Airflow vs Jenkins: 6 Critical Differences

on Apache Airflow, Data Integration, ETL, Jenkins • February 10th, 2022 • Write for Hevo

Airflow is open-source software that allows users to create, monitor, and organize their workflows. Alooma describes Airflow as workflow automation and scheduling system for building and managing data pipelines. To use this service, programmers have to input code using the Python programming language. Once you input the required code into the system, Airflow will monitor and organize your workflow on your behalf. 

On the other hand, Jenkins is a free integration application that lets users access the functions of a variety of plugins from a single platform. This software is compatible with over 300 plugins. Developers can install useful plugins to their Jenkins accounts and use them to build, test and deploy their code efficiently. 

Building codes can be mind-boggling, especially if you don’t deploy automation tools to optimize your workflow. Two software development apps that enable easy workflow are Jenkins and Airflow. In this article, we will perform an Airflow vs Jenkins comparison to help you find the most suitable option for optimizing your workflow.

Table of Contents

What is Airflow?

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Apache Airflow is a popular and open-source tool that empowers you to automate your workflow. This Python-based tool simplifies your task of setting up and maintaining Data Pipelines. Airflow’s key component called DAG (Directed Acyclic Graphs) allows you to manage, structure, and organize the complex process of extracting data from input sources and then transforming & loading it into a database or data warehouse destination for analysis or visualization.

Apache Airflow also offers the facility of scheduling your automated workflows. This implies, your workflow will run at the specified time without requiring any human intervention. Therefore, you can depend on Airflow to manage your workflow while you focus on other key business activities. This tool has an intuitive Web-based User Interface that is convenient to use. Furthermore, Airflow enables you to execute tasks via a command-line interface that comes in handy if you need to manage such tasks outside of already set workflows

To learn more about Apache Airflow, visit here.

What is Jenkins?

Airflow vs Jenkins: Jenkins Logo
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Jenkins is a Java-based open-source server that allows you to execute a sequence of continuous Data Integration tasks, in an automated manner. This server runs in servlet containers such as Apache Tomcat. Jenkins promotes data integration and ensures secure delivery of data for software projects. It also automates the various tasks associated with the building, testing, and deployment of projects. Therefore Jenkins provides you with a reliable data solution.

Jenkins is popular among developers as it automates the software development task in a continuous manner and allows them to detect errors at an early stage. Furthermore, Jenkins supports a vast online community that offers fast and easy troubleshooting solutions in case you are stuck with Jenkin’s features. This tool also contains an extensible and thriving plugin ecosystem that further enhances your workflow.

To learn more about Jenkins, visit here.

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Airflow vs Jenkins: Key Differences

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The following critical differences will help you in choosing between Airflow and Jenkins:

Airflow vs Jenkins: Purpose

The purpose of Airflow is to create and organize workflows. This software has several features that enable workflow management. Some of these features are:

  • DAG (Direct Acrylic Graph): This functionality collects all the tasks a developer has at a particular time and organizes them according to their relationships with each other. 
  • Xcom: Xcom transfers data collected in one task to a related job. This process is facilitated by the DAG, which arranges tasks according to their relationships. 
  • Webhooks: The function of Webhooks is to move data from your pipelines into your database. This feature is essential for ensuring database security. 

When you release a product, your pipelines will most likely become public information. Thus, it is necessary to keep database authentication information outside the pipelines. 

By transferring data from your Airflow pipelines to your databases, Webhooks eliminates the need for internal links between your pipelines and database. This protects your database from security threats.

  • Variables and Connections: Variables and Connections allow Airflow to connect to servers without the need for you to input code.

In contrast, the purpose of Jenkins is to host different plugins on a single platform. This lets developers perform varying tasks on one server. The plugins on Jenkins range from statistical analytic plugins to team communication plugins and utility plugins. 

Common examples of Jenkins plugins are:

  • Slack Integration: This plugin sends alerts about your app builds from Jenkins to your Slack channel. 
  • Mailer: Mailer allows you to customize your email notifications. You can also set when your team members will receive emails about your builds.
  • Jira Jenkins: This plugin communicates data about your Jenkins builds to your Jira account. You can also use the Jira Jenkins plugin to track issues on your creations in Jenkins and Jira

Airflow vs Jenkins: Workflow Management

Airflow is primarily a workflow management software. As such, it has inbuilt tools like roadmaps and directions for the effective organization of tasks. 

However, Jenkins wasn’t necessarily built for workflow management. The benefit of using Jenkins over the manual deployment of your code is that the app allows you to apply several functionalities to your builds within one server. 

Although users may perform their tasks quickly with Jenkins, they might get confused with the order in which to process these tasks. 

Airflow vs Jenkins: Plugin Library

Airflow has a small library of plugins, like Databand, Azure Purview, and MaxPatrol. For instance, Databand is mostly used for tracking the input and output of data in pipelines. These integrations only offer basic functionalities that are essential for developers when building and deploying code. 

On the other hand, Jenkins has an extensive library of integrations, such as GitHub, Lokalise, Qualibrate, Wufoo and CloudQA. You can use these plugins for advanced functionalities like:

  • Team Collaboration: The GitHub and Slack plugins on Jenkins allow you to code with your team members.
Airflow vs Jenkins: Plugin Library
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  • Language Translation: Let’s say the original language used in your app is English, but you want Spanish, Chinese, and French speakers to use your applications easily. You have to translate the words to their languages using a tool like Lokalise which automatically translates the words in your language to your user’s language.
  • UI Testing: The Jenkins CloudQA integration lets you test the User Interface on your apps. 

Airflow vs Jenkins: Setup

It is more difficult to set up Airflow architecture than Jenkins. You can only set up your Airflow system using either of these two executors: Celery executor or Kubernetes executor. 

Airflow vs Jenkins: Setup
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Both executors have complex structures. Besides, there are no extensive tutorials to help beginners understand how the executors work. So, if you are not an Airflow expert, you might be unable to install and maintain your Airflow architecture on your own. 

In contrast, Jenkins has a simple setup process. Although it may take about 2 – 3 months to set up the architecture on your server, it is quite easy to learn. The structure is familiar to most developers, and many tutorials explain the installation process to newbies. 

Airflow vs Jenkins: Production and Testing

Since Airflow is not a DevOps tool, it does not support non-production tasks. This means that any job you load on Airflow will be processed in real-time. 

However, Jenkins is more suitable for testing builds. It supports test frameworks like Robot, PyTest, and Selenium. That said, you can also use Jenkins to create apps with build systems like Gradle and Maven.

Airflow vs Jenkins: Jenkins Grid
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Airflow vs Jenkins: Suitable Platforms

Airflow does not support Windows Operating System. The only suitable platform for operating Airflow is SaaS (Software as a Service). 

Nevertheless, some developers run the software on Windows using subsystems like Ubuntu. Despite this discovery, it is still quite difficult to operate the software on Windows.

On the other hand, Jenkins was built especially for Windows. You can download the Jenkins software to your desktop from the Jenkins website and update the app whenever the manufacturer releases new versions. 

Conclusion

This blog introduced you to Airflow and Jenkins and elaborated on the Airflow vs Jenkins discussion using 6 critical parameters. If you are a beginner developer working for a small-scale tech business, you should use Jenkins to manage your tasks. Jenkins has a simple structure that you can quickly grasp. Also, there are many tutorials that can help you learn what you don’t understand about the software.

However, experienced developers with huge workloads will find Airflow more convenient. The organizational ability of the software will allow them to navigate a myriad of tasks easily. Airflow may be difficult to learn, but the numerous benefits you’ll enjoy will be worth your time. 

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