GitHub actions and workflows

I recently wrote my first real GitHub action workflow at work. It was to publish our website after a merge or push to our main branch.

After this experience, I think these workflows are perfect for simple automation tasks. Things like:

  • Running a linter like rubocop on your code
  • Deploying a simple application (one or a few artifacts).
  • Running unit and integration tests.

I didn’t use self hosted actions, though that seems like a nice escape valve if you want to run things within your own network or run over limit. GitHub publishes the action and workflow limits (storage, runtime) and that’s definitely worth reviewing.

You also can easily stand up a couple of different service containers (right now only postgresql and resdis) for easy integration testing. You can also abstract out your commonly used workflow segments to versioned actions.

It was really a pain to write the workflow, however. I had to push repeatedly to our mainline branch, and there were times I screwed up the YAML or didn’t have my script correct. The feedback loop was slooow. Ouch. There are solutions to run them locally, but I didn’t try it yet.

Other than that, it was a positive experience. If you are using GitHub and have automation needs, take a look at GitHub actions. I am a big fan of CircleCI and have been for years. GitHub actions covers a lot of the same ground. GitHub actions are less sophisticated, but it seems like a definite “innovators dilemma” play. So I expect to see actions to get more and more sophisticated.

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