How High Performing Engineering Teams Use the Power of Trunk-Based Development

In the initial days of software development, programmers did not have the extravagance of sophisticated version control systems. Instead, they relied on labor-intensive, expensive, and inefficient processes to keep a track of the many changes being made by different teams spread over different locations. But a lot has changed over the last few years. As version control systems evolved, several new approaches came to life, one of the most impressive of them being trunk-based development.

The world before trunk-based development

Before the advent of advanced version control systems, programmers depended on a central server that acted as a source code repository and maintained a version history of several changes. But for every commit made, only new changes were applied to the initial file and stored. If a third commit was made, it became extremely difficult for teams to understand which changes were made during which commit.

These traditional approaches to version control took programmers a substantial amount of time to code in tandem, detect defects, work on changes, and speed release cadence. Traditional approaches to version control were not only time-consuming, but they were also extremely prone to error and caused delivery costs and timelines to invariably be overshot.

As the programming landscape advanced, the concept feature branch soon shot to popularity. Feature branch allows developers to isolate a part of the code and work on it until a new change or feature is fully developed. Once done, this branch was then merged back into the main code.

And although this encapsulation makes it easy for multiple developers to work on a particular feature without upsetting the main codebase, it doesn’t work too well for large-scale projects with several thousand branches. If a part of code is kept isolated for a very long time, programmers may find it difficult to integrate it back into the code. Teams need to be extremely well-coordinated for feature branches to work and require deep expertise to manage and merge branches.

The world after trunk-based development

The software development industry needs to constantly lookout for new ways and means to improve the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of their development efforts. Trunk-based development is one such concept that allows them to divide individual work items into small tasks or batches and merge their work at least once each day, thus seamlessly version controlling the software being developed.

As an advanced version control management practice, trunk-based development streamlines the merging and integration phases, allowing teams to achieve successful CI/CD while also increasing software delivery efficiency as well as organizational performance.

How high-performing teams use trunk-based development

High-performing engineering teams leverage trunk-based development to efficiently version control their software while also improving the speed and accuracy of delivery. By ensuring all development is done on the trunk, teams can drastically improve the control and transparency they have over the main codebase.

Here’s how high-performing engineering teams use the power of trunk-based development:

  • To drive effective CI/CD: Since individuals on a team are continuously committing changes to a common trunk multiple times a day, trunk-based development helps in satisfying the core requirement of CI. Such frequent commits ensure the codebase is always releasable, code reviews are seamless, and code releases are smooth – making Continuous Delivery a reality.

  • To streamline the code merging process: As a version control management practice that allows developers to merge small and frequent updates to a common trunk, trunk-based development aids in streamlining the merging and integration phases. Since developers can create branches with a few small commits, as the complexity of the codebase increases and as team size grows, teams can still keep production releases flowing.

  • To enable everyone to access the codebase: Unlike feature branches where only certain individuals are allowed to approve changes to the main code, trunk-based development offers a more open model, allowing everyone to access the main code. This allows teams to iterate quickly, avoid the complexities of merging, and be confident that their individual commits do not break the build.

  • To ensure production-ready code: As customers expect new features and updates to be instantly accessible, trunk-based development ensures code is reliable, updated, and always production-ready. Since small changes and iterations are continuously integrated with the main codebase, it ensures the code is reliable enough to go into production and be delivered to customers quickly and efficiently.

  • To improve visibility into features: With the hybrid work model becoming a global reality, software development teams are constantly committing code from different locations and time zones. Trunk-based development allows different people on the team to have enhanced visibility into the different features being developed, while also accelerating their delivery through frequent commits.

As software development gets increasingly complex, trunk-based development eases the friction of code development and integration. By allowing developers to continuously merge new code commits to the main codebase, it minimizes the chances of conflicts while ensuring continuous and seamless code review and enhanced CI/CD. Embrace trunk-based development today to build fast and deliver faster!

This article originally appeared at

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