Decoding Pipeline as Code (With Jenkins)

The growing focus on decentralizing the application building process through techniques such as micro frontends and microservices has propelled the need for revamped engineering practices that can manage pipelines as code. Primarily because pipeline-as-code can help speed up the process of building and progressively delivering software without compromising on consistency. The delivery pipeline templates that can standardize the way services and applications are built and deployed are a result of these changing requirements of the tech industry.

Pipeline as code technique rests on the paradigm that delivery pipeline configuration which builds, tests, deploys applications, and software infrastructure must be treated as code. As such, these must be categorized as source control and broken into modules of reusable components through automated testing and deployment.

Different tools, today, are adopting this blueprint of pipeline-as-code to execute tasks at different stages of a delivery lifecycle – building, testing and deployment. In that sense, it can be considered as the up and coming backbone of the CI/CD approach.

What is Pipeline-as-Code?

Pipeline-as-code can be best defined as an approach of writing a deployment pipeline as code and categorizing it under source control. The history of the pipeline, thus, created is stored centrally and can be tracked easily. This technique eliminates the need for the traditional approach of manually creating and managing the deployment of a CI/CD pipeline.

Today, CI/CD tools and deployment pipelines are mainstream practices. The existence of pipeline-as-code is fast becoming a baseline standard for seamless execution of CI/CD. This is because deployment pipelines typically comprise complex workflows. Any microservice architecture entails several such deployment pipelines that are more or less identical.

Pipeline-as-code allows users to define different pipelined processes using code, which is stored and processed in the source repository. This, in turn, makes it easier to access, run and manage jobs for multiple deployment pipelines used in the CI/CD process. Users can implement the entire build-test-deploy pipeline for a project using the Pipeline plugin, eliminating the need to manually create and manage different pipelines.

Evolution of Pipeline-as-Code

Infrastructure-as-code, which means expressing the infrastructure for a deployment pipeline in the form of code, has been one of the cornerstones of DevOps services. In its most nascent form, this technique entails separately defining individual jobs in multiple pipeline tasks using web forms, text boxes and manually selecting entries from drop-down options.

These individual jobs were intertwined – each triggering the next into action – thus, creating a pipeline. This widely used approach for creating and linking jobs for building a pipeline has myriad limitations and challenges. 

First and foremost, it goes against the very definition of infrastructure-as-code. The configurations of individual jobs used to be stored in the Jenkins configuration space in the XML format. This meant that these files could neither be read easily nor modified directly. As DevOps came into its own, more tools to implement infrastructure-as-code in its true earnest began to emerge.

How to Get Started Using Pipeline-as-Code?

The best approach to learn how you can use this scripted pipeline effectively is to download Jenkins, go through its several practical examples and then run it in a container. Write a line of code, then the next and then the next.

When you’re just starting, it is best to turn to the Jenkins website as a reference about the use of different syntax as well as the dynamic code generator. You can also refer to a Jenkins pipeline tutorial to understand the finer nuances of the implementation of pipeline-as-code.

To leverage this technique in the true sense, you must start by overhauling a functional UI-generated pipeline so that you get a point of reference about the expected behaviour and growth trajectory.

Your team must get the necessary training and access to credible resources to be able to adopt pipeline-as-code optimally because that’s where the future of CI/CD lies.

The program-based specifications of a pipeline are now a necessity to keep up with development taking place in multiple – often identical – pipeline and cater to their rapidly changing demands.

The best way to streamline the adoption and implementation of pipelines is to back it up with regular testing and supplement it with other beneficial software development practices. That way, you can rest assured that your CI/CD process will never grapple with bottlenecks interfering with quick deliveries.

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