How to Use Continuous Integration to Streamline Your Mobile App Maintenance

With the popularity of mobile apps on the rise, developers need to come up with ways to optimize the app development process.

If you’ve been through this before, you know how much time and effort it takes to launch a successful app.

One of the best ways to efficiently build and maintain your app is through a process called continuous integration (CI).

CI automates the building process through testing code every time something gets changed to a version.

It allows team members who are working on an app to do so in isolation without any issues.

When multiple developers work on code without continuous integration, there can be problems when all of these different sets of code get pieced together.

That’s how bugs, glitches, crashes, and other issues happen.

But with CI, the new code versions have to pass through a series of tests within the CI platform.

If the code passes the test, then any changes get implemented to the app automatically at a specified time.

Alternatively, some companies choose to have changes get screened by a quality assurance analyst as well before they are finalized.

Either way, the tests are run on the code for each version of the app.

Everyone loves CI.

CI simplifies the building process but also makes it easier for developers to perform regular maintenance on the app as well, even after it launches.

The CI process reduces risk if you have multiple developers coding the app at the same time.

Development teams who don’t work using continuous integration know the frustration and risk that I’m referring to.

If you’ve heard of continuous integration before but you’re not quite sure if you should be using it, I’ll explain how it can help you out.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why CI?

So now that you know what CI does, here’s a visual representation to show you how it works.

As you can see, the process allows multiple people and departments to work in harmony simultaneously.

It doesn’t matter which platform your app is getting launched on. CI can help you create a more efficient process whether you have an Android or iOS app.

Just like any other business, time is money.

But this is especially true for the app industry, especially if you’re hiring outside developers to work on your app.

Even if your development team consists of company employees, you still want to maximize the efficiency of their time.

CI speeds up the development and maintenance of your app with automation.

Your developers will spend less time trying to figure out what’s wrong with coding issues, that way they can spend more time focusing on improving the app and its functions.

Let’s take a step back for a minute here.

Think about the big picture.

Sometimes when you’re so focused on specific tasks, you forget why you’re doing something in the first place.

Ultimately, your app needs to make money.

You can’t make any money if nobody is downloading and using your app.

Well, CI limit problems with the performance of your app.

So your users will have an enhanced experience.

In turn, this will improve your app store ratings, which lead to more downloads and more happy users.

Look what happens if a user has a poor experience with your app.

For the most part, this is all bad news for your business.

But with CI, your developers will be able to identify and fix any problems faster.

This means your app will always see constant improvements.

CI helps increase the response time and turnaround for anything that needs to be done from the coding and development side of your app.

Whether your app is in the pre-launch stages or has been out for years, CI can make your life much easier.

Stages of CI

Continuous integration can be broken down into seven different stages.

I’ll go through each stage to give you a better understanding of the entire process works.

Code

The code is the backbone of your mobile app. As we said earlier, you may have multiple developers on your team writing code.

Code gets written during the development stages and continues to get written whenever your app is going through regular maintenance.

You’re also going to write code for the CI components. This prepares the automatomation for the subsequent stages.

The goal here is to try and minimize the amount of manual steps.

Build

Now you’re going to build the app. Once your app is built, any updates or changes would fall into this stage as well.

The building process will happen every day, potentially from multiple developers.

After the developers finish their work for the day, they add their section of the code to the CI application. From here, the CI server builds the app from the automated rules set in place.

Once all of the code is combined, the output is a URL.

Test

After all of the different coding components are put together in the CI platform, it’s time to see how the app is performing with the new additions and updates.

Your continuous integration software will give you reports about how the app is performing with some other useful analytics.

However, a quality assurance representative may also be involved with the testing procedure, just to make sure the changes are acceptable.

With that said, CI will make the testing process much easier than you’re used to.

You’ll notice that there will be far fewer issues with combining code from multiple developers because the CI system sorts out those issues before the output is released.

Package

After you finish running the quality and performance tests, you’ll need to get ready to deploy your app.

This applies to brand new apps that haven’t been launched yet, as well as existing apps that are going to have a new version released.

Release

Apply the new URL for your app onto the device for release.

Confirm that all of the automated steps were properly taken before your proceed with the release.

Uninstall the previous builds of your apps and then install the newest version.

You’ll need to do this for iOS and Android if your app is available on both platforms.

Configure

Configure your infrastructure.

You’ll also need to format the management and coding tools.

This will allow certain people to continuously access the CI platform and make changes to your app after it’s live.

You may decide to restrict access to certain developers after the app is built.

Monitor

Once the app is up and running, you’ll still need to monitor the performance.

If you want the app to be successful, you need to prioritize the user experience.

Make sure any additional code that gets written to improve your app goes through the CI steps.

This will help reduce the chances of any problems or bugs. It’s also easier on the developers and quality assurance agents.

What you need to integrate CI workflow into your development

People spend the majority of their mobile app time on just a few apps.

So if your app isn’t performing well, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to compete with the top apps on user devices.

CI can help maximize the performance of your app.

But as you can see from the different stages that we just outlined above, it’s not necessarily the simplest process.

You need three things to successfully integrate a CI workflow into your app development.

  1. Discipline
  2. Discipline
  3. Discipline

You can’t skip steps. If you want continuous integration to work, you must trust the process.

While it may take you some time to set up all of the rules for the automated process and get your team on board, it will make everyone’s life easier in the long run.

Even with all of these helpful tools, there’s still room for error. So if you’re not disciplined, then your app and development won’t be reaching its full potential in terms of efficiency.

Popular CI methodologies and tools

The Agile methodology is a popular way to apply CI into your mobile app development process.

This is the official name for what we’ve been describing the whole time here.

Developers don’t need to work on each coding stage at separate times in a specific order.

Instead, smaller projects are assigned to different developers who are all working towards the same goal.

Everyone has their deadlines to meet, whether it’s on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Once work is complete, it gets tested with the CI system. This allows you to discover bugs throughout the process as opposed to trying to figure out problems all at once.

Jenkins is a popular continuous integration tool used by mobile app developers.

The reason why it’s so popular is because they simplified a process that’s somewhat complicated.

You have the option to use their platform as a CI server as well as a hub for continuous delivery.

It’s easy to install this tool on both Mac OS X and Windows devices.

You can also find plugins available in the Jenkins Update Center. These plugins and additional tools can be integrated with Jenkins to customize your CI process.

Work can be done on multiple machines and platforms from different developers.

The building, testing, and deployment stages of your continuous integration can all be managed from the Jenkins tool.

At its core, Jenkins is a Java application.

It monitors and completes projects through automation of a specific task.

This tool can also test all of your code before deployment, which reduces the risk of any problems.

In the event that a certain test fails, Jenkins will notify the members of your team who are working on the project.

That way it can be resolved ASAP, rather than you finding out about the issue hours or even days later.

If you’ve never used a CI tool, Jenkins is a great place to start.

Departments who benefit from CI

Developers will benefit the most from continuous integration.

That’s because CI just makes their jobs so much easier.

As you can see from everything that we’ve discussed so far, it allows your development team to work without running into as many coding problems.

Everyone can work on different tasks and not have to be concerned with bugs and bottleneck issues when all of the code gets combined.

That’s because the CI system tests the code for any issues ahead of time before it gets applied to the app.

Developers are also able to get feedback that’s instantaneous because of the automation involved in the CI process.

This feedback makes it easy for a developer to figure out any code or issues that need immediate attention.

CI systems provide complete logs of the tests as well as hardware optimization information.

You’ll even have access to screenshots and videos from specific tests.

Developers use these tools as a guide whenever they’re fixing problems with the app.

CI also allows your quality assurance (QA) manager to work together with your developers.

So anyone who works in your QA department will have an easier job as well based on the CI.

The same goes for any other managers who are overseeing the development and coding process.

That’s because the CI system can do work for them, even outside of their normal office hours.

It’s normally the responsibility of QA to do the testing, frameworks, and test scripts.

So the reports generated from the CI helps save them a ton of time.

This results in improved productivity and increased quality.

It will also save you money.

You may not need to hire as many people to work on QA if you’re using CI.

So as a business owner, you are also seeing all of the direct benefits as well.

Conclusion

Continuous integration is a great way to expedite the mobile app building process.

It will make life easier for your developers and quality assurance managers.

Ultimately, it speeds up development time and minimizes coding errors.

This translates to a more efficient user experience and lower costs for you.

However, CI requires dedication, patience, and discipline.

Otherwise, the system won’t be as effective and will end up becoming a cluster of confusion.

How will you use continuous integration to speed up your mobile app development process?

Ian Blair :BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.