What is GitHub Actions? How automation & CI/CD work on GitHub

November 11, 2021 // 2 min read

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A full guide on the benefits of having built-in automation and CI/CD capabilities on GitHub, how GitHub Actions work, common use cases, and more.

First launched in 2018 as a platform-native automation tool, GitHub Actions has evolved to give developers powerful automation and CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) capabilities right next to your code in GitHub.

At its core, GitHub Actions is designed to help simplify workflows with flexible automation and offer easy-to-use CI/CD capabilities built by developers for developers.

Compared with other automation or CI/CD tools, GitHub Actions offers native capabilities right in your GitHub flow. It also makes it easy to leverage any of the 10,000+ pre-written and tested automations and CI/CD actions in the GitHub Marketplace as well as the ability to write your own with easy-to-use YAML files.

The best part? GitHub Actions responds to webhook events. That means you can automate any workflow based on a webhook trigger in your GitHub repository—whether it’s from an event on GitHub or from a third-party tool.

In this guide, we’ll explore the following:

  • What are GitHub Actions and how do they work? Everything technical you need to know about GitHub Actions and how its automation and CI/CD features work.
  • Who can use GitHub Actions? What’s included in GitHub’s free and paid plans.
  • What can you do with GitHub Actions? Common ways other developers are using GitHub Actions to simplify their workflows.

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The benefits of GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions offers a powerful array of functionality and features to aid your developer experience. Here are just a few:

  • Automate everything within the GitHub flow: Actions gives you the ability to implement powerful automations right in your repositories. You can create your own actions or use readily available actions on the GitHub Marketplace to integrate your preferred tools right into your repository.
  • Hosted virtual machines on multiple operating systems: Actions offer hosted virtual machines (VM) with Ubuntu Linux, Windows, and macOS so you can build, test, and deploy code directly to the operating system of your choice—or all three at the same time.
  • Pre-written CI templates that are ready to use: GitHub Actions brings continuous integration (CI) directly to the GitHub flow with templates built by developers for developers. You can also create your own custom CI workflows, and your own continuous deployment (CD) workflows, too (more on that later).
  • Simple container and operating system testing: With support for Docker and access to hosted instances of Ubuntu Linux, Windows, and macOS, Actions make it simple to build and test code across systems—and automate build and test workflows, too.
  • Use it on your public repository for free: GitHub Actions is free to use on all public repositories—and can be used for free on private repositories with a limit of 2,000 minutes a month of hosted workflows (or an unlimited amount of minutes if a developer hosts their own GitHub Action server).

Get the full guide to learn more about GitHub Actions

Download our PDF guide now to find out how GitHub Actions works and what you can do with it, from automating pull request notifications in Slack to building out a full CI/CD pipeline.

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