What is GitOps?

GitOps is an operational framework that takes DevOps best practices used for application development such as version control, collaboration, compliance, and CI/CD, and applies them to infrastructure automation.

Modern applications are developed with speed and scale in mind. Organizations with a mature DevOps culture can deploy code to production hundreds of times per day. DevOps teams can accomplish this through development best practices such as version control, code review, and CI/CD pipelines that automate testing and deployments.

While the software development lifecycle has been automated, infrastructure has remained a largely manual process that requires specialized teams. With the demands made on today's infrastructure, it's becoming increasingly crucial to implement infrastructure automation. Modern infrastructure needs to be elastic so that it can effectively manage cloud resources that are needed for frequent deployments.

GitOps is an operational framework that can automate this process of provisioning infrastructure. Similar to how we use application source code, infrastructure teams that practice GitOps use configuration files stored as code (infrastructure as code). GitOps configuration files generate the same infrastructure environment every time it’s deployed, just as application source code generates the same application binaries every time it's built.

GitOps overview

GitOps is an operational framework that takes DevOps best practices used for application development such as version control, code review, collaboration, compliance, and CI/CD, and applies them to infrastructure automation.

How do teams put GitOps into practice?

GitOps is not a single product, plugin, or platform. GitOps is a framework that helps teams manage IT infrastructure through processes they already use in application development. To put GitOps into practice, it needs three core components:

GitOps = IaC + MRs + CI/CD

IaC - GitOps uses a Git repository as the single source of truth for infrastructure definitions. Git is an open source version control system that tracks code management changes, and a Git repository is a .git folder in a project that tracks all changes made to files in a project over time. Infrastructure as code (IaC) is the practice of keeping all infrastructure configuration stored as code. The actual desired state may or may not be not stored as code (e.g., number of replicas, pods).

MRs - GitOps uses merge requests (MRs) as the change mechanism for all infrastructure updates. The MR is where teams can collaborate via reviews and comments and where formal approvals take place. A merge commits to your master (or trunk) branch and serves as a changelog for auditing and troubleshooting.

CI/CD - GitOps automates infrastructure updates using a Git workflow with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). When new code is merged, the CI/CD pipeline enacts the change in the environment. Any configuration drift, such as manual changes or errors, is overwritten by GitOps automation so the environment converges on the desired state defined in Git. GitLab uses CI/CD pipelines to manage and implement GitOps automation, but other forms of automation such as definitions operators can be used as well.

The benefits of GitOps

Gitops benefits collaboration

Enables collaboration on infrastructure changes

Since every change will go through the same change/merge request/review/approval process, senior engineers can focus on other areas beyond the critical infrastructure management.

Gitops benefits access control

Improved access control

There's no need to give credentials to all infrastructure components since changes are automated (only CI/CD needs access).

Gitops benefits market

Faster time to market

Execution via code is faster than manual point and click. Test cases are automated and repeatable, so stable environments can be delivered rapidly.

Gitops benefits risk

Less risk

All changes to infrastructure are tracked through merge requests, and changes can be rolled back to a previous state.

Gitops benefits costs

Reduced costs

Automation of infrastructure definition and testing eliminates manual tasks, improves productivity, and reduces downtime due to built-in revert/rollback capability. Automation also allows for infrastructure teams to better manage cloud resources which can also improve cloud costs.

Gitops benefits error

Less error prone

Infrastructure definition is codified and repeatable, making it less prone to human error. With code reviews and collaboration in merge requests, errors can be identified and corrected long before they make it to production.

GitOps challenges

With any collaborative effort, change can be tricky and GitOps is no exception. GitOps is a process change that will require discipline from all participants and a commitment to doing things in a new way. It is vital for teams to write everything down.

GitOps allows for greater collaboration, but that is not necessarily something that comes naturally for some individuals or organizations. A GitOps approval process means that developers make changes to the code, create a merge request, an approver merges these changes, and the change is deployed. This sequence introduces a “change by committee” element to infrastructure, which can seem tedious and time-consuming to engineers used to making quick, manual changes.

It is important for everyone on the team to record what’s going on in merge requests and issues. The temptation to edit something directly in production or change something manually is going to be difficult to suppress, but the less “cowboy engineering” there is, the better GitOps will work.

What makes GitOps work?

As with any emerging technology term, GitOps isn't strictly defined the same way by everyone across the industry. GitOps principles can be applied to all types of infrastructure automation including VMs and containers, and can be very effective for teams looking to manage Kubernetes clusters.

While many tools and methodologies promise faster deployment and seamless management between code and infrastructure, GitOps differs by focusing on a developer-centric experience. Infrastructure management through GitOps happens in the same version control system as the application development, enabling teams to collaborate more in a central location while benefiting from all the built-in features of Git.

Why choose GitLab for GitOps?

Drive infrastructure automation and collaboration for cloud native, multicloud, and legacy environments. GitLab is a DevOps platform with built-in agile planning, source code management, and CI/CD delivered as a single application. GitLab also has tight integrations with the industry's best GitOps tools and cloud platforms.

Learn how GitLab can help you adopt GitOps.

GitOps resources

Here’s a list of resources on GitOps that we find to be particularly helpful in understanding version control and implementation. We would love to get your recommendations on books, blogs, videos, podcasts and other resources that tell a great version control story or offer valuable insight on the definition or implementation of the practice.

Please share your favorites with us by tweeting us @GitLab!

Gitops blog ansible

Infrastructure as Code using GitLab & Ansible

Explore the power of GitLab CI as we demo Ansible playbooks in infrastructure as code.

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Gitops blog series

Part 1 of 3: Why collaboration technology is critical for GitOps

How GitLab can be the single source of truth for infrastructure and deployment teams.

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Gitops blog series

Part 2 of 3: Why collaboration technology is critical for GitOps

How GitLab can be the single source of truth for infrastructure and deployment teams.

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Gitops blog series

Part 3 of 3: Why collaboration technology is critical for GitOps

Why multi-cloud compatibility supports a clean GitOps workflow.

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Gitops blog workflow

Optimize GitOps workflow with version control from GitLab

A GitOps workflow improves development, operations and business processes and GitLab’s CI plays a vital role.

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Gitops blog why

Why GitOps should be the workflow of choice

What is GitOps and how do you apply it in real-world applications?

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