Comparing Salesforce Deployments: Validate Only vs. Unlocked Packages

Salesforce deployments are integral to managing and evolving your Salesforce environment. Two primary methods of deploying changes in Salesforce are “validate only” deployments and “unlocked package” deployments. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, and the choice between them can significantly impact the efficiency, reliability, and maintainability of your Salesforce org. This is particularly true for larger and more mature organizations. In this article, we will explore these two deployment methods in detail, discuss their respective pros and cons, and explain why unlocked packages are the preferred choice for deployment improvements.

Validate Only Deployments

Validate only deployments involve running a deployment process to check whether the changes would be successful without actually committing those changes to the target environment. This method is useful for ensuring that the deployment package will not fail due to validation errors, such as test failures, missing dependencies, or profile mismatches.

Validate only deployments are beneficial in several ways. They mitigate risk by allowing you to validate changes before actual deployment, reducing the likelihood of failures that could disrupt business operations. This method helps in early detection of issues, catching potential problems early in the deployment process. Additionally, since no changes are committed, you can run validations as many times as needed without impacting the live environment, making it a cost-effective option.

However, validate only deployments can be time-consuming, especially if your deployment package is large or complex. They do not provide incremental or modular improvements, as the entire deployment package must be validated together. Furthermore, while useful for catching errors, this method does not offer the modularity, version control, or reusability benefits that package-based deployments provide.

Note: Please see Salesforce Validate-Only and Quick Deployment using SFDX CLI – Salesforce Watch

Unlocked Packages

Unlocked packages represent a more modern approach to Salesforce deployments, introduced as part of Salesforce DX. They allow for modular, reusable, and version-controlled deployment artifacts that can be installed, upgraded, or uninstalled independently.

Unlocked packages offer several advantages. They bring modularity, breaking down the org into smaller, manageable pieces, making it easier to deploy and manage changes. These packages are reusable across multiple orgs, enhancing consistency and reducing duplication of effort. Each package version is tracked, allowing for better change management and easier rollbacks if necessary. Unlocked packages integrate seamlessly with continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, enabling automated testing and deployment. They also support dependency management, ensuring that all required components are present and properly configured. For larger orgs, the modular nature of unlocked packages makes scaling much more manageable. Additionally, you can upgrade individual packages without affecting the entire system, reducing the risk and effort associated with large deployments.

There are some challenges with unlocked packages, including a steeper learning curve associated with creating and managing them. Initial setup requires more time and planning compared to traditional deployment methods. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh these initial hurdles.

Why Unlocked Packages are the Way to Go for Mature Orgs

For larger, more mature Salesforce orgs, unlocked packages offer several advantages that make them the superior choice for deployment improvements.

Firstly, unlocked packages allow for scalability and manageability. They break down the org into smaller, modular components, making it easier to manage and deploy changes incrementally. This modularity is crucial for large orgs with complex dependencies and customizations. You can deploy updates to individual packages without having to redeploy the entire org, reducing the risk of deployment failures and downtime.

Secondly, unlocked packages enhance collaboration and version control. Each package version is tracked, making it easier to manage changes over time. This version control is especially important in larger teams where multiple developers may be working on different parts of the org simultaneously. It ensures that changes are tracked and conflicts are minimized. Additionally, packages can be shared across different environments, promoting collaboration and consistency.

Thirdly, integration with CI/CD pipelines is a significant advantage of unlocked packages. They integrate seamlessly with CI/CD tools, enabling automated testing and deployment processes. This integration is essential for mature orgs looking to implement DevOps practices. Automated deployments reduce the risk of human error, speed up the deployment process, and ensure that changes are thoroughly tested before reaching production.

Fourthly, unlocked packages provide better dependency management. They support dependency management, ensuring that all necessary components are included and properly configured before deployment. This feature is particularly beneficial for large orgs with complex interdependencies, preventing issues related to missing or incompatible components and making deployments more reliable and predictable.

Lastly, unlocked packages offer flexibility and agility. They provide the flexibility to upgrade individual components without affecting the entire system. This agility is crucial for mature orgs that need to respond quickly to changing business requirements or fix issues without waiting for a full deployment cycle. It allows for more frequent and smaller updates, which are easier to test and validate.

While validate only deployments offer a way to catch potential errors before they disrupt your environment, they fall short in providing the modularity, reusability, and advanced management features required by larger and more mature Salesforce orgs. Unlocked packages offer a modern, scalable, and efficient deployment strategy that aligns with best practices for continuous integration and continuous deployment. For mature orgs looking to improve their deployment processes, unlocked packages are clearly the way to go, offering significant benefits in terms of manageability, collaboration, dependency management, and future-proofing.

Partner with SF Connect

To successfully implement a DX migration strategy and alleviate DevOps issues, consider partnering with SF Connect. With extensive experience in Salesforce consulting and advanced admin and development services, SF Connect can guide you through the complexities of adopting unlocked packages and optimizing your deployment processes. Our team is dedicated to helping you achieve a seamless transition and unlock the full potential of your Salesforce environment. Contact SF Connect today to take your Salesforce deployments to the next level.

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