GitHub Actions Vs. GitLab CI

GitHub Actions and GitLab CI let you build workflows that build, test, and deploy code automatically. Both continuous integration/deployment tools have configuration similarities, but which one should you trust?

This Nira guide will decode the differences between GitHub Actions vs. GitLab CI to help you pick the right choice based on your workflow requirements and objectives.

Our Recommendation = Get GitHub Actions

Based on the price, syntax, features, and extensibility, we recommend choosing GitHub Actions.

With GitHub Actions, you can automate, customize, and execute software development workflows directly inside a repository. Here, each workflow is made up of individual actions, which are essentially packaged scripts that automate software development tasks that run after specific events take place.

When to Get GitLab CI Instead

We recommend using GitLab CI if you prefer GitLab over GitHub. It’s a no-brainer that you’ll be more comfortable with the platform’s interface and familiar with its features and workflows.

Other instances where choosing GitLab CI makes more sense is when you’re looking for reporting (the ability to see specific records reports that aren’t necessarily tied into the larger dashboard) and auditing capabilities.

Pricing – Is GitHub Actions and GitLab CI the Better Deal?

Both GitHub Actions and GitLab CI offer a free tier and premium tiers to cater to a wide range of users. Let’s break down the pricing in more detail below.

Free Tier

GitHub Actions’ free plan gives you 2000 minutes every month, but the storage is restricted to just 500 MB. On the other hand, you get 400 minutes every month and 5 GB of storage if you opt for GitLab CI’s free tier.

Paid Tiers

If you have more complex requirements and a budget to match, you can opt for other plans by paying for extra minutes.

In the case of GitHub Actions, extra minutes are priced based on the operating system. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • macOS – $0.08
  • Windows – $0.016
  • Linux – $0.008

If paying per minute sounds too complex, you can opt for the following fixed plans:

  • GitHub Pro – 3000 minutes a month with 1 GB storage, costing $7 per user monthly 
  • GitHub Team – 2000 minutes a month with 2 GB storage, costing $44 per user monthly 
  • GitHub Enterprise Cloud – 50,000 minutes a month with 50 GB storage, costing $231 per user monthly 

For GitLab CI, you can choose between two fixed paid plans:

  • Premium – 10,000 CI/CD minutes per month, costing $19 per user monthly
  • Ultimate – 50,000 CI/CD minutes per month, costing $99 per user monthly

There’s also an add-on plan that allows you to purchase additional CI/CD minutes or storage. While CI/CD minutes cost $10 per 1000 minutes, you’ll have to pay $60 per 10 GB storage and 20 GB transfer/month, renewable annually.

Clearly, GitHub Actions is more affordable compared to GitLab CI—and by a huge margin. The former’s plans are reasonably priced, so it should be your tool of choice if you’re on a tight budget.

Keep in mind that predicting the pricing for GitHub Actions can be a hassle, especially because it varies quite a bit depending on the commits to the project. Nevertheless, the tool has a clearly defined amount of minutes for each tier, so predicting the final cost isn’t too complicated.

Build Pipelines

Winner = Tie

A continuous delivery pipeline refers to the process the software goes through from a new code commit, followed by testing and other statical analysis steps, to finally the end-users.

GitHub Actions requires workflow YAML files (.yml or .yaml) stored in the .github/workflows directory of a repository, describing the events that trigger the workflow and the base operating system. These files also include the jobs and steps required to run.

In this case, events can refer to pushing to a branch, running a workflow periodically based on a cron expression, or creating a pull request. Each job will have a name and a list of steps in GitHub Actions’ workflow.

On the other hand, GitLab CI uses a YAML file named .gitlab-ci.yml that’s found in the root directory of the repository. It defines the order of the pipeline stages, plus the commands to run for each stage. What’s more, you can also customize this path if needed.

In both cases, you can build pipelines seamlessly—provided use the right syntax—which is why we’ve tied both tools for this feature.

Docker Support

Winner = Tie

Many devs prefer running their builds inside a Docker container. If that’s the case, you’ll be happy to know that both GitHub Actions and GitLab CI support this feature. 

While you’ll be running jobs in a container for GitHub Actions, GitLab CI has something known as the Docker executor to run each build in a separate and isolated container.

Operating Systems

Winner = GitHub Actions

It’s important to note not all the services support the same build environments. Generally, a Linux environment is enough, but sometimes, you may also need other environments like macOS or Windows to build apps.

While GitHub Actions supports Linux, Windows Server, and macOS, GitLab CI supports Linux and the beta versions of macOS and Windows Server. 

While both tools support similar operating systems, we’ve chosen GitHub Actions as the winner for this round because GitLab CI is still in the beta testing phase.

Self-Hosted Runner Support

Winner = Tie

If you have special requirements (think: having the ability to fully customize your environment), consider hosting your own runners in your own infrastructure. Again, both tools allow you to self-host runners so it’s really a matter of which platform feels more suitable for you.

By hosting your own runners, you can deploy and manage to execute jobs from GitHub Actions on GitHub.com. This will give you greater control over the hardware, software, and operating system than what GitHub-hosted runners will provide. 

Note that as the self-hosted will open a connection to GitHub.com, you don’t have to allow GitHub to make inbound connections to your self-hosted runner. The only thing you need to ensure is that the machine has the appropriate network access to communicate with the important GitHub hosts.

On the other hand, GitLab CI uses the GitLab Runner application to run jobs in a pipeline. It’s open-source and written in Go, and has no language-specific requirements. If you want, you can install GitLab Runner on the infrastructure that you own or manage. But before, you have to install the application on a machine that’s separate from the one that hosts the GitLab instance for security and performance reasons. 

Using separate machines will give you different operating systems and tools, such as Docker and Kubernetes, on each device. 

Extensibility

Winner = GitHub Actions

GitHub has a comprehensive Actions Marketplace filled with thousands of actions ready to use to improve your workflow. 

You can perform a wide range of activities like installing language environments, deploying a project with a few lines of code, and caching data between jobs. What’s more, if you don’t find the action you need, you can create your own and publish it in the marketplace.

Needless to say, this Actions Marketplace is also GitHub‘s biggest advantage over its competitors.

GitLab doesn’t have the concept of “action,“ but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking when it comes to extendibility. The platform offers Auto DevOps that helps users with various tasks, including building and testing applications, detecting the code language, deploying the application, and scanning for vulnerabilities.

GitLab vs. GitHub: Which One Makes More Sense for You

To make it easier for you to choose between GitHub Actions and GitLab CI, we also want to briefly touch on the classic GitLab vs. GitHub debate.

Over the years, GitLab has evolved tremendously, moving past allowing code management. Today, you can use the tool to unify your development, deployment, and DevOps efforts into a single platform. 

You can enjoy fine-tuned authentication levels that help ensure every team member gets the precise access they need to do the job without compromising data safety. This is particularly useful when you’re part of a large team or an enterprise.

On the other hand, GitHub has a massive community of developers that gives you access to detailed community support. This makes it easier to get help on common everyday problems regarding installations, reporting, and readme—and even more complex issues.

Another reason why many prefer GitHub over GitLab is that the former is a more stable platform. It has an intuitive version control system that eliminates spontaneous bugs and issues, which is otherwise a common issue many GitLab users regularly complain about.

For a more detailed breakdown, check out our GitLab vs. GitHub article to find out which one would you more suitable for your requirements.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
CIO of 6sense

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