GitLab CI/CD is a DevOps automation tool that helps software developers automate the steps involved in building, testing, and deploying code, as well as improving productivity, security, and quality in during the software development lifecycle.

In this review, we will break down GitLab CI/CD in terms of its features, pricing, advantages, and disadvantages to help determine if it is the right tool for your development needs. And, to give you options when shopping around, we will also reveal some of the best GitLab CI/CD alternatives.

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Overview of GitLab CI/CD

GitLab operations dshboard

GitLab started in 2011 as an open-source project to help a team of programmers collaborate. Since that time, it has grown into a full-fledged DevSecOps platform with over 30 million registered users that helps developers deliver secure and compliant software faster and more efficiently.

GitLab CI/CD falls under the massive GitLab umbrella and is one of the DevSecOps platform’s top sets of features that was eventually added years after the initial company launch.

Features of GitLab CI/CD

GitLab CI/CD has several features to help developers automate their software development life cycle. Here are some of the CI/CD tools’ highlights that you can leverage to make your SDLC on-demand and repeatable without the need for a ton of manual input:

  • Auto DevOps.
  • ChatOps.
  • Browser performance testing.
  • Load performance testing.
  • Connect to external repositories.
  • Interactive web terminals.
  • Review apps.
  • Unit test reports.
  • Docker containers.
  • Feature flags.
  • Code quality.
  • License compliance.
  • Container scanning.
  • Dependency scanning.
  • Security test reports.

Auto DevOps is GitLab’s collection of pre-configured features and integrations that combine to support software delivery. The feature first detects your programming language. Next, it creates and runs default pipelines via CI/CD templates to help build and test your application. From there, you can configure deployments to move from staging to production and configure Review Apps to preview each branch’s changes.

GitLab Auto DevOps feature.
GitLab Auto DevOps

ChatOps lets developers interact with CI/CD jobs through Slack and similar chat services. With ChatOps, programmers can run CI/CD jobs, see job output, collaborate with team members, and more all in one place.

GitLab CI/CD has browser performance testing and load performance testing. The former can help developers quickly see how pending code changes will impact browser performance, while the latter can show how upcoming code changes will affect server performance.

There is no need to move your entire project to GitLab. Connect to an external repository like GitHub, Bitbucket Cloud, etc., and you can enjoy the benefits of GitLab CI/CD without the fuss. The CI/CD tool’s features continue with interactive web terminals that you can open to debug running jobs, plus Review Apps, a collaborative tool that supplies an environment to preview code changes.

GitLab CI/CD has unit test reports that highlight test failures on merge requests. It lets you run CI/CD jobs in separate Docker containers and has risk-reducing feature flags for deploying new application features to production in small batches. Its Code Quality feature analyzes code quality and complexity to simplify code and minimize maintenance, and its License Compliance feature scans project dependencies for their licenses.

GitLabs Code Quality feature.
GitLabs Code Quality

Rounding out GitLab CI/CD’s features are container and dependency scanning that check for known vulnerabilities and security test reports that check for vulnerabilities like data leaks, DoS attacks, and unauthorized access.

GitLab CI/CD pricing

GitLab has three pricing tiers that software developers can choose from. It also has a free 30-day trial for its top offering – the Ultimate plan – with no credit card required. It is worth noting that GitLab is a comprehensive DevSecOps platform. GitLab’s CI/CD tool makes up just part of a massive set of features, and it is not until you get into the Premium plan that advanced CI/CD functionality becomes available.

Here are the pricing tiers for GitLab:

  • Free: No cost with limited features.
  • Premium: $24 per user, per month. Billed annually at $285.36.
  • Ultimate: $99 per user, per month. Billed annually at $1,188.

GitLab’s Free plan supplies all the basics for individual developers, such as five users per namespace, 5GB of storage, 10GB transfer per month, and 400 monthly units of compute.

GitLab Premium is for development teams looking to boost team coordination and productivity. It offers advanced CI/CD via external templates, merge trains, CI/CD for external repo, and a pipelines dashboard. Other GitLab Premium highlights include Enterprise Agile planning, code suggestions, 50 GB of storage, 100 GB transfer per month, and 10,000 monthly units of compute.

GitLab Ultimate offers organization-wide planning, compliance, and security. Pay $99 per user, per month, and you can receive 250 GB of storage, 500GB transfer per month, 50,000 monthly units of compute, vulnerability management, container scanning, static application security testing, and more.

All the plans, including Free, allow you to bring your own GitLab CI runners. You can learn more about GitLab’s pricing here.

Advantages of GitLab CI/CD

GitLab CI/CD has several advantages that make it an attractive choice for developers seeking an automation tool to boost productivity and efficiency:

  • Flexibility.
  • Security.
  • Code quality.
  • Easy to use.

The biggest advantage of GitLab CI/CD is its flexibility. The CI/CD tool works with all the top languages and frameworks and can be tweaked to fit your development team’s unique needs. GitLab CI/CD is also secure thanks to its container and dependency scanning features, security test reports, etc.

Developer code quality can improve with GitLab CI/CD too. The Code Quality feature ensures your code is concise, readable, and as maintenance-free as possible, and the tool helps coders snag bugs and other issues before moving to production. And, while GitLab CI/CD has plenty of features, one of the most important is that the tool is easy to use.

Disadvantages of GitLab CI/CD

Despite its bevvy of features and advantages, GitLab does have a few disadvantages worth mentioning:

  • Sluggish interface.
  • Scalability.
  • Complexity with larger projects.
  • Price.

Where does GitLab CI/CD need improvement? Some say that the interface, while intuitive, can sometimes seem a bit sluggish. Scaling can be difficult for development teams with larger projects, and while primarily user-friendly, GitLab CI/CD can become complex for more extensive projects too. And if you are looking to unlock GitLab CI/CD’s top features, you will have to upgrade to one of its paid plans, which may bust the budget of smaller teams.

Alternatives to GitLab CI/CD

GitLab CI/CD has some competition in the CI/CD tool market. Here are some of the top GitLab CI/CD alternatives.


Jenkins CI/CD dashboard.

If your development team does not mind a complex setup, open-source Jenkins may be your ideal GitLab CI/CD alternative. Besides being free and giving you access to over 1,800 plugins, Jenkins is completely customizable.

You can learn about Jenkins and its features in our Jenkins CI/CD Tool Review.

GitHub Actions

GitHub dashboard.

If you prefer GitHub over GitLab, then GitHub Actions is a no-brainer. The GitLab CI/CD alternative is a more affordable option that is ideal for developers looking to build, test, and deploy directly from GitHub. GitHub Actions has a free plan, and its Team plan starts at $3.67 per user, per month.

See what GitHub Actions has to offer here.

Travis CI

Travis CI/CD tool

Travis CI is a GitLab CI/CD alternative that is easy to set up and maintain if you choose one of its cloud-hosted options that start at $64 per month. Travis CI also has a self-hosted Enterprise option for teams looking for top-notch performance, scalability, and versatility. Its multi-language build matrix supports over 30 coding languages, and the CI/CD tool requires one-third less code than its competition.

Learn more about Travis CI here.

Final thoughts on GitLab CI/CD

While GitLab CI/CD may not be the only tool of its kind, it is a solid choice for development teams seeking automation through a user-friendly, flexible, and secure solution.

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