The combination of software and hardware configurations used to develop, execute, and test code is called an “environment setup.” An environment setup includes major computer hardware aspects such as servers or cloud resources, storage, and processing units. Additionally, it includes any necessary software setup, including the proper operating system and configurations. Having well-made environments is one of the most critical aspects of producing code, as they are often used at all stages of the software process: development, testing, UAT, production, etc.
Usually, the deployment environments are made up of development, QA, staging, UAT, and production. But often, organizations don’t have much time to focus on this area in detail due to reasons like limited resources, environment drift, developers not being able to incorporate feedback into a static environment, difficult environment setups due to Docker and Kubernetes, etc.
Because of this, the concept of ephemeral environments was introduced. An ephemeral environment is a short-lived environment that contains fully functional instances of the UAT or production environment and is comparatively lightweight. It can be implemented for coding, testing, validation, or final modifications of any solution. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that an ephemeral environment is a dynamic and on-demand environment, as it lasts only as long as a life cycle of the CI/CD pipeline—usually a few days, weeks, or months.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at ephemeral environments, and how they differ from a regular testing and coding setup. Later, you’ll see the benefits and working structure of them, as well as how to get started using them.
#What Is an Ephemeral Environment?
“Ephemeral environment” is a very common and popular term among developers. Companies are using this technology to scale their business efficiently and effectively. An ephemeral environment is a standalone and short-lived deployment tool for application development and testing. It can be automatically implemented by making a pull request in a given branch and repository. The best part of this resource is that it’s user-centric. That means this deployment resource will only exist in your system as long as you need it, resulting in better software quality while reducing costs and planning.
Earlier forms of developer resources were high-in-demand technology. For every stage of the production, we used to have different environment setups. These permanent resources were expensive and needed proper attention in order to manage them properly. But their main issue was platform dependency. Many of them were designed to be implemented for a particular platform. This reduced their usage and increased complexity for developers. But now, information technology is in a transition phase. Many new technologies are being introduced regularly. The ephemeral environment is just one of them, and it primarily focuses on creating an environment for the user where development, testing, staging, and also production come together. So users don’t need to use different setups for different deployment phases. Instead, they can have more streamlined growth and proper workflow management.
#Workflow of Ephemeral Environments
Usually, new code is attached to different branches of a project’s Git repository, and a developer pushes changes to a particular branch to trigger a new ephemeral environment creation. This automates the internal and external services to automate test cases, which are dependent upon the nature of the software. If these tests pass, then one can easily approve the testing phase of production manually and automatically. Once the ephemeral environment is not required anymore, then the branch gets merged to the main repository and deleted, and the user needs to make sure that it doesn’t impact the main code.
#Characteristics of Ephemeral Environments
There are some ways to make ephemeral environment management easy and efficient. Let’s look at them below.
- Ephemeral environments should be mirror images of your production environment, as this resource is mainly used for testing. And for testing, it’s good to get the closest possible match production, else tests might not catch everything they need to.
- Ephemeral environment generation should always be automated. So if you already know the inner structure of production, you can easily generate them using templates automatically. And, using these templates, ephemeral environment creation will become quick and handy.
- Once the ephemeral environment set up is done, the data which is going to be used by the ephemeral environment should be the same as the traditional environment. To get this done, the user should attach the same data and configurations to the ephemeral environment.
- Ephemeral environments should always be sharable, because their prioritized operation is to perform testing and collect feedback from other team members. The team can only see and check the tests if they’re sharable.
#Differences Between Ephemeral Environment and Other Traditional Models
Traditional models are known as “static environments.” Historically, projects which were long-lived needed more time for development, and therefore they required a one-time, long-lived solution: a static environment. Even now, when code is developed, it usually has different dependencies, errors, additional features to be implemented, bugs to be resolved, and version control. So there is an argument to be made that we should not change the environment frequently, to avoid rework or constant configuration changes. But, in various considerations, managing a static environment for a long time is cumbersome, and teams usually become inactive on it and disconnected from it. One can find solutions to these issues in an ephemeral environment. It helps in moving through the phases quickly, building and testing the code at the same time.
In both cases, it’s advised to first implement a static environment and check the whole working process. After that, you can choose whether to keep a static environment or move to ephemeral environments that are based on a static environment.
#Benefits of Ephemeral Environments
Since the ephemeral environment is a very popular concept in today’s era, let’s take a look at some of the benefits it can provide.
#1. Increased Autonomy for the Team
Imagine there are different teams for the same project. These teams work from different work locations and are sometimes inactive. So how will the tester know if his test cases are correct, thorough, and efficient? Or if the code requires more attention or not? This can be done through the ephemeral environment. As it’s sharable, all team members can check what is happening on a particular project in their own way and in their own time.
#2. Better and Faster Feedback Gathering
Since an ephemeral environment is sharable, it’s easy to get other team members to give feedback about the work, test cases, or even any other production-related suggestion. The ephemeral environment can work as a communication bridge for them. Here, Tester A passes all tests and Developer B can directly coordinate with them about the feedback.
#3. Overall Improved Product Quality
Since many minds are working on a single system, it’s a good way of getting recurring feedback, which can improve the overall performance of your product. Also, an ephemeral environment doesn’t bother your local machine, as it gets automatically deleted from your system once the job is done.
#4. Time Savings
Ephemeral environments can be time-saving and energy-saving at the same time, because they generate the environment automatically, do not require any manual modifications, and are destroyed when they are done being used.
#5. Cost Control
It’s quite obvious that when anything new is implemented in the code, it automatically adds more value to the project and also adds more costs in production. But here, the ephemeral environment is an affordable resource, and for developers, it costs so much less in terms of visibility and maintenance.
#6. More Opportunities
It creates more opportunities for the team that was not available earlier. It provides new strategies to come up with building different versions of the same software, it helps in rapid prototyping for several datasets, and it helps in allowing multiple features to be produced and tested at once.
#7. Clear Environment
When a new environment is created, there are no legacy artifacts or pre-described settings. So every new environment is a clean and clear environment. That means a user can start from the same state of production as others for building the code.
#8. Parallel Processing
Usually, one needs to process code, then execute one test case, and then again come up with another development part. This consumes so much time. Parallel processing means that every process can be done at the same time using parallel processors, and this will help in reducing the execution time. Ephemeral environments can quickly and easily create spaces to develop and test changes in parallel.
#How Do Ephemeral Environments Work?
The ephemeral environment works as a dynamic environment for production, instead of using the “hanging around” concept, where one needs to wait for a process to complete. Here, the CI/CD pipelines are the stages that are responsible for initializing and destroying the environments. For example, let’s take a look at the exact workflow for using ephemeral environments below.
- Building code
- Testing and integration
- Functional testing
- Security and load testing
- Approval of features/changes
- Deployment of features/changes
These are steps that should be followed by everyone who uses an ephemeral environment.
#How to Get Started Using Ephemeral Environments in Your Organization
Kubernetes is the best option for creating ephemeral environments, since it lets the user define the infrastructure of the environment, such as containers and other configurations. It also helps in running the code and executing the test cases. The most crucial part of this process is to make the changes according to the requirements and feedback.
To create an environment, the developer generally attaches the Git branches and runs some of the commands which depend upon the application’s nature. The process is as follows:
- Build some code and create unit test cases.
- Build the artifacts and save them.
- Prepare some integration tests and execute them.
- Run the functional test cases.
Once all these tests are passed, you can approve the modifications manually or automatically for deployment. Loft provides one of the best solutions for creating ephemeral environments. It allows you to set up lightweight Kubernetes-based environments in the form of isolated namespaces or virtual Kubernetes clusters, so that you may run test suites as part of your CI/CD workflows or put up application previews.
After reading this article, you now know what an ephemeral environment is and how it can improve development and deployment. Let’s summarize the article with a few key takeaways:
- Ephemeral environments are lightweight and short-term environments used for testing code changes.
- They are usually produced using cloud-based technology.
- The ephemeral environment is different from the static environment in many aspects, including maintenance, cost, and speed of deployment.
- An ephemeral environment is better for those projects which come to an end and needs more versions to be launched.
- They help provide faster feedback and better software quality.
- Loft provides ephemeral environments for CI/CD and testing.
This post was written by Gourav Bais. Gourav is an applied machine learning engineer skilled in computer vision/deep learning pipeline development, creating machine learning models, retraining systems, and transforming data science prototypes to production-grade solutions.