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Run github actions workflows locally using act

I’m spending more time recently working with GitHub actions and runners. I’ve found it helpful to test the GitHub Actions workflows on my local dev machine to get quick feedback and to also not populate my git histoy with “fix”-type commits.

Prerequisite:

  • I have docker running on my machine.
  • The workflows use only linux containers. act currently doesn’t support Windows or Mac.

Steps

  1. Download and configure act and test initial run
  2. Configure act to use non-default docker image with env vars and secrets
  3. Configure act for self-hosted runners
  4. Run act with debug to see what act is doing

Download and configure act

Download act from the https://github.com/nektos/act/releases or clone the repo.

Run act –dryrun so that act creates its default config file in $HOME/.actrc.
Since I’m using windows, the code snippets show the Windows file path separator.

act --dryrun --workflows .github\workflows\test-ci.yml --verbose --list

Looking at $HOME/.actrc, these default entries should exist:

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-P ubuntu-latest=ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest
-P ubuntu-20.04=ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-20.04
-P ubuntu-18.04=ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-18.04

Configure act to use non-default docker images

The images that act uses are listed in a table – https://github.com/nektos/act#runners. What does that table mean?

In a workflow file, say my markdown-lint.yml, the job definition looks like this:

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jobs:
  lint:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest

That runs-on tag tells the runner to use the ubuntu-latest image when executing the job.

When running the job locally, act has to somehow know which docker image to use when it sees the ubuntu-latest in the workflow yml file.
This mapping exists in the act config file, $HOME/.actrc.
The ubuntu-latest tag points to the docker image ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest

In a simplified way, act does the following:

  • reads the workflow yml
  • finds that the job should run on ubuntu-latest
  • looks up its config, sees ubuntu-latest is mapped to ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest
  • somehow prepares ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest
  • runs the workflow yml job on ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest.

If I’d like to use another docker image, then I update the act config file, $HOME/.actrc, and add the following entry:

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-P ubuntu-latest=localhost:5000/my-awesome-docker-image:0.1.0

Now act will run the workflow on docker image localhost:5000/my-awesome-docker-image:0.1.0

Set up for self-hosted runners

If I’m using self-hosted runners, then the job definition in the workflow yml would look like this:

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jobs:
  prep:
    runs-on: [self-hosted, my-awesome-runner]

Then I update the act config file, $HOME/.actrc, and add the following entries:

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-P self-hosted=localhost:5000/myawesomeselfhostedrunner:0.2.0
-P my-awesome-runner=localhost:5000/myawesomeselfhostedrunner:0.2.0

Now act will run the workflow on docker image localhost:5000/my-awesome-docker-image:0.1.0

If I want to run a custom runs-on tag against the act default images,
replacing the above, i.e., localhost:5000/myawesomeselfhostedrunner:0.2.0 with ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest would also work:

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-P self-hosted=ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest
-P my-awesome-runner=ghcr.io/catthehacker/ubuntu:act-latest

Run with debug flag to see what act is doing

Use the --verbose option to see more details on what act is doing when listing the jobs available in the workflow yml file. CLI options to use are also documented.

I’ve also added a .secrets in case some GitHub Actions require a token to do something.
Note to self: to avoid accidentally committing these, add them to .gitignore

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act `
--env-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflows-locally-with-act.env `
--secret-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflow-locally-with-act.secrets `
--workflows .github\workflows\test-ci.yml --verbose --list

The output would look like this:

Debug output of act Debug output of act

Run a specific job (remove --dryrun and add --job):

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act `
--env-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflows-locally-with-act.env `
--secret-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflow-locally-with-act.secrets `
--workflows .github\workflows\test-ci.yml `--verbose --job prep

Run when a specific event (such as push) occurs on the repository:

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act --env-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflows-locally-with-act.env `
--secret-file github-actions\run-github-actions-workflow-locally-with-act.secrets `
--workflows .github\workflows\test-ci.yml --verbose push

The corresponding output looks like this:

Output of running a github actions workflow on locall Output of running a github actions workflow on locally

Code and sample workflows are on my GitHub.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.