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November 12, 2021

Continuous Delivery vs. Deployment: How They're Different + When to Use Each

DevOps
Infrastructure Automation

Continuous delivery and continuous deployment are both common terms in DevOps. They're both used to deliver software and IT faster and more reliably. They're both related – in fact, you could even say they're iterative – but they're distinct parts of a DevOps approach.

Read on to learn the differences between continuous delivery and continuous deployment, what makes them essential to DevOps at scale, how they're used to increase efficiency, how they reduce errors and busy work, and why automation is essential to both.

Table of Contents

What's the Difference Between Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment?

Continuous delivery automates deployment of a release to an environment for staging or testing. Continuous deployment automatically deploys every release through your pipeline (including testing) and to production.

While they are different, continuous deployment is an extension of the continuous delivery concept. That is to say, releases that are moved forward using continuous delivery can eventually be deployed using continuous deployment. You can look at continuous deployment as a more fully automated release process that needs no manual input, which makes the strength of your testing process much more important when you adopt continuous deployment.

It's easier to understand the differences between continuous delivery and deployment when you consider what place each actually has in your DevOps approach:

What Continuous Delivery Does

  • Continuous delivery automatically deploys releases to a testing or staging environment.
  • Continuous delivery does require human intervention to deploy a release from staging to production.
  • Continuous delivery does not automatically deploy code changes to production.

What Continuous Deployment Does

  • Continuous deployment automatically deploys releases from building through testing and into production.
  • Continuous deployment doesn't require human intervention.
  • Continuous deployment doesn't ensure your testing culture and protocol is up to snuff. It simply looks for a checked box and, if it finds the box is checked, deploys the release to production and beyond.

The Difference Between Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment

The main difference between continuous integration and continuous delivery is how far they go in the DevOps workflow. Continuous integration integrates code changes to catch errors before production; continuous delivery tests and deploys code straight through to production.

Continuous integration takes all the changes developers make on their separate branches of the codebase and merges them into a single repository. There, it builds, tests, and analyzes the code, and devs can collaborate on any issues it finds.

Continuous integration automation can work patches and updates into a single environment. That simplifies the testing process and increases testing frequency.

The Benefits of Continuous Delivery vs. Deployment

Both continuous delivery and deployment have a place in DevOps. It's not so much a matter of which is "better" or "worse" and more about which is right for your infrastructure. Both have significant benefits for software development and operations.

Smoother Releases

Automating testing and deployment with continuous delivery and deployment means releases can happen with the push of a button, rather than taking days to plan for and execute. And with continuous delivery, since every change is delivered to a staging environment using complete IT automation, you can have confidence the application can be deployed to production with a push of a button when it's ready.

More Frequent Releases

Continuous delivery and deployment compress the time between releases, letting you speed up a feedback loop with customers to improve quality faster with every iteration. And when iterations can happen daily, rather than monthly or even less frequently, customers can stay up-to-date with the latest and highest-quality version of the software.

Safer Releases

Continuous delivery sticks a manual approval stage before deployment to production. But even continuous deployment, which automates the whole release all the way through testing, can ensure more reliable releases, provided you've got strong testing tools, strategy, and culture. Since automated processes like continuous delivery and deployment work in smaller change batches, issues in each release are easier to remediate than the code changes pushed out with infrequent, mammoth-sized manual releases.

Less Manual Work

With continuous delivery and deployment, development sees changes live in minutes. Less time spent deploying and testing = more time spent increasing release quality.

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Continuous Delivery vs. Deployment: What Level of Automation is Right for Your Organization?

Automation reduces the amount of human intervention in any process. And the release process, common to all DevOps, is one area in which automation is a no-brainer. And the extent of that automation is up to each organization or business and dependent on what their infrastructure really needs.

For example, maybe you need to reduce time spent on releases, but your QA isn't quite ready to automate testing. Or maybe your DevOps processes have quality on lock and you just want to find new efficiencies in the release process.

Conclusion

Here's a quick recap of what we covered in this blog article:

  • Continuous integration automates the build, test, and integration stages so that code changes don't affect codebase stability.
  • Continuous delivery automatically sends a release to a staging or testing environment before production.
  • Continuous deployment tests and code straight to production and end users.
  • The difference between continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment is in how far each process goes to integrate, test, and deploy code through the DevOps cycle.

Whatever your automation readiness, Puppet is there with the right infrastructure and IT automation solution at any scale. Which is why you should see if it works for you, for free:

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This blog was originally published on August 30, 2013 and has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.

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