The DevOps model was created to improve collaboration between development and operations teams to produce better software for the customer. To create applications at scale, engineers divide tasks between multiple team members so they can collectively code the full feature.

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However, this labor-saving strategy encounters friction when changes conflict, requiring additional steps to integrate code. This costs time and is a common source of frustration for developers who often refer to this roadblock as "merge hell."

Continuous integration (CI) solves this pain point by frequently integrating code — typically once or more each day — so that any conflicts that do occur will be simpler and easier to resolve. CI also involves automated testing to verify the code meets requirements and to catch bugs sooner. A development workflow that follows the CI model is known as a CI pipeline.

Continuous integration diagram showing coding, merge, build, test, report, and release phases in loop

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If your development team has never implemented a CI pipeline before, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately, there are CI tools to orchestrate the process and automate manual tasks taking up your engineers' time.

What are continuous integration tools?

CI tools are applications designed to automate the merge, build, and testing phases of the development process. They are typically triggered by commits to the codebase and integrate with version control systems and code repositories as well as other DevOps tools.

CI tools enable DevOps teams to achieve the benefits of a CI approach. These advantages include avoiding merge conflicts, catching bugs earlier in the cycle, automating manual tasks, increasing software quality, and speeding up development. A CI pipeline that relies entirely on human intervention for each step cannot offer all the benefits that come with automation of the development pipeline.Continuous integration vs continuous delivery vs continuous deployment diagram showing differences between approaches

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It's worth noting that most CI tools will also support the next phases of development once the application has cleared the automated testing stage. Organizations implement CI as the first step to building a full CI/CD pipeline.

CD can either stand for continuous delivery, where the pipeline is automated up to the point of deployment, or continuous deployment, where the entire workflow is automated through deployment to the customer. In either approach, the goal is to reduce the amount of manual work for the operations and quality assurance teams before rolling out new software.

This video from RealToughCandy overviews five free CI/CD tools available:

Let's walk through the 10 best CI tools available for your DevOps pipeline.

1. Jenkins

Price: Free

Jenkins Testing UI

Jenkins is an open-source CI server for automating the build and testing processes. It is supported on Windows, Mac, and Unix machines and is based in Java. Jenkins is widely customizable through its hundreds of plugins and supports distributed workloads across multiple machines to improve performance and deliver results faster.

What we like:

  • Completely free
  • Jenkins is well known and widely used
  • Hundreds of plugins to integrate with other tools in your pipeline

2. CircleCI

Price: Free with paid plans available

CircleCI UI

CircleCI is a CI tool built to offer both flexibility and scalability to development teams. It focuses on performance through features such as parallel task execution to speed up building and testing applications. CircleCI offers an intuitive interface with customizable features and is available in both on-premise and cloud configurations.

What we like:

  • Optimized performance
  • Focus on security and compliance
  • Advanced interface for managing pipeline workflows

3. TeamCity

Price: Free with paid plans available

TeamCity project dashboard

TeamCity is a powerful CI platform tailored to support DevOps pipelines. The tool integrates with development environments to offer build and test capabilities before committing the code, streamlining the integration process. TeamCity also provides real-time reporting when tests fail rather than waiting for all tests to finish before displaying results. Finally, it offers test intelligence to identify the exact commits that caused the test to fail.

What we like:

  • Easy installation and setup
  • Support for parallel execution to expedite processes
  • Test intelligence to identify unstable tests and speed debugging

4. Travis CI

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

Travis CI UI

Travis CI is a SaaS platform built to support open-source projects. It is built to deploy on-premise or as a serverless cloud service for on-demand scaling. The platform supports pull request-based workflows and automatically backs up the last build in case a new build fails to aid disaster recovery and avoid disruptions.

What we like:

  • Free testing for open-source projects
  • Support for more than 30 languages
  • Quick setup

5. Buddy

Price: Free with paid plans available

Buddy actions sequence

Buddy is a web-based automation platform with a special focus on DevOps workflows. The tool is built for ease of use with an intuitive interface and workflow orchestration. In addition, the development team releases new features every week, so Buddy's capabilities are constantly expanding. Buddy leverages smart change detection, caching, and parallelism to expedite the entire CI pipeline.

What we like:

  • Simplified workflows and orchestration
  • Features optimized for performance and speed
  • 20 build environments for popular languages and frameworks

Best continuous integration tools diagram showing Jenkins, Buddy, Bamboo, CircleCI, TeamCity, Travis CI, Buildbot, GitLab, GoCD, and Cruise Control logos

6. GitLab

Price: Free with paid plans available

GitLab Pipelines UI

GitLab is a DevOps platform with built-in support for CI/CD processes. It is user friendly with an intuitive UI and APIs to easily connect and integrate GitLab services with the rest of your toolstack. GitLab also focuses on security and compliance for projects to protect confidential data and source code.

What we like:

  • Seamless project integration
  • Support for parallel builds across distributed machines
  • New features released monthly

7. Bamboo

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

Bamboo Dashboard

Bamboo is a CI tool from Atlassian that offers both self-hosted and cloud options. It integrates seamlessly with Jira, Bitbucket, and other Atlassian tools on top of an extensive marketplace of plugins for additional functionality. Unlike similar platforms, Bamboo uses a drag-and-drop interface to easily configure CI pipelines and orchestrate development workflows.

What we like:

  • Drag-and-drop interface for ease of use
  • Integration with Atlassian tool suite
  • Workflow automation and built-in disaster recovery

8. Buildbot

Price: Free

Buildbot UI

Buildbot is an open-source tool built to automate the CI workflow. It functions off a central master that detects changes in source repositories, assigns tasks to workers, and reports the results. This workflow is dictated by a Python configuration script provided by the user, allowing you to define customized workflows to match the complexity of your use case, such as testing an application written in two or more languages.

What we like:

  • Completely free
  • Compatible across all major OSs
  • Customizable to support unique applications

9. Cruise Control

Price: Free

Cruise Control dashboard

Cruise Control is an open-source CI tool that offers an extensible framework with dozens of plugins and third-party tools to orchestrate a custom workflow. Cruise Control offers a web interface to view the status of builds, and it integrates with a wide range of version control systems such as Git, SVN, VSS, and more.

What we like:

  • Completely free
  • Plugins and external tools expand the functionality
  • Open-source and extensible

10. GoCD

Price: Free

GoCD Value Stream Map

GoCD is an open-source CI/CD server that models and visualizes complex workflows with ease. GoCD's Value Stream Map offers real-time visualizations of where your projects are in the pipeline and increases efficiency with parallel execution and dependency management. GoCD has additional support for user authentication, and it offers tracking and diff comparisons to streamline the debugging process.

What we like:

  • Completely free
  • Plugin API enables custom plugin creation
  • Advanced traceability for debugging

Use continuous integration tools to build your CI/CD pipeline.

CI is the bedrock of an automated development workflow. A CI pipeline prevents common development pitfalls, speeds project turnaround time, and improves employee satisfaction and productivity. With the right CI tools to lay the foundation, your organization is well positioned to build a full CI/CD pipeline, extending these benefits to the quality assurance and operations team to achieve even greater efficiencies.

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Originally published Feb 21, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated February 21 2022

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