GitHub Actions are awesome. The ability of build workflows nicely coupled to source code and backed by cloud computing is truly awesome. No wonder the feature will be moving to general availability on November 13.

I was surprised to noticed this week that you cannot use a GitHub action defined in a private repository like you would normally do with a public action.

name: My workflow
on: push
jobs:
  do-something:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v1
      - uses: my-organization/awesome-action@master
      - name: Last step
        run: ...

The workflow above will raise a 404 error when trying to use my-organization/awesome-action@master if my-organization/awesome-action is a private repository, even if the workflow’s repository is part of the same organization (my-organization). Okay, let’s try checking out the awesome-action and point the step to its local path in the container.

name: My workflow
on: push
jobs:
  do-something:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v1
      - uses: actions/checkout@v1
        with:
          repository: my-organization/awesome-action
          ref: refs/heads/master
          # GitHub's personal access token with access to `my-organization/awesome-action`
          token: $
          path: ./.github/actions/awesome-action
      - uses: ./.github/actions/awesome-action
      - name: Last step
        run: ...

The actions/checkout@v1 is able to checkout my-organization/awesome-action, but the path provided won’t be defined in the next step that tries to use the awesome-action. Someone had reported a similar issue but no one from the GitHub team has reached out. How about a more manual approach?

name: My workflow
on: push
jobs:
  do-something:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v1
      - uses: Checkout my-organization/awesome-action
        run: git clone --single-branch --no-tags --depth 1 -b master https://$:$@github.com/my-organization/awesome-action ./.github/actions/awesome-action
      - uses: ./.github/actions/awesome-action
      - name: Last step
        run: ...

Success! The private repository my-organization/awesome-action is correctly cloned to the provided path and the next step is able to use the awesome-action. The git command uses secrets.GIT_USER and secrets.GIT_TOKEN to be able to access the repository. They were definied in the workflow’s repository settings. secrets.GIT_TOKEN is the GitHub’s personal access token with access to my-organization/awesome-action and secrets.GIT_USER its owner.