Dynamic matrix generation with GitHub Actions

18 Oct 2021 in Infrastructure

Using a build matrix with GitHub Actions allows us to run tests across multiple combinations of operating systems, platforms and languages. You can set up huge matrices (a matrix with three parameters, each of which has three values will run 27 jobs!), but most workflows that you see will have a single matrix entry.

In this example, we’re going to run our tests on the currently supported versions of Node using the following workflow:

yaml
on: push
jobs:
ci:
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
strategy:
matrix:
version: [12, 14, 16]
steps:
- uses: actions/[email protected]
- uses: actions/[email protected]
with:
node-version: ${{ matrix.version }}
- run: npm ci
- run: npm test

The list of supported Node.js versions is accurate today, but what happens in 6 months? How about 12 months? We’d have to come back and update this list each time the list of supported versions changes.

Let’s update this workflow to build the list of supported versions dynamically so that it’s always up to date.

Create a matrix from an output

In the workflow above we set matrix.version manually, but it doesn’t have to be hardcoded. We can populate it using the output values a previous job. Let’s update the workflow to use an output as the matrix.version value and add a new job that returns a list of currently supported node versions:

yaml
on: push
jobs:
build-matrix:
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
steps:
- id: set-matrix
run: echo '::set-output name=version_matrix::["12","14","16"]'
outputs:
version_matrix: ${{ steps.set-matrix.outputs.version_matrix }}
ci:
needs: build-matrix
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
strategy:
matrix:
version: ${{ fromJson(needs.build-matrix.outputs.version_matrix) }}
steps:
- uses: actions/[email protected]
- uses: actions/[email protected]
with:
node-version: ${{ matrix.version }}
- run: npm ci
- run: npm test

The list of versions is still hardcoded in the set-matrix job, but we’re one step closer to dynamically populating the list of active versions.

Fetch supported Node.js versions

The next step is to replace the hardcoded string (["12","14","16"]) with a data source that dynamically updates. For this post I’m using endoflife.date to fetch the list of active versions.

The API returns a list of objects that look like the following:

json
{
"cycle": "16",
"release": "2021-04-20",
"lts": false,
"support": "2022-10-18",
"eol": "2024-04-30",
"latest": "16.10.0"
}

Out action doesn’t need all of that data - all we need is the cycle value, and to ensure that the eol date is before today. Fortunately the Actions runners have jq installed, which we can use to manipulate the data.

Here’s the command that we use to return the list of active versions:

bash
curl https://endoflife.date/api/nodejs.json | jq -c '[.[] | select(.eol > (now | strftime("%Y-%m-%d"))) | .cycle]'
# ["16","14","12"]

We need to use a sub-shell to run the command in our workflow, which means wrapping the command in $().

Putting it all together, this is what the workflow looks like:

yaml
on: push
jobs:
build-matrix:
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
steps:
- id: set-matrix
run: echo "::set-output name=version_matrix::$(curl https://endoflife.date/api/nodejs.json | jq -c '[.[] | select(.eol > (now | strftime("%Y-%m-%d"))) | .cycle]')"
outputs:
version_matrix: ${{ steps.set-matrix.outputs.version_matrix }}
ci:
needs: build-matrix
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
strategy:
matrix:
version: ${{ fromJson(needs.build-matrix.outputs.version_matrix) }}
steps:
- uses: actions/[email protected]
- uses: actions/[email protected]
with:
node-version: ${{ matrix.version }}
- run: npm ci
- run: npm test

When this workflow runs, it fetches the list of active Node.js versions in the first job then triggers one instance of the ci job per version returned.

Try adding it to one of your own projects to see it work 🥳

Conclusion

The example shown above is simple, but super-useful! As soon as there’s a new version of node available, our code will start being tested against it. No more surprises where the community find out that your code doesn’t work before you do.

I’ve seen a couple of interesting applications of this, but none more interesting than RectorPHP testing their refactoring tool against the top 50 packages in the PHP ecosystem. The top 50 list is populated dynamically to ensure that as new packages are released and picked up, they get early feedback on if their tool is compatible.