Introduction to GoCD

In Part 1 of this guide, the concepts of GoCD Server, GoCD Agents, pipelines, materials, stages, jobs and tasks were introduced. You were also able to get a simple pipeline with a single stage, job and task each working.

In Part 2, you learnt about using pipelines as materials (dependency materials), artifacts and custom tabs.

Let us continue, in this part, by learning about the Value Stream Map (VSM) and about fan-in and fan-out.

Value Stream Map (VSM)

Concept 9: Value Stream Map (VSM)

The Value Stream Map is the full end-to-end (from commits to production) view across pipelines, and maps to the concept of a "Continuous Delivery Pipeline" or "Deployment Pipeline", in the book, "Continuous Delivery" by Jez Humble and David Farley. In their book, a couple of different views of a Deployment Pipeline are presented:

Deployment Pipeline view shows that as you go closer to production, the confidence of the build's production readiness increases
The idea is that, as you go closer to production, the confidence of the build's production readiness increases. (Image © Humble, Farley)
Image depicts the interactions between source code repositories, artifact repositories and different stages of the Deployment Pipeline.
This depicts the interactions between source code repositories, artifact repositories and different stages of the Deployment Pipeline. (Image © Humble, Farley)

A corresponding representation of a Value Stream Map in GoCD looks like this:

Go C D Value Stream Map representing the stages of deployment pipeline

There are some unfortunate differences in naming between GoCD and the book. What is termed as a "Stage of a Deployment Pipeline" in the book is called a "Pipeline" in GoCD. The "Deployment Pipeline" (end-to-end) is called the "Value Stream Map". In the rest of this guide, the term "Pipeline" will refer to a GoCD Pipeline and the term "Stage" will refer to a "Stage of a GoCD pipeline".

Interestingly, Jez Humble was the first product manager of GoCD, and was around while these naming decisions were made. Rumour has it that he regrets the choice of the overloaded term, "Pipeline". :)

The previously defined concepts of a Pipeline, Artifact and Pipeline Dependency (chaining of pipelines) come together to enable a true end-to-end Deployment Pipeline, which is known as a Value Stream Map (VSM) in GoCD. The ability to do this, and so this concept is important because:

  1. Abstraction: It is a level of abstraction in modeling, and allows you to hide (by default) what is going on underneath and not have to know the details unless you need to. It helps talk about and reason about your end-to-end workflow at a different level.
  2. Build once: This allows artifacts to be propagated through the pipelines. As mentioned in the Artifact concept definition, this enables an important CD concept, "Only Build Your Binaries Once".
  3. Parallelization: This provides another approach to parallelize your workflow. In the example above, the User Acceptance Pipeline and the Capacity Testing Pipeline can run simultaneously, providing quicker feedback. This will be discussed later in this guide, in the Fan-In/Fan-Out section.
  4. Traceability: This provides true auditability and traceability, all the way from a commit to production. You know exactly what went into production.

To use a Value Stream Map in GoCD, you don't really need to do anything. If you have pipelines which use pipeline dependencies, then you can always get a VSM at the click of a button. Here is a dashboard view of pipelines which map to the example shown in the concept. Clicking on the VSM link (marked in red boxes) in any of the pipeline tiles shows the VSM from the perspective of that pipeline:

The labels of pipelines - gateways to VSM
Navigating to the VSM

Clicking on the VSM link of the "Production" pipeline takes you to its Value Stream Map, in which all of its upstream pipelines and their source control materials are shown.

VSM from the view of the Production pipeline
VSM from the view of the "Production" pipeline

Clicking on the VSM link of the "Build" pipeline, either from the dashboard or the VSM view above, takes you to a similar view with the perspective of the "Build" pipeline instance. It is shown below. You can see that the source material of "CapacityTesting" pipeline is not shown, because it is not directly downstream of the "Build" pipeline.

VSM from the view of the Build pipeline
VSM from the view of the "Build" pipeline

Now, that we know about the VSM, let's delve a little deeper into powerful concepts called fan-in and fan-out, which the VSM visualizes.

Fan-Out and Fan-In

Let's start with the basic concepts and then use an example to understand this further.

Concept 10: Fan-Out and Fan-In


A pipeline "X" can be said to fan-out to downstream pipelines, when there are multiple downstream pipelines for which pipeline "X" is a dependency. It looks like this:

Pipeline fanning out to downstream pipelines

Similarly, a source material can be said to fan-out to downstream pipelines:

Source Material fanning out to downstream pipelines

This brings in the advantages of parallelization and quicker feedback, which is a key goal of Continuous Delivery. As long as there are enough agents available, all three downstream dependencies will trigger together and can run together.


Opposite of fan-out. When multiple dependencies are used by a single pipeline, then the dependencies are said to fan-in to the pipeline. It looks like this:

image shows multiple dependencies used by a single pipeline as fanning in to the pipeline

In this example, there is a fan-in at the Production pipeline, from its two upstream pipelines and the git material. Similarly, there is a fan-in at the CapacityTesting pipeline. The important aspect of fan-in is not that there are multiple dependencies upstream, but the way that the pipeline is triggered, by ensuring that all of its dependencies are consistent in version, when the pipeline runs. This ensures correctness of the build, and quicker feedback through elimination of spurious builds.

Let's bring back an earlier VSM view, from the Production pipeline perspective, with the links leading into the Production pipeline emphasized a bit, by pinning it:

VSM with links pinned - showing fan-in
VSM with links pinned - showing fan-in

In this setup, the Build pipeline is said to fan-out to the UserAcceptance and CapacityTesting pipelines, and the git material, UserAcceptance pipeline, and CapacityTesting pipeline are said to fan-in to the Production pipeline. From a terminology perspective, that might make sense. But what does it really mean? Why is it important?

To understand that, let's consider what should happen when a commit (say C1) is made to the git material shown. Even though the Production pipeline has a direct dependency on the git material, it should not be triggered automatically. The correct order of triggering of pipelines is:

  1. Build pipeline - with commit C1 (let's say the pipeline label of this is "Build_1").
  2. Once it succeeds, both UserAcceptance and CapacityTesting pipelines with "Build_1" as their dependency (say "UA_1" and "CT_1").
  3. Once they succeed, Production pipeline with git commit C1, pipeline dependency UA_1, and pipeline dependency CT_1.

This ordering and consistency of versioning is what GoCD with fan-out and fan-in will ensure. There are two main reasons for this to be considered very important:

  1. Correctness: Without fan-in, if the CapacityTesting pipeline was slow and UserAcceptance pipeline was fast, then the Production pipeline could have been triggered with an old version of CapacityTesting pipeline and a new version of UserAcceptance pipeline. Imagine deploying to Production without really knowing that all upstream dependent pipelines have not finished successfully!

    A very important part of fan-out and fan-in is that a downstream pipeline will always figure out the correct upstream dependency versions, including repository materials, unless it is manually forced by a user not to.

    Similarly, any artifacts fetched from any upstream pipeline, however many levels up, is guaranteed to be consistent and correct. This means that the right revision of those artifacts will be fetched, irrespective of any other runs of that pipeline that may have run after.

  2. Quicker feedback: By eliminating spurious builds which should never have been built (using wrong dependencies), fan-in provides quicker feedback. Similarly, fan-out allows multiple independent downstream pipelines to run simultaneously, providing quicker feedback.

This has been a bit of a whirlwind tour of some of GoCD's concepts and ideas. To learn more about all the other features and how to use them, head on over to the GoCD documentation page.