GitLab Runner is a powerful tool that improves the development process, particularly for teams already using GitLab. This article provides an in-depth look at GitLab Runner, its benefits, capabilities, and a comparison with other tools like Jenkins. We'll also explore the different executor types of GitLab Runner and how to choose the right one for your project.
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What is GitLab Runner?
GitLab Runner is an open-source application used for running Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) jobs in the GitLab environment. It works with GitLab CI/CD to automate the process of building, testing, and deploying software applications. GitLab Runner acts as an agent that listens for instructions from GitLab CI/CD, executes the specified tasks, and reports the results back to GitLab.
GitLab and GitLab Runner
When a development team is already using GitLab, integrating GitLab Runner provides the following benefits:
- Seamless integration: GitLab Runner is designed to work in harmony with GitLab, ensuring smooth coordination between the two systems.
- Simplified workflow: By using GitLab Runner, developers can consolidate their code repository, issue tracking, and CI/CD pipelines within the same platform, streamlining the development process.
- Improved collaboration: GitLab Runner facilitates effective communication among team members by providing real-time feedback on the status of builds, tests, and deployments.
- Scalability: GitLab Runner allows for scaling CI/CD infrastructure to meet the demands of large projects and teams.
GitLab Runner provides several capabilities, including:
- Cross-platform support: GitLab Runner can run on various platforms, including Linux, macOS, Windows, and Kubernetes.
- Multiple executors: GitLab Runner supports multiple executors, such as Docker, Kubernetes, Shell, and more, providing flexibility in choosing the right execution environment.
- Parallel execution: GitLab Runner can run multiple jobs concurrently, speeding up the overall CI/CD process.
- Advanced caching: GitLab Runner offers advanced caching mechanisms to optimize build times.
GitLab Runner Executors
GitLab Runner supports various executors, each with its unique advantages, allowing developers to choose the right execution environment for their projects. Here's a detailed overview of each executor:
The Shell executor runs builds directly on the host where the GitLab Runner is installed. It is the simplest and quickest executor to set up, requiring minimal configuration. However, it may not be the most suitable choice for complex projects that need isolated environments or when multiple projects are running on the same host.
- Easy to set up and configure
- Low resource overhead
- Direct access to the host's file system and services
- Limited isolation between build environments
- Increased risk of conflicts between projects sharing the same host
The Docker executor runs builds inside Docker containers, offering better isolation and consistency across different environments. It is highly recommended for projects that require a clean, reproducible environment for each build. However, it requires Docker to be installed and configured on the host system.
- Improved isolation between build environments
- Consistent build environments
- Simplified management of dependencies
- Requires Docker to be installed and configured
- Additional resource overhead due to containerization
The Kubernetes executor runs builds on a Kubernetes cluster, providing excellent scalability and resource management. It is the ideal choice for teams that already have a Kubernetes infrastructure in place or require dynamic scaling of build resources.
- Scalability and efficient resource management
- Isolation of build environments
- Integration with Kubernetes-native features
- Requires a Kubernetes cluster to be set up and configured
- Steeper learning curve for teams unfamiliar with Kubernetes
The Parallels executor is designed for macOS systems and runs builds inside Parallels Desktop VMs. It is particularly useful for macOS-based projects that require isolation between build environments or when testing applications across different macOS versions.
- Isolation between build environments on macOS systems
- Allows testing across different macOS versions
- Requires Parallels Desktop to be installed and configured
- Limited to macOS systems
- Additional resource overhead due to virtualization
The SSH executor runs builds on remote servers over SSH. It is useful when there is a need to execute CI/CD tasks on a specific server or when you want to offload build tasks from the GitLab Runner host.
- Offloads build tasks to remote servers.
- Suitable for projects that require a specific server environment.
- Requires configuration and management of remote servers.
- Security concerns due to SSH access.
GitLab Runner vs Jenkins
In comparison, Jenkins is another popular CI/CD tool that has been widely used in the industry. While both GitLab Runner and Jenkins offer robust CI/CD features, GitLab Runner offers better integration and a more streamlined workflow with GitLab. Jenkins, on the other hand, provides a more extensive range of plugins and extensibility options.
Below is a comparison table of GitLab Runner and Jenkins, highlighting their main features, advantages, and disadvantages.
Both GitLab Runner and Jenkins are powerful CI/CD tools with robust features. GitLab Runner offers seamless integration and a more streamlined workflow with GitLab, while Jenkins provides an extensive range of plugins and extensibility options. The choice between the two tools ultimately depends on your team's needs, existing infrastructure, and familiarity with the respective platforms.
Setup GitLab Runner on Kubernetes Cluster
Before proceeding with the installation of GitLab Runner on your Kubernetes cluster, it's important to ensure that Helm is installed and properly configured. Helm is a package manager for Kubernetes, which simplifies the deployment and management of applications on a cluster.
In this guide, we will be using the official GitLab Runner Helm Chart.
~$ helm repo add gitlab https://charts.gitlab.io
~$ helm repo update gitlab
We recommend to create dedicated namespace for GitLab Runner
~$ kubectl create namespace gitlab
values.yaml for Helm installation
Some crucial details that need your attention are:
- gitlabUrl: replace with your GitLab instance URL. If you use Gitlab.com, then the value should be
- runnerRegistrationToken: can be found on menu
CI/CD > Runner
- privileged: set
trueif you use docker-in-docker (dind)
Install with Helm
~$ helm install gitlab-runner gitlab/gitlab-runner -f values.yaml --namespace gitlab
~$ kubectl -n gitlab get deployment
NAME READY UP-TO-DATE AVAILABLE AGE
gitlab-runner 1/1 1 1 42d
And boom! You have scalable and reliable GitLab Runner running on your Kubernetes Cluster.