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For developers, GitHub Actions takes automation a step forward

The GitHub Actions tool lets developers automate their software development workflows with containers in the GitHub environment without the need to run code themselves.

GitHub Actions, an event-based tool that helps developers automate workflows, shows promise for those who want to speed up steps in their software development processes but are hampered by poorly integrated tools. The tool is now in limited public beta.

Most developers choose to host their source code on GitHub, so additional auxiliary services such as Actions are big for developers that want high-quality development tools in the open source world, said Rockford Lhotka, CTO of Magenic, an IT services firm in St. Louis Park, Minn.

"As awareness and demand for DevOps continues to grow across the industry, having this sort of capability built in to GitHub, and still enabling the use of external services, is a big win for developers," he said.

Developers typically think in terms of delivery pipelines, but an event model is more open and flexible, able to execute functions based on notifications, user input or sensor outputs, added Rod Johnson, creator of the Spring Framework and CEO of Atomist.

"GitHub Actions puts event handling at the center of software delivery," Johnson said.

GitHub Actions lets users run compute in GitHub's cloud, triggered by any GitHub event, such as commits or pull requests. Pulumi is one example of a company with GitHub partnership and a platform that supports GitHub Actions. Pulumi's platform responds to these events and provides the benefits of infrastructure as code integrated into a workflow. GitHub Actions also integrates with HashiCorp Terraform to automatically check for configuration errors and simplify pull request reviews.

The ability for developers to set up triggers for events that involve their code workflow also means they can, in effect, do CI/CD within GitHub, said Joe Duffy, CEO at Pulumi. GitHub Actions uses Docker containers for extensibility, to combine with tools such as Pulumi and integrate into a cloud platform with a developer's preferred code and Git workflows.

Moreover, with GitHub Actions, developers can easily build, package, release, update and deploy a project in any language -- on GitHub or any external system -- without having to run code themselves, wrote Jason Warner, head of technology at GitHub, in a blog post.

Edwin Yuen, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupEdwin Yuen

Potentially the biggest benefit of GitHub Actions is the ability to tap into the GitHub community to share workflows, said Edwin Yuen, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group based in Milford, Mass. It also opens the doors for nondevelopers to look at GitHub as a way to automate workflows associated with the development process, including operations and security.

"It's the broader potential uses for Actions that drive some potentially amazing things and could make GitHub the community hub for more than just development for most companies," Yuen said.

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