Repository workflow permissions via terraform

When you think to yourself, I must be able to do this via terraform…

The github terraform provider is ace; I’ve been using it to manage my personal github repos and also my organisation ones (well, the ones I have sufficient rights to manage at least), however, one thing did strike me as I was down the rabbit hole - I can’t easily change the permissions model for workflow actions on an individual basis; I can cascade them from an organisational perspective, but not on an individual repository basis (this is true as of the github terraform provider 5.28.1). That’s something I wanted to do and since terraform is infinitely flexible I was sure that I could do something tricksy with one of the other providers without having to write my own.

I settled on using the the scottwinkler/shell provider (of course it’s dangerous, but entirely suitable for the hackery that I like to amuse myself with); a colleague suggested devops-rob/terracurl but having looked at the documentation it didn’t quite fit although a curl style interaction is precisely what we’re doing here eventually.

What I wanted

  • Capture existing state of the permissions which is essentially gh api repos/$owner/$repo/actions/permissions/workflow (or its curl equivalent) and store it in terraform state.
  • Capture my desired state based on terraform variables or what not, and if it differs, then apply it.

Pretty simple, so here’s a cut down version of the configuration I wanted to see in my (sometimes I like to go from the top down, sometimes from the bottom up), where workflow_perms and workflow_pr_approve match up to the equivalent fields from the API call (default_workflow_permissions & can_approve_pull_request_reviews respectively) and I am overwriting the defaults for the fantastic-octo-parakeet project.

  public_repos = [
      name    = "gh-my"
      desc    = "Show open issues/PR in your repos"
      topics  = ["gh-extension"]
      license = "wtfpl"
      name                = "fantastic-octo-parakeet"
      desc                = "It's a great auto-generated name"
      license             = "unlicense"
      issues              = false
      workflow_perms      = "read"
      workflow_pr_approve = false

What I did

The key is to force a “state change” when my desired state deviates from the actual github repository state; this is where the shell provider comes in quite handy since you’re able to do any kind of arbitrary scripting you want to (in my case bash for my version of platform portability), executing any kind of arbitrary commands you want to.

provider "shell" {
  # Force bash to be on the path for wingit+bash / wsl equivalence.
  interpreter = ["bash", "-c"]

# Assign workflow default permissions via gh-api because it's not
# exposed via terraform.
resource "shell_script" "public_repo_workflow_perms" {
  for_each = {
    for _, spec in local.public_repos : => spec
  environment = {
    owner          = local.github_owner
    repo           = github_repository.public_repo[].name
    action_approve = try(each.value.workflow_pr_approve, true)
    perms          = try(each.value.workflow_perms, "write")
  lifecycle_commands {
    read   = <<-EOF
      gh api "repos/$owner/$repo/actions/permissions/workflow" | jq ". + { _desired_action_approval: $action_approve , _desired_workflow_perms: \"$perms\"}"
    create = <<-EOF
      gh api --method=PUT "repos/$owner/$repo/actions/permissions/workflow" -F can_approve_pull_request_reviews=$action_approve -F default_workflow_permissions="$perms"
    delete = <<-EOF
      echo "{}"
  • read is called to get the current state, which means we query github for the permissions, and then add via jq our desired states.
    • The shell provider requires you to emit JSON, the github cli already does since it doesn’t modify api call output.
  • create is called if the output of read differs from what terraform has in its state (there is some nuance here, but a tainted forceNew because I don’t have an update method is fine here)
    • since there is no output from create it keeps the state from read otherwise the output here would overwrite things.
  • delete does nothing; it doesn’t need to.

Once we plan & apply we can query the state and check it:

bsh  terraform state show 'shell_script.public_repo_workflow_perms["fantastic-octo-parakeet"]'
# shell_script.public_repo_workflow_perms["fantastic-octo-parakeet"]:
resource "shell_script" "public_repo_workflow_perms" {
    dirty             = false
    environment       = {
        "action_approve" = "false"
        "owner"          = "quotidian-ennui"
        "perms"          = "read"
        "repo"           = "fantastic-octo-parakeet"
    id                = "cia4j9nh6q92h23ujpm0"
    output            = {
        "_desired_action_approval"         = "false"
        "_desired_workflow_perms"          = "read"
        "can_approve_pull_request_reviews" = "false"
        "default_workflow_permissions"     = "read"
    working_directory = "."

If I change and switch workflow_pr_approve to true for fantastic-octo-parakeet then the state from read would change so create will be executed.


  • You now need a configured gh cli and also jq installed where you’re running terraform; that’s naturally available if your pipeline is using a standard github runner, and will already be available on your local machine if you’ve been doing any ‘dev’ work in the last 3 years.
  • The shell provider is relatively unloved, it’s not changed for ~2 years; it’s possible that future versions of terraform will break it (because of SDK upgrades and the like). By then it’s equally likely that the github provider will provide this feature and I don’t need to do it like this any longer.

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