About continuous integration

You can create custom continuous integration workflows directly in your GitHub repository with GitHub Actions.

GitHub Actions is currently in limited public beta and is subject to change. We strongly recommend that you do not use this feature for high-value workflows and content during the beta period.

For more information, see "About GitHub Actions."

In this article:

About continuous integration

Continuous integration (CI) is a software practice that requires frequently committing code to a shared repository. Committing code more often detects errors sooner and reduces the amount of code a developer needs to debug when finding the source of an error. Frequent code updates also make it easier to merge changes from different members of a software development team. This is great for developers, who can spend more time writing code and less time debugging errors or resolving merge conflicts.

When you commit code to your repository, you can continuously build and test the code to make sure that the commit doesn't introduce errors. Your tests can include code linters (which check style formatting), security checks, code coverage, functional tests, and other custom checks.

Building and testing your code requires a server. You can build and test updates locally before pushing code to a repository, or you can use a CI server that checks for new code commits in a repository.

About continuous integration using GitHub Actions

CI using GitHub Actions offers default workflows that build the code in your repository and run your tests on GitHub-hosted servers. Workflows run in virtual environments on cloud-hosted servers and have access to a clone of your repository. For more information, see "Virtual environments for GitHub Actions."

You can configure your CI workflow to run when a GitHub event occurs (for example, when new code is pushed to your repository), on a set schedule, or when an external event occurs using the repository dispatch webhook.

GitHub runs your CI tests and provides the results of each test in the pull request, so you can see whether the change in your branch introduces an error. When all CI tests in a workflow pass, the changes you pushed are ready to be reviewed by a team member or merged. When a test fails, one of your changes may have caused the failure.

When you set up CI in your repository, GitHub analyzes the code in your repository and recommends CI workflows based on the language and framework in your repository. For example, if you use Node.js, GitHub will suggest a template file that installs your Node.js packages and runs your tests. You can use the CI workflow template suggested by GitHub, customize the suggested template, or create your own custom workflow file to run your CI tests.

Screenshot of suggested continuous integration templates

In addition to helping you set up CI workflows for your project, you can use GitHub Actions to create workflows across the full software development life cycle. For example, you can use actions to deploy, package, or release your project. For more information, see "About GitHub Actions."

Supported languages

GitHub offers CI workflow templates for a variety of languages and frameworks.

Browse the complete list of CI workflow templates offered by GitHub in the actions/starter-workflows repository.

Core concepts for continuous integration with GitHub Actions

These are some common terms that have specific meaning when using continuous integration with GitHub Actions.

Workflow

A configurable automated process that you can set up in your repository to build, test, package, release, or deploy any project on GitHub. Workflows are made up of one or more jobs and can be scheduled or activated by an event.

Workflow run

An instance of your workflow that runs when the pre-configured event occurs. You can see the jobs, actions, logs, and statuses for each workflow run.

Workflow file

The YAML file that defines your workflow configuration with at least one job. This file lives in the root of your GitHub repository in the .github/workflows directory.

Job

A defined task made up of steps. Each job is run in a fresh instance of the virtual environment. You can define the dependency rules for how jobs run in a workflow file. Jobs can run at the same time in parallel or be dependent on the status of a previous job and run sequentially. For example, a workflow can have two sequential jobs that build and test code, where the test job is dependent on the status of the build job. If the build job fails, the test job will not run.

Step

A step is a set of tasks performed by a job. Each step in a job executes in the same virtual environment, allowing the actions in that job to share information using the filesystem. Steps can run commands or actions.

Action

Individual tasks that you combine as steps to create a job. Actions are the smallest portable building block of a workflow. You can create your own actions, use actions shared from the GitHub community, and customize public actions. To use an action in a workflow, you must include it as a step.

Continuous integration (CI)

The software development practice of frequently committing small code changes to a shared repository. With GitHub Actions, you can create custom CI workflows that automate building and testing your code. From your repository, you can view the status of your code changes and detailed logs for each action in your workflow. CI saves developers time by providing immediate feedback on code changes to detect and resolve bugs faster.

Continuous deployment (CD)

Continuous deployment builds on continuous integration. When new code is committed and passes your CI tests, the code is automatically deployed to production. With GitHub Actions, you can create custom CD workflows to automatically deploy your code to any cloud, self-hosted service, or platform from your repository. CD saves developers time by automating the deployment process and deploys tested, stable code changes more quickly to your customers.

Virtual environment

GitHub hosts Linux, macOS, and Windows virtual environments to run your workflows.

Runner

A GitHub service in each virtual environment that waits for available jobs. When a runner picks up a job, it runs the job's actions and reports the progress, logs, and final results back to GitHub. Runners run one job at a time.

Event

A specific activity that triggers a workflow run. For example, activity can originate from GitHub when someone pushes a commit to a repository or when an issue or pull request is created. You can also configure a workflow to run when an external event occurs using the repository dispatch webhook.

Artifact

Artifacts are the files created when you build and test your code. For example, artifacts might include binary or package files, test results, screenshots, or log files. Artifacts are associated with the workflow run where they were created and can be used by another job or deployed.

Notifications for workflow runs

If you enable email or web notifications for GitHub Actions, you'll receive a notification when any workflow runs that you've triggered have completed. The notification will include the workflow run's status (including successful, failed, neutral, and canceled runs). You can also choose to receive a notification only when a workflow run has failed.

You can also see the status of workflow runs on a repository's Actions tab. For more information, see "Managing a workflow run."

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