Mastering GitHub Actions – How to Manually Trigger GitHub Actions for Ultimate Control



Understanding GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions is a powerful, flexible, and built-in workflow automation tool provided by GitHub. It allows developers to automate different tasks, such as building, testing, and deploying their code, all within the GitHub platform. With GitHub Actions, developers can define custom workflows as code and have them automatically triggered based on specific events, such as pushing code, creating pull requests, or merging branches.

Key Components of GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions consist of several essential components that work together to define and execute workflows:

Workflow files: Workflow files are YAML files that define the entry point for your automation. They specify the sequence of jobs and steps to be executed when triggered.

Jobs: A job is a collection of steps that run sequentially or in parallel as part of a workflow. Each job runs on a separate virtual machine or container, enabling parallel execution of different tasks.

Steps: Steps are individual tasks within a job. They can be simple commands, such as running a shell script or executing a specific action, or more complex processes that involve multiple commands or actions.

Actions: Actions are reusable units of code that can be used in workflows. They are pre-built or custom-defined tasks, such as building and deploying code, running tests, or sending notifications. Actions can be shared and used across different workflows, making automation more efficient and consistent.

Manually Triggering GitHub Actions

While GitHub Actions are designed to be automatically triggered based on certain events, there are situations where manually triggering actions can be beneficial. Here are a few compelling reasons to consider manual triggering:

1. Ultimate Control Over When Actions Run

By manually triggering GitHub Actions, developers have complete control over when their workflows are executed. This can be particularly useful when there is a need for precise timing or when specific conditions need to be met before running automation. For example, you may want to trigger a deployment workflow after extensive testing and approval processes.

2. Avoidance of Unnecessary Execution

Not all changes or events require workflow execution. Manually triggering actions allows developers to avoid unnecessary executions, saving resources and preventing unintended consequences. It helps ensure that workflows run only when they are most needed, reducing the noise and clutter associated with excessive automation.

3. Faster Iteration and Development Process

Manually triggering GitHub Actions can speed up the iteration and development process. Developers can trigger actions at specific checkpoints in their development workflow, allowing them to test changes and iterations quickly. This agility promotes faster feedback loops and enables developers to iterate and improve their code more efficiently.

How to Manually Trigger GitHub Actions

To manually trigger GitHub Actions, developers can leverage different techniques and features provided by GitHub Actions:

1. Specify Triggers in Workflow Files

In your workflow files, you can define specific triggers to determine when the workflow should be executed. These triggers can include events, branches, tags, or schedules. By specifying triggers that are less common, developers can ensure that the workflow is primarily triggered manually.

2. Utilize workflow_dispatch Event

The workflow_dispatch event is a built-in event type in GitHub Actions that allows you to manually trigger a workflow directly from the GitHub UI. By defining a workflow_dispatch event in your workflow file, you create an option to manually execute the workflow by clicking a button.

3. Manual Input Parameters

Another way to trigger GitHub Actions manually is to define inputs in your workflow and allow users to provide specific values when executing the action. This approach is useful when certain configuration parameters need to be specified before running a workflow, such as environment variables, deployment options, or target branches.

Step-by-Step Guide: Manually Triggering GitHub Actions

Let’s explore the step-by-step process of manually triggering GitHub Actions using the techniques mentioned earlier:

1. Specify Triggers in Workflow Files

To specify triggers in your workflow files, follow these steps:

    a. Define the on property

Within your workflow file, locate the on property, which determines when the workflow should be triggered. Modify the on property to include specific event types or branches that will activate the workflow. By specifying less commonly triggered events or branches, you ensure that the workflow is primarily triggered manually.

    b. Specify specific event types or branches

In the on property, you can specify specific event types, such as push or pull_request, or target specific branches or tags. For example, you can use on: push: to trigger the workflow only on code pushes to the default branch, or on: pull_request: branches: [feature/*] to trigger the workflow only when pull requests are created against branches starting with feature/.

2. Utilize workflow_dispatch Event

To utilize the workflow_dispatch event, follow these steps:

    a. Define a new workflow_dispatch event

In your workflow file, create a new event that listens for the workflow_dispatch event type. This event type serves as a trigger for manually starting the workflow. Make sure to specify any required inputs for the event.

    b. Create a workflow dispatch event manually

To manually trigger the workflow, navigate to the Actions tab of your repository in the GitHub UI. Find the workflow you want to trigger and click on the “Run workflow” dropdown. Fill out any required inputs and click the “Run workflow” button to start the execution manually.

3. Manual Input Parameters

To use manual input parameters, follow these steps:

    a. Define inputs in workflow files

In your workflow file, define the inputs that are required for your action to run. Inputs can be specified as strings, booleans, or other data types. Make sure to provide a helpful description for each input to guide the user when manually triggering the action.

    b. Pass values when manually triggering actions

When manually triggering the action, the user is prompted to provide values for the defined inputs. These values can be entered directly in the GitHub UI. Users can also provide default values for inputs in the workflow file.


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