Dagger: Standardizing CI/CD is the Holy Grail of DevOps

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) has become a hallmark of quick software release life cycles. Nowadays, many teams support CI/CD pipelines for their software, offering a repeatable pathway to build, test and deploy code. A CI/CD pipeline is necessary to support an iterative, rapid deployment approach—yet, maintaining one is not an easy task.

Enter Dagger. Dagger is a utility that aims to streamline how developers create and manage their CI/CD pipelines. Dagger, led by founders of Docker, recently unveiled their public beta launch along with a Series A $20 million funding raise led by Redpoint Ventures. While many open source CI/CD projects already exist on the market, Dagger is unique in offering easier configurations, pre-built components and more reusable actions.

Akin to traditional supply chain management, software supply chain management is an increasingly complex endeavor involving many third-party dependencies. Development teams truly require a set of standard building blocks to piece it all together. For this reason, Solomon Hykes, co-founder and chief executive of Dagger, told SiliconANGLE that “solving this problem is the holy grail of DevOps.”

Below, we’ll look at the common stressors inherent in creating and managing modern software delivery chains. We’ll also take a peek into the Dagger beta to see what it’s attempting to accomplish.

Issues Facing CI/CD

Software development supply chains are growing larger and larger to support a complex network of software architectures. But DevOps engineers, who must automate this chain, are drowning in tool sprawl—and stitching these components together to make custom pipelines can become a big bottleneck.

Especially as an organization expands its distributed microservices architecture into the cloud, it can be tricky to scale a repeatable CI/CD pipeline across various departments and disparate tech stacks. This often results in many bespoke CI/CD pipelines. Even within the same team, nuances between codebases can complicate each CI/CD process and require engineers to rewrite scripts.

Simultaneously, organizations are under intense pressure to deliver to meet new digital innovation demands. But, until DevOps can make the release process more efficient, software development automation risks introducing more toil than it takes away.

Diving Into Dagger

So, how is Dagger alleviating these concerns? Well, Dagger creators described it as a “portable devkit for CI/CD pipelines.” Using Dagger, DevOps engineers can use a standard set of building blocks to assemble their CI/CD pipelines and then run them on their chosen cloud. It’s like a better developer experience for CI/CD pipeline creation.

So, how does Dagger work under the hood? Dagger is powered by Buildkit, the Dockerfile-agnostic builder toolkit. Developers then use Cue to specify how their code is run in a container and to link up actions. Cue is an open source configuration language developed at Google.

According to the docs, it takes about five minutes to install Dagger and the necessary dependencies. Dagger also provides boilerplate code to integrate with pre-existing CI environments. In essence, Dagger doesn’t need to replace your CI tool—it adds “a portable development layer on top of it.”

Then, there are the actions themselves. Dagger supports a growing library of actions that it calls Universe. At the time of writing, the Universe of actions is limited and is being staged in the main Dagger repository. These actions are reusable Cue packages. For example, this package details how to run and deploy the Nginx web server in Cue:

package nginx

import (
    "universe.dagger.io/docker"
)

And then,

#Build: {
    output: docker.#Image & _pull.image

    _pull: docker.#Pull
    *{
        flavor: "alpine"
        _pull: source: "index.docker.io/nginx:stable-alpine"
    } | {
        flavor: "debian"
        _pull: source: "index.docker.io/nginx:stable"
    }
}

Benefits

CI/CD can certainly benefit from standard building blocks and more fluid wiring between tools. There are several potential benefits from Dagger’s proposition:

  • Unification: Unifying developer and CI environments could avoid headaches.
  • Localization: Dagger enables testing a closed-loop pipeline locally. This helps for debugging.
  • Reusability: Building blocks help avoid rewriting automation scripts repeatedly.
  • Multi-cloud: Easier ability to migrate a pipeline from one cloud to the other, thus avoiding vendor lock-in.
  • Compatability: Dagger can run in any environment compatible with Docker, meaning it’s probably workable with your current toolset.

Final Thoughts: Lego Blocks For CI/CD

Docker revolutionized the software industry by easing the process of managing containerized applications. And now, Docker founders Solomon Hykes, Sam Alba, Andrea Luzzardi and others at Dagger are tackling another meaningful problem within today’s complex software ecosystem. Given the success of their previous endeavors, it’s not too difficult to imagine a network of reusable CI configurations emerging with an excitement similar to Docker Hub.

Of course, Dagger is still in its early stages and there’s much development ahead. It will undoubtedly be an interesting project to follow in the years to come. Dagger is being built as an open source project on GitHub. The company has also opened a Discord channel to engage with the community.

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