

  • Unit tests
  • Smoke tests
  • Regression tests
  • Keyword tests
  • Security tests
  • Data-driven tests

Once it passes all the prescribed tests, a continuous delivery platform will send your code to production where it can be deployed at the push of a button. Or this happens automatically, if you use continuous deployment. 

Goals of Continuous Delivery

One of the main goals of continuous delivery is to prepare your software for deployment into its production environment. Thus, reducing the probability of an error upon release. 

Another goal is to streamline the test/build process, and to free up your developers for more creative work.

Benefits of Continuous Delivery

The benefits of continuous delivery lie primarily in the productivity and quality boosts that it has to offer. Its automated testing allows for less human intervention, allowing your developers to focus their attention on devising innovative solutions and writing better code. This improves employee satisfaction and productivity by removing the tedious tasks of manual testing from their workload. It also reduces the probability of human error.

The repeated testing of shorter chunks of code also leads to more feedback loops, giving developers more opportunities to identify areas for improvement. This is so that they can build a better product. The shorter feedback loops also make remediation easier, as errors are caught before they lead to bigger problems. 

Make the Right Choice for Your Business

If you’re at the earliest stages of a project, you may be able to deploy each code change to its production environment as you go, developing your testing strategies along the way. If you’re further along, it may be better to focus on CI and delivery first.

Either way, implementing a fully automated CI/CD pipeline requires both continuous delivery and continuous development. Both have their own unique benefits, and both can make your development process more efficient. 

At Ranorex, we offer automated testing solutions that power both continuous delivery and development. Our software enables you to bring your product to launch faster, meets your automation KPIs, and reduces your overhead, saving you valuable time and money on your testing. 

Check out our test automation tools today, and bring your CI/CD pipeline — and your release times — up to speed. 

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