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Automating the boring stuff with Github Actions

08 Jun 2022

Recently, at work, I got inspired after having added Renovate to our android repository, and decided that I wanted to increase the level of boring stuff-automation for our team. This is the story on how I used Github Actions to automatically and periodically remove unused resources in our Android-repository.

Prior art

Since this was merely a small side-project, I did not quite have the time to implement a checker for which resources were unused. Luckily, I could leverage the excellent gradle plugin called gradle-unused-resources-remover-plugin. You can find this plugin here, it does basically all of the heavy lifting.

How to call a plugin that is not added to your project

Ideally, since this plugin is only really useful when it’s being called, we want to avoid adding it to the project permanently, since that would slow down the configuration of Gradle. Here’s how I tackled this problem:

  1. Create a file containing a buildscript-block with the gradle plugin portal repository, and a classpath-dependency on the aforementioned gradle plugin. Finally, apply the plugin at the end of this file
  2. Append an apply from-statement to the root build.gradle-file, including our little addon-gradle file

This makes the plugin available for execution, without it having already been added to the repository previously. This little trick is quite useful, and can be re-used to create more of this category of Github Actions to repositories with Gradle.

Calling the plugin, cleaning up, and optionally making a PR

After having included the plugin, we can merely call it, and have it update the workspace. We can then leverage the create-pull-request-action to create a PR with these changes (you can find it here). The action does not create any PR if no changes are detected in the repository.

A sharp eye may notice that, since we’re making some modifications to the build scripts, there will always be some changes to the workspace. This is true - in order for this not to create unwanted PRs, we will have to restore the build scripts to their original state before attempting to call the create-pull-request-action.

Scheduling it

Now that we have everything in place, we need to set the action up to be called at some point.

We could theoretically just do this every time we push to the main branch, but that would potentially caused a larger than desirable volume of PRs. I opted instead for running it on a schedule, which Github Action supports. We can use the following slightly cryptic cron-expression:

    - cron: "30 9 * * 0-5"

To make the action run at 9:30 on Monday-Friday, giving us a pleasant little PR to check out some time after our morning standup. Nice!

Try it out yourself

If this sounds like something you’d like to integrate into your repository, you’re in luck - this action is available for use on Github. You can find it here.

For example usage, you can check out where we call this action in our repository, here.

Should you encounter any issues, we welcome PRs in the action repository.