Database Continuous Integration Guide

What is database continuous integration?

To deliver new software experiences more quickly to market, companies have spent the last decade trying to modernize the way they build and deliver software. A key part of this modernization effort has been focused on bringing continuous integration and continuous delivery practices into the organization. The aim of database continuous integration is rapid integration of database schema and logic changes into application development efforts and to provide immediate feedback to developers on any issues that arise. As a further evolution, database continuous delivery seeks to produce releasable database code in short, incremental cycles. The goal of these practices is to reduce time to market and create a steady stream of end user value with frequent, high-quality software releases.

While many tools have focused on bringing continuous integration and continuous delivery to application code, the same has not happened for database code (see Figure 1). Many organizations still rely on a shared service database team that is responsible for manually reviewing and manually deploying database code changes. Given that the end user experience is incomplete without the full software stack, which includes both the application and the database, there has been growing interest and demand in continuous integration and delivery tools for the database as well.

Continuous Integration

Figure 1. Continuous Integration: Before Database Deployment Automaton


How does database continuous integration tools impact database deployments?

As previously stated, the aim of database continuous integration tools is to bring the same integration and deployment best practices to the database and enable SQL code to flow through the software release pipeline, synchronized with application code (see Figure 2). By aligning database deployments with application deployments, teams will realize much better return on their investments in the tooling and process updates to bring new innovations to market more quickly and with higher quality.

Figure 2. Continuous Integration: After Database Deployment Automaton

Database Continuous Integration and Database Deployment Best Practices

Many of the best practices that apply to application continuous integration and delivery tools readily apply to the database as well. These database deployment best practices include:

Tracking Database Code Changes:

Database code changes should be tracked in the same source or version control system as application code. It’s important that database code is not treated separately or tracked in an entirely different system. A separate system for database code leads to duplicated effort, lack of visibility, and confusion and errors as application and database code begin to drift and get misaligned. Automated database deployment tools like Datical allow teams to push database code into the source or version control solution that is already in place for application code.

Automated Database Code Validation and Feedback:

Once application code is checked in, a series of automated test are immediately triggered to assess if there are any issues in the code that warrant re-work. The same isn’t the case for database code. In fact, one of the biggest challenges in accelerating database deployments is eliminating the manual SQL code review that DBAs must perform.

This tedious manual effort can and should be largely eliminated by intelligent automation, so that developers can get immediate feedback on SQL code – just as they do with application code – and avoid a long wait state in which they move on to a different task. This inefficiency in feedback causes large delays in database deployments and contributes to poor quality as developers are forced to context switch to make fixes on SQL code changes that they wrote days or weeks ago.

To properly automate the validation of database code, it’s necessary for a database deployment automation solution to have an object-model of the proposed SQL code change. Otherwise, functional rules, such as ensuring that all tables should have a primary key or unique constraint, cannot easily be validated – and will end up requiring manual attention from the DBA – which also means developers don’t get immediate feedback on changes.

Datical’s Dynamic Rules Engine is unique in that it is an object-based rules engine that can be easily extended, and which truly eliminates much of the tedious DBA review otherwise required. Be wary to stay away from simple, regular-expression based rules systems – it’s impossible for these systems to functionally validate the common organizational rules and standards that DBAs end up spending much of their time and energy on, instead of making progress on more critical value-add projects such as performance tuning, data architecture, high availability strategy, system upgrade planning and more.

Packaging Database Code:

An important DevOps mantra is to “build once, deploy often.” Effectively all continuous integration tools allow application code to be built into an immutable package for consistent, repeatable, and predictable downstream deployment. Should anything go wrong, it’s errors can immediately be traced either to the application code or the environment when working with an immutable artifact. Database continuous integration tools bring this same advancement to database code. As an example, Datical’s Database Code Packager creates an immutable, idempotent artifact from validated database code so that automated database deployments can benefit from the same consistency, repeatability, and predictability as application code releases.

Providing Visibility into Database State:

Another key DevOps tenant is to “amplify feedback.” Continuous integration solutions focus on providing visibility and feedback readily and immediately. As such, a database continuous integration solution should have an accessible web interface so that all stakeholders can quickly understand the status of every database. Furthermore, it’s important for the solution to integrate with ticketing systems such as JIRA and TFS, and to support parallel development strategies commonly found across enterprise development teams.

Database deployment automation tools like Datical provide a web interface and have labelling systems that integrate with ticketing solutions to provide necessary visibility and feedback to appropriate stakeholders. With Datical, all database code changes can be traced back to source code control and can be quickly linked to the business value that they are meant to deliver.

Database Continuous Integration and Database Deployment Automation Tools

There are four categories of tools you should have in your automation framework to achieve database continuous integration:

Database Development Tools

When you think of database deployment automation tools, it’s unlikely you’ll consider application development tools as part of that category. However, it’s important that all your tooling works together to achieve database continuous integration. Just as application development tools have grown to integrate with continuous integration solutions, the same is true for database development tools as well.

Quest Software’s Toad has some great features for supporting Agile database development. The first is its Team Coding functionality. Databases are different than the application and have state. Thus, having a database instance to develop against as part of a team is key. Toad’s Team Coding allows users to leverage existing Source Code Control (like Git, Subversion, others) and a live database to support database developers. Not only can they check in and out their SQL scripts, but they can do so with the database objects like tables and stored procedures, as well.

Database Release Automation Tools

Beyond an appropriate development tool, database continuous integration requires a database release automation solution. Database release automation tools like Datical deliver automated validation, build, test, and deployment of database changes. These core capabilities ensure that any database code pushed to source code control is pulled out into a continuous integration process that can provide developers with near immediate feedback. With a database release automation solution, software teams can consistently deliver a continuous stream of value to end users without getting slowed down by database deployments.

Application Release Automation Tools

As organizations add new features and enhance existing capabilities to their software, the number of components and the complexity of the software stack have only grown. As new trends such as microservices, containers, and other technologies and techniques emerge that allow functional isolation and which avoid single points of failure, orchestrating and aligning the release of all the necessary components requires application release automation (ARA). Tools like CA’s Release Automation, IBM’s UrbanCode Deploy, Serena’s Deployment Automation from MicroFocus, and XebiaLab’s XL Deploy integrate with Database Release Automation solutions like Datical to enable continuous integration for the full software stack.

Test Data Management Tools

Lastly, a key trend in software development is test-driven development, in which the continuous integration process is enhanced with production-quality test data. It’s common for applications to change functionality based on the data stored in the database. Consequently, providing data that mirrors (or matches) production data is essential to a database continuous integration process that can generate high-quality test output.

DevOps Tools like CA’s TDM, Delphix Data Virtualization and IBM’s Optim, populate test databases with data. Some solutions, such as Delphix, allow users to request masked self-service copies of production databases for integrated testing environments.


Continuous integration and continuous delivery are best practices for accelerating the speed and quality of application code changes. Similarly, database continuous integration is important in accelerating the database release process while reducing risk. By including a database release automation solution and adding database continuous integration to your existing application delivery toolchain and process, you can begin to increase the pace and quality at which the entire software stack – including both the application and database – can be delivered to market.

Seeing is believing.