What are Ephemeral Environments?
Ephemeral Environments help software teams optimize their development workflow by reducing the time required to develop, test, stage, demo, and debug new features and changes.
Ephemeral Environments can be created on-demand for various purposes, be it testing a specific git branch, debugging an issue, staging an upcoming release, or providing a demo to stakeholders. Unlike the persistent Staging or Production Environments, Ephemeral Environments are intended to be short-lived. Their lifecycle might be tied to an event, such as a pull request, or to a specific need, like a manual environment for debugging. They can be automatically created when a PR is opened and destroyed when the PR is merged or closed, or they may exist as long as they're required for a specific task, eventually timing out.
Ephemeral environments, distinct from traditional persistent environments, offer on-demand flexibility. Their use cases encompass:
- Individual developer environments
- Feature branch environments
- Pull request environments
- Testing environments
- Debugging/hotfix environments
- Release candidate environments
- Staging environments
Given their transient nature, Ephemeral Environments provide essential isolation for development and testing efforts, harmonizing perfectly with Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs).
Ephemeral Environments help software teams expedite their development processes. They enable rapid reviews, quick feedback, and facilitate iterative development cycles. By leveraging Ephemeral Environments, teams can establish best practices for code review, thereby reducing the workload on team leaders and maintainers.
Ephemeral Environments shift the paradigm towards testing earlier in the development process, making it significantly easier to identify issues, assign responsibility, and implement changes. They act as a quality gate, enabling features to be exhaustively tested and refined in isolation. This approach fosters feature parallelization and promotes the principle of “testing early and often.”
Ephemeral Environments bridge the space between local testing and Staging or Production Environments. They are crafted to test individual features, entire systems, or specific use cases in an environment that simulates production, inclusive of a full stack of services. Their existence is purpose-driven; they last only as long as they are needed for the task at hand, optimizing efficiency when deploying code changes.
In reality, Ephemeral Environments can be spawned due to various triggers: manual creation, pull requests, feature branches, or other development and testing needs.
These environments might be known by other names like preview environments, on-demand environments, scratch environments, environments-as-a-service (EaaS), pull request environments, or continuous previews, with the specifics of their implementation varying based on the scenario. Ephemeral Environments provide teams the flexibility to have as many test, development, or staging environments as needed, existing only for the required duration. They are invaluable not only to team leads and maintainers focusing on code quality and delivery speed but also serve as a versatile tool for developers, testers, product teams, and other stakeholders.
Platforms such as Netlify and Vercel have championed previews for front-end development and visual alterations. The broader concept of Ephemeral Environments extends this idea to backends, databases, APIs, CLIs, binaries, and microservices applications at large, acting not just as a tool for visually inspecting frontend changes, but also facilitating continuous end-to-end (e2e) testing through integration with CI pipelines and full-stack test frameworks. Uffizzi has been the leading platform in these types of use cases for ephemeral environments.
Indicators that Ephemeral Environments are a good fit for your team include:
- The speed of shipping is crucial for your operations.
- Delays are encountered due to unstable commits in main branches.
- Merging PRs/MRs takes a considerable amount of time.
- Team leads frequently test or debug code branches locally.
- "Code Freezes" disrupt your development cycle.
- Multiple developers access a shared test environment.
- Front-end previews exist, but there's no backend equivalent.
- Test queues hinder team members.
- Demoing a feature requires a dedicated environment, but provisioning is cumbersome.
- Engineers often liaise with Ops or DevOps teams for environment setups.
The benefits of incorporating Ephemeral Environments into your workflow are numerous:
- Increase Release Frequency: Ephemeral Environments accelerate feedback loops for every development stage, leading to faster reviews and acceptance testing.
- Decouple Developer Contributions: With isolated environments, once a feature is finalized, it can be released without concerns of unrelated bugs.
- Unburden Team Leads: Instead of pulling branches locally for reviews, team leads can view a running version, streamlining the review process.
- Catch Bugs Early: Testing in a standardized environment increases the likelihood of detecting issues before they reach the main branch.
- Stakeholder Involvement: Involve all relevant parties from the onset, ensuring alignment between design and implementation.
- Standardized Operations: Ephemeral Environments promote best practices that can be standardized across teams.
- Continuous Testing: Ephemeral Environments support both manual and automated testing throughout the Software Development Life-cycle.
- Avoid Test Queue Delays: With isolated environments, testing can occur in parallel, preventing one issue from stalling overall progress.
While Ephemeral Environments offer numerous benefits, they are not without challenges. Some of these include:
- Test Data: Ensuring relevant data sets for effective testing.
- Negotiating Managed Services: Deciding between "mocking" cloud-based services or connecting to actual instances.
- Serverless Interactions: Integrating serverless platforms may require special considerations.
- Dynamic URLs: Handling services that rely on static URLs can pose challenges when environments have dynamic URLs.
While it may seem tempting to build a custom environment tool, the overhead in terms of time, resources, and maintenance can be overwhelming. Existing solutions on the market, such as Uffizzi, provide robust capabilities tailored to varied needs. Uffizzi integrates seamlessly with multiple version control systems, CI-providers, and container registries. With a focus on user experience and efficiency, teams can set up and deploy using platforms like GitHub, coupled with an automatic configuration on Uffizzi, in a matter of minutes.