As the world of software development continues to evolve, so does the need for effective Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) tools that streamline the process. Two popular solutions, GitHub Actions and Jenkins, are often pitted against each other as developers seek to determine the most effective solution.
This article will explore the top features and differentiators between GitHub Actions and Jenkins, as well as which use cases they are best for, to help you make the best decision for your business.
Table of Contents
What is GitHub Actions?
GitHub Actions makes the process of automating your software workflows easy with CI/CD. You can develop, test, and deploy code from GitHub and make issue triaging, branch management, and code reviews work as you please.
If you’re seeking a tightly integrated solution with an emphasis on ease of use, GitHub Actions may be the right choice, especially if you’re already using GitHub as your source code management system.
What is Jenkins?
Jenkins is a self-contained, open-source automation server that provides numerous plugins to support developing, deploying, and automating projects.
It offers greater flexibility and control for those working with other source code management systems, though it may require more effort to set up and maintain.
- GitHub Actions: Best for CI/CD if GitHub is your source code management system
- Jenkins: Best for CI/CD on other source code management systems
GitHub Actions vs. Jenkins at a glance
Here’s a quick look into the differences between GitHub Actions and Jenkins to help you determine which CI/CD tool is the best fit for your specific needs.
|Price||Free for public repositories, paid for private||Open-source, free|
|Hosting||Hosted on GitHub||Self-hosted|
|Integration||Tightly integrated with GitHub||Numerous community plugins. Integrates with most source code management systems|
|Ease of use||Easy to set up and maintain||Steeper learning curve, more effort|
|Security features||Dependent on GitHub’s security features||Community-supported plugins and configs|
|Scalability||Limited by GitHub’s infrastructure||Highly scalable, depends on self-hosted infrastructure|
|Integration with GitHub||Native integration||Requires plugins|
|Flexibility||Limited by GitHub’s features and infra||Highly flexible due to plugins|
|Maturity||Relatively new, less mature||Established, more mature|
Best for pricing: Jenkins
When it comes to pricing, Jenkins has a clear advantage as it is an open-source tool that comes at no cost to the user.
In contrast, while GitHub Actions usage is free for standard GitHub-hosted runners in public repositories and for self-hosted runners, it does incur a charge for private repositories.
Each private GitHub account receives a certain amount of free minutes and storage for use with GitHub-hosted runners, depending on the product associated with the account. Any usage beyond the included amounts is controlled by spending limits, with billing based on the execution minutes for hosted runners.
Jenkins emerges as the more budget-friendly option for those concerned about pricing, as its open-source nature means there are no direct recurring costs.
Best for hosting: GitHub Actions
When evaluating hosting options, GitHub Actions stands out as the more convenient choice for many users.
As a part of the GitHub ecosystem, GitHub Actions is hosted on GitHub, so you don’t need to worry about setting up and maintaining your own server. This saves time and effort and ensures seamless integration with your existing GitHub repositories and workflows.
Jenkins, on the other hand, requires self-hosting, which means you’re responsible for managing the server infrastructure. While this approach provides greater control over the environment and can be highly scalable based on your infrastructure choices, it also demands additional effort for setup, maintenance, and updates.
Ultimately, the best choice for hosting will depend on your specific needs and preferences. If you prioritize ease of use and a hands-off approach to server management, GitHub Actions is the way to go. However, if you require full control over your CI/CD environment and are prepared to manage the server infrastructure, Jenkins could be your better option.
Best for integration: Jenkins
When it comes to integration capabilities, Jenkins emerges as the top choice due to its extensive range of over 1800 community-contributed plugins and adaptability with various source code management systems.
As a mature and flexible CI/CD tool, Jenkins offers a vast and active community that has developed numerous plugins for integrating with other tools and systems. This means Jenkins can easily connect to various platforms, services, and environments, ensuring a versatile and customizable experience.
While tightly integrated with the GitHub platform, GitHub Actions may provide a different level of flexibility in terms of integration with other tools and systems. Although the GitHub Actions marketplace offers a considerable number of prebuilt actions, it only covers some of the possible integration requirements, particularly for users who work with diverse or niche tools and platforms.
If integration with a wide variety of tools and systems is a priority for your CI/CD workflows, Jenkins is the better choice. Its extensive plugin ecosystem and compatibility with any source code management system make it a highly adaptable and customizable solution for diverse development environments.
Best for scalability: Jenkins
As far as scalability goes, Jenkins holds the edge over GitHub Actions, primarily due to its self-hosted nature.
With Jenkins, you have full control over your server infrastructure, which allows you to scale your CI/CD environment for vertical or horizontal growth as needed. This flexibility means you can choose the size, performance, and configuration of your build environment, making it possible to optimize your CI/CD pipeline based on your project’s specific requirements.
In contrast, GitHub Actions relies on GitHub’s infrastructure, which can impose limitations on your CI/CD pipeline’s scalability. While GitHub provides a robust and reliable environment, its constraints may hinder your ability to scale your CI/CD pipeline to accommodate growing or fluctuating demands. Besides, you may encounter usage limits depending on your GitHub account type, which could further impact the scalability of your pipeline.
Therefore, if scalability is a top priority for your CI/CD pipeline, Jenkins is the superior option. Its self-hosted infrastructure provides the flexibility and control necessary to adapt your pipeline to your project’s evolving needs, ensuring optimal performance and efficiency throughout the development lifecycle.
Why shouldn’t you use GitHub Actions or Jenkins?
While both GitHub Actions and Jenkins offer valuable features and benefits for CI/CD pipelines, they may not be suitable for everyone. It’s essential to understand the limitations of each tool and determine whether they align with your project requirements and preferences.
Who shouldn’t use GitHub Actions?
GitHub Actions may not be the best choice for developers or teams who:
- Do not use GitHub as their primary source code management system: GitHub Actions is designed to work seamlessly within the GitHub ecosystem. If you use a different source code management system, you may face integration challenges and miss out on the benefits of native integration.
- Require extensive integration with diverse or niche tools: While the GitHub Actions marketplace offers many prebuilt actions, it may not cover every possible integration scenario, particularly if you work with niche or custom tools.
- Need to prioritize scalability: GitHub Actions relies on GitHub’s infrastructure, which limits your CI/CD pipeline’s scalability. If your project requires extensive scaling, you may encounter restrictions based on your GitHub account type and available resources.
Who shouldn’t use Jenkins?
Jenkins may not be the ideal choice for developers or teams who:
- Prefer a hands-off approach to server management: Jenkins requires self-hosting, which means that you’re responsible for setting up, maintaining, and updating your server infrastructure. This can be time-consuming and unsuitable for teams with limited resources or expertise in server management.
- Seek an easy-to-use, beginner-friendly tool: Jenkins has a steeper learning curve than GitHub Actions and may require more effort to set up and maintain. If you’re new to CI/CD or prefer a more straightforward, out-of-the-box solution, GitHub Actions might be a better fit.
- Rely heavily on GitHub for source code management: If your team uses GitHub as the primary source code management system, GitHub Actions offers native integration and a more seamless experience. While Jenkins can integrate with GitHub through plugins, the process may not be as smooth or intuitive as with GitHub Actions.
By understanding these limitations and carefully considering your project’s unique needs, you can make an informed decision about whether GitHub Actions or Jenkins is the right CI/CD tool for you.
5 top GitHub Actions and Jenkins alternatives
If you’re exploring CI/CD tools beyond GitHub Actions and Jenkins, you may also want to consider some alternatives with their own unique features and benefits, such as CircleCI, Pantheon, CloudBees, Flosum, or Buddy.
Each of these alternatives brings unique strengths and features to the table, offering diverse options for developers looking to optimize their CI/CD pipelines. You can find the right CI/CD solution that meets your needs by evaluating these tools based on your project’s specific requirements.
CircleCI is a popular cloud-based CI/CD tool that supports multiple languages and platforms.
With its straightforward setup and easy-to-use YAML configuration, CircleCI offers a seamless CI/CD experience. The platform provides robust scaling options, allowing you to allocate resources dynamically based on your project’s requirements.
CircleCI offers a generous free tier, making it an attractive choice for small teams and individual developers.
Pantheon is a web operations platform that combines CI/CD, hosting, and DevOps tools specifically tailored for Drupal and WordPress sites.
With its focus on website development, Pantheon provides a highly optimized environment for managing and deploying websites. Pantheon simplifies many complex tasks, such as caching and performance tuning, making it an excellent option for web developers who want to streamline their CI/CD processes.
CloudBees is a powerful, enterprise-level CI/CD platform built on top of Jenkins. It offers the flexibility and scalability of Jenkins but adds a layer of management and security features for larger organizations.
With CloudBees, you can leverage the extensive Jenkins ecosystem while benefiting from a more streamlined and managed CI/CD experience, making it a suitable choice for enterprises that require advanced features and support.
Flosum is a Salesforce-native CI/CD platform designed to simplify the development and deployment of Salesforce applications.
With its Salesforce-specific focus, Flosum offers a tailored CI/CD experience for Salesforce developers. It provides features such as version control, automated deployments, and continuous integration, all within the Salesforce environment, making it an ideal choice for teams working exclusively with Salesforce.
Buddy is a user-friendly CI/CD platform with a strong focus on simplicity and ease of use. With its intuitive interface, Buddy allows you to create and manage CI/CD pipelines with minimal effort.
The platform supports a wide range of languages, frameworks, and integrations, making it a versatile option for various projects. Further, Buddy offers a visual pipeline builder, which can be particularly appealing to developers who prefer a more visual approach to CI/CD.
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Bottom line: GitHub Actions vs. Jenkins
Choosing the right CI/CD tool for your particular situation is crucial for optimizing your development processes and ensuring a smooth workflow. Through this comprehensive comparison of GitHub Actions and Jenkins, we‘ve highlighted the strengths and limitations of each tool based on various essential features when evaluating DevOps CI/CD tools.
GitHub Actions excels in its native integration with the GitHub platform, ease of use, and the convenience of a hosted solution, making it an excellent choice for teams already using GitHub or those new to CI/CD processes.
On the other hand, Jenkins offers flexibility, scalability, and robust integration capabilities, making it a more suitable choice for teams that require greater control over their CI/CD environment and integration with diverse tools and platforms.
By considering the specific needs and requirements of your project, as well as the unique advantages offered by each platform, you can make an informed decision and choose the CI/CD solution that best aligns with your situation, ultimately enhancing your team’s efficiency and productivity.
Take a deep dive into DevOps CI/CD tools and best practices with our complete guide.