Dockerfile support for GitHub Actions

When creating a Dockerfile for a Docker container action, you should be aware of how some Docker instructions interact with GitHub Actions and an action's metadata file.

GitHub Actions is available with GitHub Free, GitHub Pro, GitHub Free for organizations, GitHub Team, GitHub Enterprise Cloud, GitHub Enterprise Server, and GitHub One. GitHub Actions is not available for private repositories owned by accounts using legacy per-repository plans. For more information, see "GitHub's products."

In this article

About Dockerfile instructions

A Dockerfile contains instructions and arguments that define the contents and startup behavior of a Docker container. For more information about the instructions Docker supports, see "Dockerfile reference" in the Docker documentation.

Dockerfile instructions and overrides

Some Docker instructions interact with GitHub Actions, and an action's metadata file can override some Docker instructions. Ensure that you are familiar with how your Dockerfile interacts with GitHub Actions to prevent any unexpected behavior.

USER

Docker actions must be run by the default Docker user (root). Do not use the USER instruction in your Dockerfile, because you won't be able to access the GITHUB_WORKSPACE. For more information, see "Using environment variables" and USER reference in the Docker documentation.

FROM

The first instruction in the Dockerfile must be FROM, which selects a Docker base image. For more information, see the FROM reference in the Docker documentation.

These are some best practices when setting the FROM argument:

  • It's recommended to use official Docker images. For example, python or ruby.
  • Use a version tag if it exists, preferably with a major version. For example, use node:10 instead of node:latest.
  • It's recommended to use Docker images based on the Debian operating system.

WORKDIR

GitHub sets the working directory path in the GITHUB_WORKSPACE environment variable. It's recommended to not use the WORKDIR instruction in your Dockerfile. Before the action executes, GitHub will mount the GITHUB_WORKSPACE directory on top of anything that was at that location in the Docker image and set GITHUB_WORKSPACE as the working directory. For more information, see "Using environment variables" and the WORKDIR reference in the Docker documentation.

ENTRYPOINT

If you define entrypoint in an action's metadata file, it will override the ENTRYPOINT defined in the Dockerfile. For more information, see "Metadata syntax for GitHub Actions."

The Docker ENTRYPOINT instruction has a shell form and exec form. The Docker ENTRYPOINT documentation recommends using the exec form of the ENTRYPOINT instruction. For more information about exec and shell form, see the ENTRYPOINT reference in the Docker documentation.

If you configure your container to use the exec form of the ENTRYPOINT instruction, the args configured in the action's metadata file won't run in a command shell. If the action's args contain an environment variable, the variable will not be substituted. For example, using the following exec format will not print the value stored in $GITHUB_SHA, but will instead print "$GITHUB_SHA".

ENTRYPOINT ["echo $GITHUB_SHA"]

If you want variable substitution, then either use the shell form or execute a shell directly. For example, using the following exec format, you can execute a shell to print the value stored in the GITHUB_SHA environment variable.

ENTRYPOINT ["sh", "-c", "echo $GITHUB_SHA"]

To supply args defined in the action's metadata file to a Docker container that uses the exec form in the ENTRYPOINT, we recommend creating a shell script called entrypoint.sh that you call from the ENTRYPOINT instruction:

Example Dockerfile
# Container image that runs your code
FROM debian:9.5-slim

# Copies your code file from your action repository to the filesystem path `/` of the container
COPY entrypoint.sh /entrypoint.sh

# Executes `entrypoint.sh` when the Docker container starts up 
ENTRYPOINT ["/entrypoint.sh"]
Example entrypoint.sh file

Using the example Dockerfile above, GitHub will send the args configured in the action's metadata file as arguments to entrypoint.sh. Add the #!/bin/sh shebang at the top of the entrypoint.sh file to explicitly use the system's POSIX-compliant shell.

#!/bin/sh

# `$*` expands the `args` supplied in an `array` individually 
# or splits `args` in a string separated by whitespace.
sh -c "echo $*"

Your code must be executable. Make sure the entrypoint.sh file has execute permissions before using it in a workflow. You can modify the permission from your terminal using this command:

chmod +x entrypoint.sh  

When an ENTRYPOINT shell script is not executable, you'll receive an error similar to this:

Error response from daemon: OCI runtime create failed: container_linux.go:348: starting container process caused "exec: \"/entrypoint.sh\": permission denied": unknown

CMD

If you define args in the action's metadata file, args will override the CMD instruction specified in the Dockerfile. For more information, see "Metadata syntax for GitHub Actions".

If you use CMD in your Dockerfile, follow these guidelines:

  1. Document required arguments in the action's README and omit them from the CMD instruction.
  2. Use defaults that allow using the action without specifying any args.
  3. If the action exposes a --help flag, or something similar, use that to make your action self-documenting.

Supported Linux capabilities

GitHub Actions supports the default Linux capabilities that Docker supports. Capabilities can't be added or removed. For more information about the default Linux capabilities that Docker supports, see "Runtime privilege and Linux capabilities" in the Docker documentation. To learn more about Linux capabilities, see "Overview of Linux capabilities" in the Linux man-pages.

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