An example repo in Ruby for continuous integration with Travis CI
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An example repo in Ruby for continuous integration with Travis CI

About continuous integration

This is an extremely simple introduction to automation of builds, tests and continuous integration. Feel free to improve or correct it by forking the project and making a pull request.


This may seem obvious, so skip this section if you are already familiar with the concept of build.

When you're developing a code-based project, making a build means the generation of an executable or other form of prepared package out of your code, including any tests that may be used to check its proper operation.

Thus, a build is successful if an executable can be generated and it passes all the tests. Otherwise, we say that the build failed.

Usually the final form of the program (your executable or package) at any point in time is called a build of the program, and can be assigned a number (the build number).

Build automation

Instead of using the command shell to compile and link programs, build automation allows us to automatically do that task. For example, Makefiles are scripts that state how a project must be built out of source code. This enables developers to just run make and forget about compilation lines. There are tools that automate the creation of these Makefiles as well.

After the building system is established, developers can use these types of automation:

  • On-demand: manually running the script (such as a Makefile).
  • Scheduled: automatically building according to a schedule.
  • Triggered: building whenever changes are made in the source code.

Test automation

Tests for a software project must be exhaustive, that is, they must check every path the program could follow. For this task, developers can create a series of tests based on expectations, so that they run in each build of the program, checking each time that the program is producing the desired output.

Tests are so important there exists an entire methodology for development based on them, aptly called Test-driven development. In this type of methodologies, devs first write a set of tests and then write code, repeatedly checking its functioning and closing the cycle when their code passes every test. Automated tests allow for this type of methodologies to be fast-paced and reliable.

Continuous integration

Continuous integration implies that developers frequently merge changes into the main copy of the project (for example, the master branch of the repository on Github).

Continuous integration builds on test automation in that these merges are made possible by automating tests to check that developing code will not break another copy. Tests are run on a server when it detects a new commit.

This also allows to automatic (scheduled or triggered) regeneration of documentation and measurement of performance.

Travis CI

Travis CI is a hosted continuous integration service providing free build and test automation for public Github repositories.

By signing in with your Github account on you can turn on push tracking on any of your repositories, and configure the build process with a .travis.yml file.

You can learn how to write these configuration files for each language in the documentation.


Wikipedia 1, 2, 3