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What is release validation? And why it must be automated

Release validation has become a vital tool in the software development lifecycle. Learn more about what it entails, why it's beneficial to developers, and why automation is necessary.

Release validation is a critical DevOps practice to help ensure that code released into production is successful. DevOps practices have become key for organizations looking to scale, stay competitive, and keep up with customer demand. But as more organizations adopt DevOps methodologies and release software faster, they are finding that they need a strategy to evolve and automate their practices for validating releases.

What is release validation?

Release validation is a DevOps methodology that tests a software component to verify that it meets its release criteria before being released to the next phase of development or to production.

While developing an application, service, or piece of code, it is critical to test the releases during defined milestones. Developers validate releases as an internal consistency mechanism to validate individual components before collecting data for the next release. Teams may also refer to release validation as “post-release testing” or “release quality gates”.

Why release validation is important in DevOps

Validating a release is necessary for organizations looking to release high-quality software faster. It gathers the results of a release and helps development teams understand issues so they can ensure quick remediation before progressing the release to the next stage. It is also a vital data collection mechanism for regression testing against subsequent releases.

Validation ideally should occur at every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), not just in pre-production. Validating releases in production provides the ability for SREs and ITOps teams to continuously validate software against customer expectations.

Depending on your organization, release validation may comprise one or more of the following tasks:

  • Verify code: Teams verify code after every release and must complete their verification before the next release begins.
  • Report verification results: After validating a release, teams must review all results. This can become a complicated step if the application or code is complex. Look for automation tools to help validate release data and reports.
  • Report issues: If teams find issues in production, validating releases helps you resolve problems quickly before the next release.
  • Clean up data: Be sure to clean up logs, validate deployments, and ensure the resolution of all issues found in the previous step.
  • Post-release monitoring: Validation is not yet finished, even after releasing fixes. It is essential to continue monitoring all changes upon completing the release. Post-release validation monitoring will help developers understand any new issues and whether fixes positively impact the latest release.

If teams detect any issues during release validation, they should report them in the defect management tool and communicate them to the relevant Development stakeholders. Real-time communication is critical if any significant issues arise when validating a release. This is increasingly important because teams must decide whether to roll back the release build to a prior stable version.

The challenge with the status quo: Validating releases manually

Many organizations perform release validation tests manually, usually to accommodate an organizational structure that requires a manager’s approval. However, manual release validation increases the risk of missing a serious issue or being unable to respond in real time. Often, organizations will have dedicated resources within Quality Assurance to perform these tasks. This typically involves looking at and sifting through multiple dashboards to ensure all the pre-defined quality criteria are met.

While this may work for monolithic applications or environments with infrequent releases, this simply does not scale for today’s modern cloud-native environments that are based on microservices-based architectures where new releases occur more frequently from days to hours to minutes.

Why automation is essential

Automating release validation can improve the overall delivery speed without sacrificing the quality of software. It can also help identify release issues quicker and prevent bad code from progressing to production, saving the organization money and potential brand reputation damage. In addition, it frees up critical development resources to focus on more innovative tasks and optimizing processes.

Automation combined with self-service also allows teams to apply additional rigor, scale, and independence to the testing and validation process. Greater autonomy eliminates approval bottlenecks and ensures better overall quality software in production.

How to streamline and automate release validation

Automating release validation doesn’t have to be hard. With Dynatrace, you can leverage the Cloud Automation module, to validate your builds, deployments, and releases based on service-level objectives (SLOs) and other key business objectives.

Dynatrace Cloud Automation leverages quality gates, which are benchmarks in the SDLC that define specific, measurable, and achievable success criteria that a service must meet before advancing to the next phase. Quality gates can validate any SLO, allowing development teams to ensure they are evaluating software quality automatically and consistently. Establishing clear, consistent, and effective quality gates that are automatically validated at each phase of the delivery pipeline is key to delivering better software faster.