In today's fast-paced software development landscape, the ability to automate repetitive tasks, streamline workflows, and ensure the quality of code has become a requisite standard of implementation. This is where continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) tools come into play. GitHub Actions, a popular offering from the code hosting platform GitHub, has emerged as a powerful tool in the realm of CI/CD.

In this blog post, we will delve into the world of GitHub Actions and explore its key value differentiators. We'll also discuss how it compares (at a high level) to a few other tools, and why Eastwall recommends the GitHub ecosystem. If you are already familiar with, or using GitHub's suite of features, this blog post may be old news - read on if you are interested in GitHub's expertise beyond simple code repository management. 

Value Adds of GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions has experienced a significant rise in popularity over the past three years. Since its introduction in November 2018, it has gained substantial traction within the developer community and has become a popular choice for CI/CD workflows. Several factors have contributed to its rapid adoption and growth, as described below.

Seamless Integration with GitHub

One of the top advantages of GitHub Actions is its deep integration with the GitHub platform. As a natural extension of GitHub, Actions leverages the familiar pull request and repository infrastructure, allowing developers to define workflows using YAML configuration files directly within their repositories. This tight integration makes it incredibly convenient to set up and manage CI/CD pipelines, making it an ideal choice for teams already using GitHub.

Extensive Marketplace of Actions

GitHub Actions boasts an extensive marketplace of pre-built actions, enabling developers to leverage the power of the community to automate various tasks. These actions, created and shared by the GitHub community, cover a wide range of use cases, from running tests and deploying applications to sending notifications and interacting with external services. The Marketplace makes it easy to discover, reuse, and contribute to existing actions, accelerating development cycles and fostering collaboration.

Docker-based Execution Environment

GitHub Actions provides a robust and flexible execution environment based on Docker containers. This enables developers to define their workflows using containers, ensuring consistent and reproducible builds across different environments. Docker-based execution allows for easy scaling, isolation, and portability of workflows, making it simple to migrate and maintain CI/CD pipelines across different infrastructures.

Event-driven Architecture

Unlike some of its competitors, GitHub Actions follows an event-driven architecture. This means that workflows are triggered by specific events, such as a pull request being opened or a push to a specific branch. Actions can be triggered by a wide range of events across the software development lifecycle, enabling granular control over the automation process. This event-driven approach enhances flexibility, as developers can precisely tailor their workflows to fit their specific requirements.

Native GitHub Secrets Management

Security is of paramount importance when it comes to CI/CD pipelines. GitHub Actions provides native integration with GitHub Secrets, a secure and centralized solution for managing sensitive information such as API keys, access tokens, and passwords. These secrets can be easily accessed and utilized within workflows without exposing them in plain text, ensuring that confidential data remains protected.

Competition at a Glance

While there are several notable competitors in the CI/CD space, GitHub Actions stands out with its unique features and integration capabilities. Here's how it compares to three popular competitors:

Jenkins: GitHub Actions provides a more streamlined and user-friendly experience, especially for teams already using GitHub. Workflows can be defined directly within repositories using YAML configuration files, making it easy to get started. In contrast, Jenkins requires a separate installation and configuration process, which can be more complex, particularly for beginners. GitHub Actions' intuitive interface and GitHub's familiar pull request and repository infrastructure make it a more accessible choice. Eastwall strongly prefers working in GitHub Actions over Jenkins just due to the simplicity and ‘get up and go’ functionality. Much of the complex workflow logic that can be achieved in Jenkins can easily be ported and managed in Actions with far less overhead.

CircleCI: When it comes to pricing, CircleCI offers both free and paid plans. The free plan provides a limited number of builds per month and a limited amount of compute resources. The paid plans offer more resources and additional features. GitHub Actions, on the other hand, includes a certain amount of free build minutes and concurrent workflows per month for all public repositories and a limited amount for private repositories. Additional build minutes and features are available as part of GitHub's pricing plans. Depending on the specific needs and requirements of the project, the pricing structures of CircleCI and GitHub Actions may influence the choice between the two tools, and Eastwall found that GitHub Actions was friendlier to those familiar with GitHub’s public ecosystem when comparing the two. If going the Enterprise route, working with Enterprise Managed Users (EMUs) brings a larger ecosystem of services well beyond just actions – and makes GitHub an affordable, attractive option.

GitLab CI/CD: GitLab CI/CD is a strong contender with its comprehensive DevOps platform. However, GitHub Actions shines with the previously mentioned intuitive user interface, extensive marketplace, and seamless integration with the broader GitHub ecosystem. Additionally, GitHub Actions benefits from a larger and more active community, resulting in a wider variety of actions and resources. Eastwall found that the community presence of available (and growing daily) actions made a large differential and hard to go back to GitLab. We’ve actually seen a few companies migrate away from GitLab to GitHub Enterprise in the last nine months.

Looking Forward

GitHub Actions has emerged as a formidable CI/CD tool, offering developers a seamless and integrated solution within the GitHub platform. Its tight integration, extensive marketplace, Docker-based execution environment, event-driven architecture, and native secrets management set it apart from the competition. Whether you are an individual developer or part of a team, GitHub Actions empowers you to automate your workflows, increase productivity, and accelerate software delivery while maintaining the highest standards of code quality and security.

It’s important to consider the larger GitHub ecosystem when making a choice to best leverage actions. When taking on the Enterprise GitHub approach, the support & service organization and ability to scale in the cloud has made GitHub one of, if not the, leading choice in the CI/CD space in 2023. Finding a trusted partner to help navigate the GitHub ecosystem is key. Eastwall offers 3-to-5 day GitHub discovery & strategy sessions where we demonstrate hands-on-keyboard examples of how to leverage GitHub Actions, Advanced Security, and Enterprise Managed Users, then work through proof of value showcases with your team. Ready to figure out where GitHub adds the most value for your organization? We help design, build, and operate innovative cloud solutions on the Azure & GitHub platforms. Please contact us for a free consultation on how we can help transform your business.


tagList [github, devops, software-development]

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