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12/21/2023
10 minutes

A Guide to DevOps Branching Strategies

Written by
Cassia Wallach
Table of contents

Introduction

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, DevOps are finding it increasingly necessary to streamline their software delivery lifecycles. One key aspect of an optimized and streamlined DevOps process is branching, which involves creating separate parallel code bases for different features or bug fixes. Branching can be a powerful way to manage changes and ensure that teams can work on separate components without interfering with one another. Even so, there are several different branching strategies teams must consider, and choosing the right one will determine a project’s success or failure.

In this guide, we will explore the fundamental principles of DevOps branching strategies, the types of branching models available, the pros and cons of each model, best practices for implementing effective branching workflows, and tools for managing branching models in DevOps. Let’s get to it.

Defining Branching in DevOps

Put simply, branching is the practice of creating new code branches for different versions of a software project. It's an efficient way to organize code changes into logical groupings that can be managed and merged back together. In DevOps, branching is critical to managing the flow of code changes between different environments, team members, and software versions while allowing developers to work on separate features simultaneously without interfering with each other's work. In short, a successful branching strategy results in a higher rate of efficiency. 

Key Principles of Branching Strategies

Several fundamental principles should be considered when choosing a branching strategy suitable for your team. First, you must strike a balance between isolation and integration.

Firstly, isolation allows developers to work independently on different features but can also lead to conflicts when merging back into the mainline development codebase.

Integration ensures that changes are continuously integrated with the main codebase. However, this can also lead to conflicts when multiple developers are working on the same feature.

Another critical principle is simplicity. Complex DevOps branching strategies can be challenging to manage and will occasionally lead to confusion among team members. Choosing a straightforward and easy-to-understand approach for everyone on the team is vital.

Types of Branching Models

Several types of branching models can be used in DevOps, each with associated pros and cons. One of the most commonly used branching strategies is Trunk-Based Development, which involves keeping a single main codebase and creating short-lived branches for specific features or bug fixes. This model emphasizes continuous integration and ensures that components are integrated quickly into the main codebase. 

Another widely used model is Feature Branching. This form of branching permits the creation of separate, long-lived branches for each feature while also allowing developers to work independently on different parts. However, it’s worth noting that feature branching can lead to conflicts when merging back into the main codebase. Other models include Release Branching, the centralized model, and Git Workflow in DevOps.

Pros and Cons of Branching Strategies

The benefits of DevOps branching strategies are numerous, including easier code management, better collaboration, more straightforward code review, and the ability to work on multiple versions simultaneously. However, branching can also result in unnecessary conflicts and frustrating merge issues. Without the proper tools and processes, DevOps teams will struggle. Below, we’ve outlined some specific pros and cons that apply to the two most common models: Trunk-Based Development and Feature Branching.

Implementing Effective Branching Workflows

Implementing effective branching workflows results in a smooth, straightforward, and refreshingly efficient development process. That said, the choice of branching strategy significantly impacts collaboration, code stability, and release management in DevOps teams. 

One critical consideration is aligning the branching model with a project’s needs. For example, Trunk-Based Development (TBD) offers simplicity and encourages continuous integration by having all developers work on a single main branch. Conversely, the Feature Branch Model allows for isolated development but requires meticulous management to prevent long-lived branches from causing integration complexities. 

Assessing the team's size, project complexity, and release cadence is pivotal to choosing the most suitable branching strategy. Success in this area comes from fostering a culture of disciplined branching practices, frequent code integration, and robust Salesforce automated testing. Effective branching workflows also balance the need for collaboration and isolation while facilitating a seamless development cycle and maintaining code stability. If your DevOps team can follow this methodology, consistent success will be just around the corner. 

Best Practices for DevOps Branching

There are several best practice principles to follow when conducting branching in DevOps, all of which increase the chances of both short and long-term success. These include:

Short-Lived Feature Branches

If your team is using feature branches, emphasize their short lifespan. Always encourage developers to merge changes frequently into the main branch to reduce integration complexities.

Release Branches and Versioning

Create release branches when preparing for production deployments. These branches help stabilize the codebase for release while allowing ongoing development to continue on the main branch.

Documentation and Communication

Maintain clear documentation outlining DevOps branching strategies and guidelines and encourage effective communication among team members to align on branching workflows and changes.

Automated Testing

Implement robust automated testing suites for each commit or merge to the main branch. This ensures the mainline development code remains stable, prevents regressions, and identifies issues early.

Iterative Improvement

Continuously evaluate and refine branching strategies based on team feedback, efficiency metrics, and evolving project requirements. Moving forward, embrace a culture of continuous improvement in your team’s DevOps practices.

Pull/Merge Requests and Code Reviews

Mandate code reviews as part of the merge process. Use pull or merge requests to facilitate reviews, guaranteeing code quality and knowledge sharing within the team.

Monitoring and Rollback Procedures

Implement monitoring tools and rollback procedures to address issues introduced by new changes swiftly. This ensures the ability to revert problematic changes without significant disruptions.

Adopting these best practices in DevOps branching fosters a cohesive and streamlined development pipeline, promoting collaboration, stability, and agility. The result is the delivery of high-quality software with higher efficiency and reliability. When deep in the heart of development, this added cutting-edge is invaluable.

Tools for Managing Branching in DevOps

Various tools are available that help delivery teams implement effective version control strategies and branching models in DevOps. These tools include:

  • Version control
  • Repository tools (such as Github, Bitbucket, and ADO)
  • DevOps tools (such as Jenkins or Copado)

All of these systems serve various purposes within the DevOps lifecycle, from version control and collaborative development to Salesforce business process automation and deployment. DevOps teams can then build, test, and deliver software with unparalleled effectiveness. The selection of tools often depends on specific project needs too, including team preferences and integration requirements within the DevOps pipeline.

Conclusion 

No matter the size or complexity of your project, proper branching and version control strategies will help you deliver the highest-quality software quickly and reliably. By leveraging the right tools within their DevOps pipeline, teams can produce efficient delivery with minimal risk. With all that said, always take the time to evaluate each of your options carefully and assess which will best meet your needs while following our best practices for branching in DevOps.

If you’re interested in integrating high-performance DevOps tools into your branching models, as well as CI/CD for Salesforce, Copado could be the perfect choice for you. 

Book a demo with one of our expert team members today, who will take you through some prime examples of our unique Salesforce DevOps solution.

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About The Author

Product Marketing Manager, CICD

With a background in Salesforce Delivery Consulting at IBM, Cassia has had a lot of experience with the value that a good DevOps process and strategy can bring to a team and the pain that process inefficiencies and decentralized tooling can cause. Since joining Copado as a Sales Engineer almost two years ago, the author has worked closely with numerous prospects - many of whom had encountered challenges from out-of-sync Sandboxes. Drawing on her Salesforce knowledge and hands-on experience with Sandbox management, the author provides readers with practical tips and advice on revamping, streamlining, and maintaining synchronicity throughout their pipeline(s).

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