CI/CD Insights and Analytics

5 Ways to Speed up GitHub Actions Continuous Integration Workflows

In this article, we'll take a look at some ways you can speed up your GitHub Actions CI workflows
Ismail Egilmez
4 mins read

Optimizing the speed of your build and deployment processes can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your team and lead to a better experience for your users.

Continuous integration (CI) workflows are a critical part of the software development process, as they help ensure that code changes are automatically built, tested, and deployed. However, if your CI workflows are running slowly, it can impact the efficiency and productivity of your team. In this article, we'll take a look at some ways you can speed up your GitHub Actions CI workflows.

Use caching

One way to speed up your CI workflows is to use caching to store and restore frequently used dependencies. This can help reduce the time it takes to clone and set up the environment for your workflow, as the dependencies don't need to be downloaded every time the workflow is run. You can use the cache action in your workflow file to use caching in GitHub Actions.

Caching can be a useful technique for speeding up your GitHub Actions CI workflows, as it allows you to store and restore frequently used dependencies, which can help reduce the time it takes to clone and set up the environment for your workflow. Here's an example of how you might use caching in a workflow file to speed up your CI workflows:


name: CI

on: [push]

jobs:
  build:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v2
      - name: Restore dependencies
        uses: actions/cache@v2
        with:
          path: vendor
          key: ${{ runner.os }}-vendor-${{ hashFiles('composer.lock') }}
          restore-keys: |
            ${{ runner.os }}-vendor-
      - name: Install dependencies
        run: composer install
      - name: Build project
        run: composer build

In this example, the actions/cache action is used to restore the vendor directory from the cache, using a cache key that is based on the operating system (${{ runner.os }}) and the hash of the composer.lock file. If the vendor directory is not found in the cache, it will be installed using the composer install command.

By using caching, you can speed up the execution of your CI workflow by reducing the time it takes to clone and set up the environment. This can be especially useful if your repository has many dependencies or if your build process involves many steps.

Caching can be a useful technique for optimizing the performance of your GitHub Actions CI workflows and can help reduce the overall execution time of your workflows.

Optimize your build process

Another way to speed up your CI workflows is to optimize your build process. Look for opportunities to streamline your build process, such as by reducing the number of steps or optimizing the use of resources. For example, you can parallelize certain tasks or use faster build tools to speed up the process.

Here are a few strategies you can use to optimize your build process:

  • Parallelize tasks: If your build process involves a lot of independent tasks, you can parallelize them to take advantage of multiple cores or processors. This can help reduce the overall execution time of your build process.
  • Use faster build tools: Some build tools may be faster than others at completing certain tasks. For example, if you are using a slower build tool to compile your code, you can speed up your build process by switching to a faster tool.
  • Optimize resource usage: If your build process requires a lot of resources, such as CPU or memory, you can optimize the use of these resources to speed up the build process. For example, you can reduce the memory usage of certain tasks by using more efficient algorithms or data structures.

Here's an example of how you might optimize your build process in a GitHub Actions CI workflow:


name: CI

on: [push]

jobs:
  build:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v2
      - name: Install dependencies
        run: composer install
      - name: Build project
        run: composer build --parallel

In this example, the composer build command is run with the --parallel flag, which tells Composer to execute tasks in parallel when possible. This can help reduce the overall execution time of the build process.

Optimizing your build process is important in speeding up your GitHub Actions CI workflows. By using techniques such as parallelization and optimizing resource usage, you can help ensure that your workflows are running as efficiently as possible.

Increase concurrency

By default, GitHub Actions allows a maximum of 10 concurrent runs per repository. If you have multiple workflows running simultaneously, this can cause them to queue up and potentially run slower. You can increase the maximum number of concurrent runs by modifying the max-jobs setting in your workflow file.

To increase the concurrency of your workflows, you can modify the max-jobs setting in your workflow file. This setting determines the maximum number of concurrent runs that are allowed for a particular job or workflow.

Here's an example of how you might increase the concurrency of your workflows in a GitHub Actions CI workflow:


name: CI

on: [push]

jobs:
  build:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    max-jobs: 20
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v2
      - name: Install dependencies
        run: composer install
      - name: Build project
        run: composer build

In this example, the max-jobs setting is set to 20, which allows up to 20 concurrent runs of the build job. This can help speed up the execution of your workflows, as more jobs can run in parallel.

It's important to note that increasing the concurrency of your workflows may also increase the overall load on your repository and the GitHub Actions infrastructure. You should carefully consider the resources required by your workflows and the impact on your repository before increasing the concurrency setting.

Overall, increasing concurrency can be a useful technique for optimizing the performance of your GitHub Actions CI workflows and can help reduce the overall execution time of your workflows by allowing more jobs to run in parallel.

Use faster runners

Another way to speed up your CI workflows is to use faster runners to execute your workflows. GitHub Actions provides various runner options, including self-hosted runners and runners provided by third-party providers. Some runners may have more resources or faster processing speeds, which can help reduce the overall execution time of your workflows.

To use a specific runner for your workflow, you can specify the runs-on setting in your workflow file. This setting determines which runner should be used to execute the workflow. Here's an example of how you might use a faster runner in a GitHub Actions CI workflow:


name: CI

on: [push]

jobs:
  build:
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    steps:
      - uses: actions/checkout@v2
      - name: Install dependencies
        run: composer install
      - name: Build project
        run: composer build

In this example, the runs-on setting is set to ubuntu-latest, which specifies that the workflow should be run on the latest version of Ubuntu provided by GitHub Actions. This runner has a faster processing speed and more resources than some of the other runner options, which can help reduce the overall execution time of the workflow.

You can also use self-hosted runners or runners provided by third-party providers if you need more control over the environment in which your workflows are run. Depending on the specific runner and configuration, these runners can provide additional resources or faster processing speeds.

Using faster runners is a useful technique for optimizing the performance of your GitHub Actions CI workflows and can help reduce the overall execution time of your workflows by providing faster processing speeds and more resources.

Monitor and troubleshoot

If you're having issues with slow workflow execution, it can be helpful to monitor and troubleshoot the issue to identify the root cause. Unfortunately, GitHub does not provide off-the-shelf tools and resources to help you monitor and troubleshoot your workflows.

Applying observability principles to your GitHub Actions CI workflows can help you identify and troubleshoot issues with your CI workflows, which can lead to faster resolution and improved performance.

Observability makes it easier to understand and monitor the behavior of systems, services, and applications. This can be achieved through the use of tools such as logs, metrics, and tracing to provide visibility into the inner workings of a system.

By incorporating observability principles into your CI workflows, you can better understand how your workflows function, identify bottlenecks and performance issues and make informed decisions about optimizing your workflows for faster builds. Tools like Foresight helps you gain observability into your CI workflows.

Here are some ways you can apply observability to improve the performance of your GitHub Actions CI workflows:

  1. Monitor GitHub Actions workflows with a custom dashboard that includes actionable insights to optimize the performance of your workflows. Monitor resource usage metrics, workflow costs, duration, success & failure rates, jobs with high failure rates, etc.
  2. Identify slow, flaky, and erroneous tests. Long-running test suites and frequent failing tests are the most common reason for slowing down build times and hence reducing deployment frequency. You should have visibility into your test runs to quickly debug test failures, detect flaky tests, identify slow tests, and visualize performance over time to identify trends.
  3. Discover critical code changes no test has covered. On top of the code coverage, you should determine how much of the code changes are covered by the existing tests. Pull requests can be automatically approved or passed through reviews depending on the quality risk to ensure only high-quality builds are moved to production.
  4. Implement alerting to identify issues proactively: By setting up alerting, you can be notified when something goes wrong with your CI workflows, allowing you to identify and fix issues before they cause significant delays quickly. Ensure you do not miss any critical changes in your GitHub Actions workflows. You should receive notifications for fluctuations in key performance metrics as your workflows run.

By applying these observability practices to your CI workflows, you can better understand how your workflows function and make informed decisions about optimizing them for faster builds and more efficient development processes.

TL;DR

Summing up, there are a number of ways you can speed up your GitHub Actions CI workflows to improve the efficiency and productivity of your team. You can ensure that your CI workflows are running as efficiently as possible by using caching, optimizing your build process, increasing concurrency, using faster runners, and monitoring and troubleshooting issues.

Flexible pricing that scales with your team, and free for open-source!

See our pricing plans