Make a GitHub repo private
In cases of an ongoing security incident, or when working on politically sensitive changes, we may want to work in private rather than public. We do this by creating a private fork of the application.
Creating a private fork
To fork an existing GOV.UK repository and make it private perform the following steps:
- Visit https://github.com/alphagov and click the green ‘New’ button to create a new repository.
- Click on the ‘import repository’ link to import the existing repository.
- Change the owner to
- Set the repository name to the new private name.
- Set the ‘Privacy’ setting to ‘Private’.
- Start the import. This may take a while to complete.
- Click on ‘Settings’ and then ‘Manage access’ to set the permissions on the repository.
- Add the team ‘GOV.UK - CI Bots’ so that Jenkins can access the repository for deployment. Make sure it is set to ‘write’ access because Jenkins needs to access the repository and set the release tag.
- Add the ‘gov-uk’ team and set it ‘write’ access so that developers can create and merge pull requests.
- Consider adding a GitHub action to replace Jenkins CI that will not be running on this new repo.
- Add a branch protection rule against the main branch. You can use the settings in another repo as a template.
Deploying the private repository
To deploy a private repository, first create a private fork of the
govuk-app-deployment repository named
govuk-app-deployment-private repository there is a directory for each app in GOV.UK that can be deployed. Find the directory of the app you want to make private and edit the file
<app>/config/deploy.rb to add a line to set the name of the private repository. For example, for ‘frontend’ add line 2:
set :application, "frontend" set :repo_name, "frontend-private"
As in the ‘Creating a private fork’ section, you must add the team ‘GOV.UK - CI Bots’ as collaborators on the private repository.
Perform these actions on staging first, before rolling out to production.
In the relevant environment, disable Puppet on the Jenkins machine, otherwise Puppet will overwrite your changes. This can be done by SSHing into the Jenkins machine:
$ gds govuk connect -e <environment> ssh jenkins $ govuk_puppet --disable
Jenkins must be updated to use the private version of
govuk-app-deployment so the private version of the app is deployed. This is done by navigating to the Jenkins UI in your web browser, clicking the ‘Configure’ link and changing the ‘Build’ section:
The app can now be deployed as normal.
After deployment is complete, Puppet can be re-enabled:
$ gds govuk connect -e <environment> ssh jenkins $ govuk_puppet --enable
Testing in private
We do not have CI builds on our private repos by default. To mitigate the risks of this, you can either:
- Add a GitHub Action to do these things for you
- Or, run the following manual steps locally before pushing:
bundle exec rubocop # run the linter RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake assets:precompile # make sure production assets compilation works bundle exec rake # run all the tests
Keeping repositories in sync
As part of our workflow we will need to keep our private repositories in sync with the public ones. To do this we need to open a terminal, enter the directory of the private repository we want to sync up and add an ‘upstream’ remote.
$ git remote add upstream https://github.com/alphagov/frontend.git
We can now fetch commits from the upstream public repository and pull them in a new branch which can be merged into main through the usual Pull Request workflow.
$ git fetch upstream $ git diff upstream/main main # check if we need to rebase at all $ git checkout -b update $ git pull upstream main $ git push origin update
Reverting to public
In order to make our private changes public, we need to incorporate them into the public repo.
- Make sure you have pulled in the latest changes from the public repo into the private repo (detailed in ‘Keeping repositories in sync’).
- Merge any pending pull requests into the main branch of the private repo.
- On the public repo, add the private repo as a new upstream remote: e.g.
git remote add upstream https://github.com/alphagov/frontend-private.git
- Create a new branch on the public repo.
- Rebase the main branch of the private repo onto the new branch:
git fetch upstream
git rebase upstream/main
git rebase main
- Raise a PR on the public repo for the new branch.
- Delete the private fork, once the changes have been merged into the public repo.