Blog: Trying your GitHub Actions locally

Samanta de Barros

Senior Frontend Engineer


If, like me, configuring GitHub Actions is not your thing and you find yourself wanting to try something before actually pushing it to GitHub (and having to see the effects on real-life), follow this step by step of how to run your GitHub Actions on your own computer.

Trying your GitHub Actions locally illustration

GitHub Actions is a service from GitHub that allows you to automate certain tasks of your development cycle, right from your repository. It allows you to define a series of commands to be run on specified events, and takes care of executing those commands and providing you feedback. You can for instance, run tests when code is pushed to a branch, or do a deployment when code is merged to master.

You may run into the situation where you have to change your action, push it, and wait for GitHub to run it to see if your changes work as intended. In my case, I wanted to test an action that is in charge of releasing ember-simple-auth, to see if the change I had made worked as I intended. I wanted to avoid having to make a release for this and see it fail. After some digging, I couldn't find a way to do a dry run of the action from GitHub, but I found act, a library that lets you run your GitHub Actions locally.

The library requires Docker, where it builds the images defined in your actions and later runs them. So you'll have to install that first. After Docker and act are installed, you can start trying out your actions! There are two ways to achieve that: telling act to trigger an event (see list of events) or to run a job by passing its name.

To trigger an event, from your project folder, you can run act event_name. The default event is push (no need to pass it as an argument). To run a specific job, you can do act -j job_name.

You can also list all the available actions in your project folder by running act -l, or run act event_name -l to see all the actions run for a specific event.

As an example, our release workflow looks something like this:

      - '*'

    name: Release
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest

      - uses: actions/checkout@v1
      - uses: actions/setup-node@v1
          node-version: 12.x
          registry-url: ''

      - name: copy readme to package folder
        run: cp packages/ember-simple-auth
      - name: publish to npm
        run: cd packages/ember-simple-auth && npm publish
          NODE_AUTH_TOKEN: ${{ secrets.NPM_TOKEN }}

On every push of a tag, we release whatever is in that tag to npm.

To try it out, we can run act -j release which uses the job name. When doing so, you will see an output that's roughly like this:

In my case, I wanted to make sure the npm tarball included the README file, which is shown in the publish output here:

Partial view of npm publish output where README file can be seen

After that, I committed my changes with confidence.

P.S.: act is still under development, occasionally you may run into errors like these:

Error: yaml: unmarshal errors:
  line 92: cannot unmarshal !!str `${{ mat...` into bool

It could mean a specific syntax is not yet supported, in this case, the use of ${{...}} in continue-on-error. Since this wasn't part of the workflow/actions I wanted to try, I just worked around that by commenting that line so act wouldn't fail when parsing my actions.

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