Jenkins has been a standard CI/CD choice for DevOps teams for years, but it's quickly becoming legacy technology for many teams. There are now more customizable and user-friendly solutions on the market with more responsive user interfaces, hybrid capabilities, and uncomplicated scaling.
In this guide, we'll cover the top alternatives DevOps leaders use to accelerate software delivery and unblock their teams, including:
- GitLab CI
- GitHub Actions
- Atlassian Bamboo
- JetBrains TeamCity
What is Jenkins?
Jenkins is an open-source automation tool that simplifies the implementation of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) workflows. It automates routine development tasks for nearly any combination of languages and source code repositories.
It supports the complete software development lifecycle, right from building and testing to documenting and deploying the software. Devs can use Jenkins to continuously build and test software projects and rapidly integrate changes to the products and users to obtain a fresh build.
Jenkins use cases
Because Jenkins is a general automation engine, there are many different ways to use it.
Jenkins gives developers a centralized integration server to test their code and create the build. They don't have to wait around until the build completes in the local environment. Jenkins also immediately notifies developers about build failures so they can do the required fixing faster and prevent delays.
After Jenkins CI triggers a build, developers can raise a Pull Request (PR) for the reviewer to validate the changes. It’s only when they get approval in PR that they can merge the changes in the main branch.
The main branch can then be used for creating a new build artifact to promote the build into Dev and QA—or production.
Before Jenkins, developers would ask the QA team to perform the test in a QA environment. With Jenkins, however, you can implement automation for validating the build in multiple environments. In other words, you don’t have to wait for the QA team to certify the build.
Suppose you need to perform some kind of installation or upgrade while working in multiple environments, and the installation or upgrade you want to carry out involves over 100 steps.
What do you do? Doing it manually is certainly not an option considering how error-prone it can be. Luckily, with Jenkins, you don’t have to.
Simply write all the steps in the tool to carry out the activity. Then Jenkins will instantly automate the installation or upgrade, carrying it out faster and without an error.
Jenkins: pros and cons
Jenkins allows software development teams to be in full control of each phase of the CI process. But it doesn’t take away their responsibility of managing the central CI infrastructure, applying patches, and maintaining stability as environments grow.
This makes scaling up operations time-consuming and costly. The tool can also be complex for some teams and amateur devs.
The strengths of Jenkins
Open-source and free: Jenkins is free to download, and its source code is publicly available. It has a large community of developers contributing to the project and plugin ecosystem.
Plugins and integrations: Jenkins has been around for a long time and so it has a lot of plugins to extend its core functionality. A few of the popular plugins include:
Jenkins Maven: Extend the platform's capabilities to configure, build, and run Maven-based projects directly in Jenkins.
Gatling: Perform load tests during its execution, so they can verify the changes being made in the code and avoid significant drops in performance.
Test Results Analyzer: Show the history of test execution results as a table or graph.
Parameterized Trigger: Trigger new builds once your build is completed and specify various parameters for the new build.
Multiple SCMs: This plugin permits a Jenkins job to check sources from multiple SCM providers.
Jenkins also integrates with version control systems like Git and Subversion, as well as build tools like Apache Ant and Maven. Kubernetes and Docker are other third-party tools that integrate with Jenkins.
Flexible with a decent API suite: Jenkins’ open architecture and plugins mean more flexibility, making it suitable for projects of various sizes and complexity. It doesn’t place any limits on the kinds and numbers of servers you can integrate.
Jenkins also has several APIs that let you customize the amount of data you fetch and your server to use simple webhooks to use the tools for specific purposes.
The limitations of Jenkins
- Unpredictable costs: While Jenkins is free, the costs of hosting the server it runs on aren’t—and neither are they easily predictable. You cannot always predict the kind of load the server is going to serve. It depends on several factors, like the number of commits, volume of assets, and volume of code. This makes it difficult for dev teams to predict total cost.
- Lack of collaboration features and analytics: Jenkins doesn’t allow devs to view the commits done by other team members. You also don’t get any analytics on the end-to-end deployment cycle with Jenkins.
- Requires personnel: You’ll likely need to appoint a dedicated developer to manage the special needs of a Jenkins server, which will add more time to the project and, in turn, push up the overall project cost.
- Tracking and accountability problems: Making a single user responsible for managing Jenkins often leads to tracking and accountability problems with the pushed code. It’s true that tracking exists on the Version Control Server—but it doesn’t exist on Jenkins itself.
Alternatives to Jenkins
There are many alternatives to Jenkins, so we'll just focus on the most popular options.
Dev teams can use CircleCI to automate installation and delivery processes. They can automate their entire testing suite for new commits and use orbs to automate deployments while reducing the potential for human error.
Being an open, cloud-based CI orchestration tool, CircleCI reduces the overhead costs of having a dedicated server. You can also deploy apps faster than ever, thanks to the tool’s increased robustness and scalability. Any commit you perform will automatically lead to build execution.
CircleCI vs. Jenkins
Server: Instead of a dedicated internal server, CircleCI runs on an online server that can be scaled as needed and is low maintenance.
Locally-hosted Jenkins, on the other hand, requires a dedicated server to operate. Dev teams have to continuously monitor and maintain the server and install the necessary plugins for continuous integration.
Build configuration: CircleCI gives you the option to build all the running processes in a single file (called
circle.yaml). You can share configuration details with your team and maintain a backup with CircleCI. While all your source code runs through CircleCI-owned infrastructure with their cloud-hosted offering, confidential information and settings are encrypted.
With Jenkins, builds are set up using Jenkins UI, meaning all the configurations of various processes are stored in the Jenkins file system. The issue here is Jenkins’ dedicated internal server, which complicates sharing system details within your team. So when you clone source code repositories, it won’t copy the data contained in Jenkins.
Jenkins’ UI is also known to be slow, which can make it time-consuming to use.
Parallel processing: CircleCI supports parallel execution using multiple containers that can be accomplished across developer options, complete with built-in support. All you need is to alter project settings, and you can start right away.
Jenkins doesn’t allow parallel processing of multiple tests or functions simultaneously. While it does aid several tasks through multi-threading, it isn’t very efficient and can lead to database errors and process breakdown.
Designed to support the DevOps lifecycle, GitLab CI is a self-hosted platform built into the GitLab CI/CD. It provides Git repository management through its continuous integration and deployment pipelines, wikis, activity feeds, and issue-tracking features.
Most companies install GitLab CI on their own infrastructure for secure authorization and authentication by connecting it with Active Directory and LDAP servers. Its phase command has a series of stages that must be implemented in precise order, after which each job is supported and configured with different options.
Note that each job is part of a phase and automatically runs parallel with other jobs in a similar phase.
GitLab CI vs. Jenkins
Git repository control: When you use GitLab CI/CD, you get total control over the branches and other facets when controlling Git repositories to protect your code from threats.
Jenkins doesn’t let you control the branches and other facets, allowing repository control up to a few extents only.
Application performance monitoring: This feature isn’t available in Jenkins. You can check basic information about the deployed code or project on the server but not the overall performance. Expect changed set support and a simple procedure for installation and configuration.
GitLab CI displays performance metrics for every app deployed through GitLab. Devs can continuously monitor the impact of changes in production.
Code quality: You’ll have to download the Sonarqube or a similar plugin to check code quality on Jenkins. Setting a self-defined quality gate for your project is also possible.
Similarly, GitLab CI has a feature to check the quality of code and mention the impact of any change you make to the code.
GitHub Actions is another CI/CD option that lets you automate build, test, and deploy pipeline and workflow automation.
It brings automation directly into the software development lifecycle on GitHub via event triggers, which are specified events that include comments, pull requests, and issues. Note that all GitHub Actions automation is handled via workflows. These workflows are YAML files placed under the
.github/workflows directory in repositories defining automated processes.
GitHub Actions also supports third-party CI/CD tools, automation platforms, and container platforms like Docker.
GitHub Actions vs. Jenkins
Ease of setup: One of the biggest advantages of choosing GitHub Actions over Jenkins is the former is simpler to set up. It’s primarily a cloud-based solution accessed through GitHub, with the option of running on your own infrastructure through self-hosted runners. Jenkins doesn’t have officially managed service offerings and hence needs proper installation.
Developer experience: Compared to GitHub Actions, Jenkins has been around for longer (10+ years) and offers a wide range of community plugins for diverse tools and frameworks. While you’ll likely find a plugin for pretty much anything you want, some devs struggle with finding plugins that work for their use case, especially when they don’t frequently work with Java.
GitHub Actions offers user-created Community Actions that can support many use cases, and it is convenient to access from within the GitHub UI.
Operational complexity: When determining how much bandwidth each tool will use from the DevOps/infrastructure team, both Jenkins and GitHub Enterprise are similar. You’ll need team members to manage the servers, including patching, updates, and backups, as well as manage the runners or nodes that execute the jobs.
Note: GitHub Actions are available in two offerings: GitHub Enterprise and GitHub.com. While GitHub Enterprise is a server offering run in your own environment similar to how you would run a Jenkins server, GitHub.com has GitHub-managed platforms and runners
Cost: Jenkins and GitHub Actions are both fairly affordable tools that can get expensive depending on how they're used.
Jenkins is a fully open-source tool, so you can install it on the server to get it up and running. You get worker nodes, open-source plugins, third-party integrations, and a robust CI/CD solution without paying anything more than the cost of the service you run the tool on.
GitHub.com doesn’t offer an open source option and instead charges based on how many minutes a job runs. Account holders get free minutes per month, but once the budget is exhausted, costs mount quickly. Getting a custom runner can help control costs as you only pay for the underlying server compute, but it will increase operational complexity and is not as robust in capabilities as other self-hosted offerings.
Created by Atlassian in 2007, Bamboo is another option for CI/CD. You can use it to perform automatic builds, tests, and releases in a single place. Bamboo integrates with Jira and Bitbucket to update issues and commits and connect test results, providing end-to-end visibility into release, implementation, quality, and status.
Most of Bamboo’s software functionality is pre-built, so it doesn’t require additional plugins.
Atlassian Bamboo vs. Jenkins
Ease of use: Bamboo is the more simplistic tool of the two. The interface guides you through the build and deployment stage every time you add a new task.
Jenkins optimizes for add-your-own functionality. There are a variety of plugins to make the platform more intuitive, but customizing it requires extra effort and time.
Installation and configuration: Being a self-contained Java app, Jenkins is fairly easy to install. Java must be installed on the target system. Once deployed, you can use a basic online interface to run configuration checks.
Jenkins itself lacks hands-on support as an open source offering, but it does have a sizable community you can reach out to resolve concerns.
Compared to Jenkins, Bamboo’s installation and configuration processes are more complicated.
In addition to Java being installed on your target system, you need to create a specific user for running Bamboo and establish a home directory. You can then start and configure the Bamboo server to suit your preferences.
Plugin support: Jenkins has 1800+ community-contributed plugins. In case you don’t find a suitable plugin, you can write one and share it with the community.
Bamboo has around 100 plugins, as most features are built-in.
Team City is a commercial continuous integration and build management system that lets you set up a build server quickly and see build information without leaving the IDE.
TeamCity is free to use and hasn’t set any limitations on the build time, the number of users, or features.
TeamCity vs. Jenkins
Ease of use: Jenkins's steep learning curve makes it more suitable for developers with the time and inclination to learn the tool. Compared to it, TeamCity offers a more usable interface.
TeamCity‘s UI and setup help make it a better option for ease of use. This is expected because the commercial alternatives (TeamCity) to open-source products (Jenkins) are built to reduce administrative overhead by allowing devs to visualize or simplify access to the functionality set.
Features and functionalities: While TeamCity is designed to meet your requirements with little custom configuration, Jenkins aims to be the more extensive solution, with its large plugin ecosystem.
TeamCity still has over 400 plugins that are maintained and kept functional with future TeamCity versions.
API and extensibility: Jenkins's API is properly documented with plenty of resources, including tutorials and articles to help you use the platform.
TeamCity offers base-level knowledge—something its devs acknowledge as well. Besides JetBrains‘ documentation, you won’t find many resources to help you approach the tool.
The Buildkite approach
Designed for enterprise scale, Buildkite is a hybrid SaaS CI/CD offering that combines the power of your own build infrastructure with the convenience of a centralized web UI.
Developer and DevOps teams use Buildkite's open source agent model (the equivalent of "self-hosted runners") to run build and deploy pipelines on their own infrastructure, and Buildkite provides the user experience and interface for pipeline orchestration and reporting.
With Buildkite, you can maintain an audit log of the activities of team members and secure login via single sign-on (SSO). Use it to test, deploy, and build Docker-based projects, configure access permissions, and gain visibility into engineering processes—all from a unified platform.
It also supports various programming languages, including Java, Python, and Ruby. The open source Buildkite agent runs anywhere you can run Go.
Buildkite vs. Jenkins
User interface: Jenkins’s less responsive interface is one of its biggest drawbacks. Buildkite ships considered updates to its user interface for builds and puts extra attention into providing a user-friendly experience.
Buildkite‘s UI provides an aggregated, filterable view of the build status and history of every pipeline. If you work for multiple organizations, you can organize and control access on a granular level to streamline operations. This makes the most relevant information for your builds readily available.
Security and privacy: Jenkins’ security and privacy are user-configured, so the security options vary with software version and plugin support. You can deploy it fully in user environments, but it must be vetted/audited accordingly.
Buildkite is a hybrid platform that gives you full control over the privacy and security of your source code, as it stays on your infrastructure where your pipelines are. As for the cloud-hosted elements of Buildkite like the web UI, Buildkite is Soc2 Type 2 compliant.
Scalability: Buildkite‘s SaaS platform is built for scalability. Self-hosted agents give you full control over parallelization, and you can run as many jobs as you need with no limits on concurrency. There is an extensive library of community and Buildkite-owned plugins to create, find, and implement integration with third-party technologies. It's easy to write your own plugins, too.
Jenkins gives you full control of orchestration and scaling, but you must maintain architecture, dependency chain, and environments internally.
Dynamic Pipelines: One of the most common reasons to use Buildkite over Jenkins is its support for dynamic pipelines. With Buildkite, you can configure builds at runtime. Jenkins does not support this, allowing for much less flexibility in how you build and parallelize pipelines at scale.
Buildkite vs. Jenkins alternatives
Even when compared to other Jenkins alternatives mentioned above, Buildkite makes a stronger choice.
Its abstractions of pipelines, builds, jobs, steps, and teams are easy to operate with and understand the hybrid platform. You get a good balance between standard and modern features, and what’s lacking can easily be built and customized.
Compared to CircleCI and TeamCity, Buildkite is competitively priced. You’re charged per seat as well as consumption, with the option of enterprise support at a larger scale. The free plan provides near-full power for teams trying out Buildkite, with no limits on concurrency—even on the free plan. Teams start with a 30-day free trial, giving them full access to nearly all of the powerful features of Buildkite while building out your proof-of-concept.
Choosing Buildkite over GitLab CI and Bamboo will give you priority customer support and the benefits of not having to manage databases and main nodes, respectively.
When considering alternatives to Jenkins, consider the following questions:
- Where do you want your builds to run? See Managed, self-hosted, or hybrid CI/CD? Understand your options.
- What do the pipeline visualization and job orchestration look like?
- Can the prospective tool seamlessly integrate into your CI/CD pipeline?
- What level of support does it offer?
- Is the pricing worth it considering the features?
We might be biased, but we believe the best choice is a flexible and powerful tool that won't limit your ability to scale and brings your developers joy when using it.
For a more in-depth comparison, see Buildkite or Jenkins: Choosing the right tool for you. Or, sign up for a free trial to start building today.