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GitLab release automation

Creating a release of your code in GitLab can involve numerous manual tasks such as updating the changelog, bumping the version in package.json or pyproject.toml, tagging the correct commit with a git tag, creating the "Release" in the GitLab UI etc. These tasks are very repetitive and prone to human error so we've put together an automated workflow to make the process as easy as possible.

How does it work?

Including the release-it template from our ci-templates repository enables a release pipeline job which runs on each merge into the default branch of your project. The release job calculates the next version of your project and performs a number of actions such as updating the changelog and bumping package.json versions etc.

The release-it tool is very configurable and can handle many different requirements (see the configuration doc), however, there's an example .release-it.json file in the How to enable automated GitLab releases page which serves as a good starting point for most of our projects.

Commit messages

As recommended in the Git commits section, teams should ideally follow the Conventional Commits standard for projects using the release-it.yml pipeline template. This is also a requirement for the conventional-changelog plugin which is configured in the example .release-it.json config file in How to enable automated GitLab releases. The release-it tool can be configured to work without Conventional Commits if required, however, it should be noted that the release-it.yml pipeline template has only ever been tested using Conventional Commits.

Alternate workflow

Some of our projects prefer not to release a new version of the code each time commits are merged to the default branch. Instead, unreleased changes are queued up and a new release is only created once all features/bug fixes for the targeted version have been merged to the default branch. To support this workflow, the release-it.yml GitLab template has an alternate workflow mode which is enabled by setting the USE_MERGE_REQUEST_RELEASE_FLOW variable to a non-null value.

In this mode, each time commits are merged to the default branch an update-release-merge-request job is triggered. This job assesses all commits since the previous git tag and calculates what the next release version should be. It then generates a merge request containing the proposed changes to the file and any other files configured in the .release-it.json config file for your project. As more commits are merged into the default branch the update-release-merge-request job keeps the merge request updated with the new commits and the calculated release version. Once the team are ready to release the proposed version they simply merge the release merge request. This triggers a pipeline containing the main release job which performs the git tag and generates the GitLab Release for the new version.

Patching previous releases

Both the default and alternate workflows also enable the ability to patch previously released versions. For example, if you have released versions 1.0.0 and 2.0.0 on the default branch you can release a bug fix to the 1.0.0 code on a hotfix branch.

Hotfix branches are simply branches with names that begin hotfix-. The release-it.yml template is configured to also run the release and update-release-merge-request jobs (depending on the workflow you're using) on hotfix branches. This allows you to checkout hotfix branches from previous tags and commit your bug fixes. You then follow the standard workflows above to automatically release the hotfix version. See the Creating a hotfix for a previously released version section of the Automating GitLab Releases tutorial for steps on how to achieve this.

See also