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Clash of the DevOps Titans: GitLab vs. GitHub vs. Jenkins

GitLab vs GitHub
Written by Carlos Almeida
Published on December 22, 2023

Choosing the right tools can make or break your software development process. Gone are the days when Jenkins was the de facto standard. Now, we have a plethora of offerings, each with its unique features and purported benefits. But, there are three heavyweights in the DevOps arena: GitLab, GitHub, and Jenkins. Each brings its own strengths and nuances to the table. In this blog post, we’ll cover the key aspects of these platforms to help you make an informed decision on which DevOps CI/CD platform is best for you.

The Evolution of CI Servers

Continuous Integration (CI) servers have come a long way from their humble beginnings as glorified shell scripts. Today, they play a central role in the well-oiled machinery of software delivery projects. With the rise of agile methodologies and Continuous Delivery practices, CI servers including GitLab vs GitHub Actions, vs Jenkins have moved to the forefront of the development lifecycle.

GitLab vs GitHub

Jenkins vs GitHub Actions vs GitLab

Knowing what each platform is good at and where it might fall short is important for making smart choices. Jenkins has been around the longest – like the wise old titan in mythology. On the other hand, GitLab and GitHub are newer, born in the digital age, and have their own advantages. That’s why we’ve created these pros and cons tables for each. Let’s see which DevOps platform stacks up….

Jenkins

Jenkins: Showing Signs of Aging?

Jenkins is showing signs of age. But it’s still a sturdy and established platform with plenty of life left in it. Check out this whitepaper released in 2022 showing how it accelerates CI/CD pipelines. However, Its lack of starter templates for quick setups and the absence of Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) pipelines can lead to longer feedback times. While CloudBees has released some new updates for Jenkins in 2023, it is still very much a traditional DevOps tool in the sense that it is built to be behind the firewall and not cognizant of cloud services as much as others. Here’s an overview of the other pros and cons for Jenkins.

Pros
Extensibility through Plugins: Jenkins is highly extensible, with a vast plugin ecosystem allowing users to customize their Jenkins instance based on project requirements.
Flexibility in Build Environments: Jenkins provides flexibility in configuring build environments, supporting a variety of build tools, testing frameworks, and custom scripts.
Distributed Build Architecture: Jenkins allows users to distribute build and test tasks across multiple machines, optimizing resource utilization and accelerating the overall build and test process.
Community Support: Jenkins benefits from a large and active community of users and contributors, ensuring continuous improvement and a wealth of shared knowledge.
Automation Workflows with Pipelines: Jenkins supports the definition and execution of automation workflows through pipelines, allowing users to model the entire software delivery process.
Free and Open Source: Jenkins is free to use and open-source, making it accessible to a broad user base, particularly beneficial for individuals and small to medium-sized enterprises.
Rich Reporting Features: Jenkins comes with robust reporting features that create detailed reports on build and test results, facilitating project monitoring and insights sharing.
Cons
Plugin Ecosystem Challenges: While plugins offer customization, users may face challenges if a required plugin is not available, and not all plugins are maintained regularly.
Learning Curve: Jenkins, with its extensive feature set, may have a steeper learning curve for new users, requiring time and effort to master.
Shared Plugin Space: The shared plugin space poses a risk of encountering outdated or unsupported plugins, potentially causing compatibility issues with the latest Jenkins versions.

GitLab and GitHub: The Modern Contenders

GitLab and GitHub Actions represent the modern face of CI/CD. However, ‘newer’ doesn’t mean they have everything perfect for everyone. However, GitLab is pretty close given it was also named a Leader twice in 2023 for its DevOps and AI powered DevSecOps capabilities.

GitLab

GitLab stands out for its all-in-one approach, integrating version control, repository management, collaboration tools, and CI/CD in a single platform.

Pros
All-in-One Platform: GitLab offers an integrated platform, including version control, collaboration tools, and CI/CD capabilities within a single environment. This streamlines workflows and ensures consistency.
Built-In CI/CD: GitLab comes with built-in CI/CD functionality, simplifying the setup and execution of pipelines directly within the GitLab environment.
User-Friendly Interface: GitLab is known for its user-friendly interface, making it easy for users to navigate and perform tasks efficiently.
ChatOps Integration: GitLab includes ChatOps features, allowing CI jobs to be triggered directly from chat platforms, enhancing communication and collaboration.
Controlled Deployment: GitLab's continuous deployment features enable controlled releases to specific user groups or pods, providing flexibility and risk reduction.
External Repository Integration: GitLab CI/CD pipelines can be used with repositories located outside of GitLab, promoting flexibility for projects spanning multiple platforms.
Auto-Scaling CI Runners: GitLab CI/CD supports auto-scaling of runners, ensuring efficient resource utilization and smooth job execution.
Regular Feature Releases: GitLab has a rapid release cycle, introducing new features and updates regularly to keep users up-to-date with the latest capabilities.
Artificial Intelligence: Duo is GitLab’s entrance into AI in its product, which features code suggestions, forecasting of metrics, summarization of issues and more.
Cons
Premium Features Cost: Some of GitLab's powerful features are part of the premium package, and users may need to subscribe to access the full strength of the platform.
Complexity for New Users: Despite its user-friendly interface, GitLab's comprehensive feature set may pose a learning curve for new users.
Resource Intensive: GitLab can be resource-intensive, especially for large projects, and may require careful consideration of hosting options.

GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions, with its seamless integration with GitHub repositories, offers an attractive option for those deeply embedded in the GitHub ecosystem.

Pros
Widespread Adoption: GitHub is widely adopted in the software development community, fostering collaboration and providing a standard for version control.
Good Collaboration Tools: GitHub offers a rich set of collaboration tools, including pull requests, issues, and project boards, facilitating effective communication and code review processes.
GitHub Actions for CI/CD: GitHub Actions allows users to automate workflows, including CI/CD processes, directly within the GitHub repository, reducing the need for external CI/CD platforms.
Integrated Wiki and Documentation: GitHub includes an integrated Wiki feature for documentation, making it convenient for developers to create and maintain project-related documentation.
Social Coding Features: GitHub's emphasis on social coding encourages collaboration and community engagement, fostering a sense of community and knowledge sharing.
Integration with Third-Party Tools: GitHub supports seamless integration with a wide array of third-party tools and services, enhancing the overall development workflow.
Private and Public Repositories: GitHub allows users to create both private and public repositories, providing flexibility for various project types.
Cons
Cost for Private Repositories: While GitHub is free for public repositories, private repositories may incur costs, and this could be a consideration for budget-conscious users.
Limited CI/CD Configuration Options: While GitHub Actions is powerful, users may find fewer configuration options compared to dedicated CI/CD platforms like Jenkins.
Dependency on GitHub Ecosystem: GitHub Actions is tightly integrated with the GitHub ecosystem, and users heavily invested in other platforms may find migration challenging.

The Opinionated Take: Any Titan Can Lead to Quality Software

While each platform has its strengths, the truth is, choosing any of these CI systems can lead to the release of quality software—assuming you’ve written quality software in the first place. Ultimately, the best platform choice really depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the dynamics of your development environment. So, whether you lean towards Jenkins, GitLab, or GitHub Actions, each can steer you towards efficient and quality software delivery.

The real victory lies in aligning your chosen CI/CD solution with your development goals and workflows.

Check out the top three tips to protect code for developers.

Practical Steps for Choosing Your DevOps Ally

Here are some practical steps to guide you through the decision-making process:

  • Assess Your Environment: Stick with the build system of your existing version control provider (GitHub/GitLab/Atlassian) if it’s serving you well. And, if you’re using Jenkins, consider the maintenance overhead. Particularly if detached from your source code repository.
  • Harden Your Delivery Chain: Prioritize security features like two-factor authentication, role-based access control, and vulnerability scanning. GitHub and GitLab shine in this aspect, offering comprehensive security features out of the box.
  • Review Your Pipelines: If you’re heavily invested in vendor-specific tools and plugins, switching CI systems might not be straightforward. Therefore, consider the ease of migration and compatibility with your existing tools.
  • Reproducibility Anywhere: Aim for reproducibility even if your CI system is down. Containerize your workloads to ensure consistent builds across different environments.
  • Containerize Your Workloads: Beyond reproducibility, containerizing your workloads offers additional advantages. It solves the perennial “it works on my machine” problem and enhances portability.
  • Simple always wins: Simplify your pipeline logic. If logic in your pipeline defines success or failure, it might be too intelligent. Instead, focus on defining quality gates and ensuring a safe release.

 

Want a sneak peak at the top nine trends for DevOps for beyond 2023? Check this out.

Need Support To Assess Which Tool Is Right For Your Specific Goals?

SPK can help. We’re a team of DevOps experts supporting teams around the world to improve their toolstack and workflows. Ultimately, we’re here to help you get your product to market – faster.

 

 Contact us to discuss your DevOps challenges.

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