Automated dependency updates with Renovate Bot integrated into Gitlab CI

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Jonas Sulzer

Written on November 25, 2019

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Looking for a way to automatically (or semi automatically) update my project's dependencies on my selfhosted Gitlab instance, I stumbled upon the opensource tool Renovate Bot. Renovate Bot works with most git hosting platforms (public or selfhosted) and as it's also possible to host Renovate Bot yourself because it's open source as well, it looked like the perfect choice.

Doing it the node.js way

I did a first implementation based on a tutorial from Renovate Bot is a node.js application so this approach is using a node docker image in Gitlab CI, and is running Renovate Bot in there directly with npm install and then npm run renovate. It's also easy to pass our renovate config to Renovate Bot following this approach.


This is working great for updating npm (node.js) dependencies. So if you only have javascript projects, go ahead and follow that documentation. However I tried Renovate Bot with a Laravel (PHP) - Vue.js project, meaning I also have PHP composer dependencies, which Renovate Bot failed to update properly. As the node.js docker image doesn't have the composer binary installed it doesn't manage to update the composer.lock files.

I certainly could have told Gitlab CI to just install the composer binary before starting the actual renovate bot, but it was clear that there would be other things missing for other types of dependencies Renovate Bot knows how to update. So I looked for a better solution and found Renovate Bot's own Docker image.

Renovate Bot's Docker image

Looking at the Dockerfile used to build this image, one can easily tell that this image brings everything needed for the different dependency types with it. So I searched for an easy way to use this together with Gitlab CI.

This image is built to directly execute renovate when being startet. So with a proper Docker start command one passes the renovate config into the container and it directly starts with it's task. However things work a little different with Gitlab CI as there is no way to influence the Docker start command. But luckily I found an other guide from @mikebarkmin on which is using Renovate Bot's Docker image together with Gitlab CI.

Trying the Docker-in-Docker way

This approach uses the Docker-in-Docker image which is meant to allow you to start Docker containers from within an other Docker container. So I rewrote my .gitlab-ci.yml to try this out.

Concerns & simpler solution

However it wasn't working as expected. In fact it wasn't working at all and after a while I figured out why. My Gitlab CI doen't run Docker in privileged mode. But this is for a reason: Running Docker in privileged mode actually nullifys all it's security advantages over running tasks directly on the host as e.g. statet here in the Gitlab CI documentation. So I didn't want to activate privileged mode; there had to be a simpler solution to my problem.

After reading quite a bit of Gitlab CI's and Docker's documentation I found something interesting:

Using Renovate's Docker image directly while overwriting the Entrypoint for the use with Gitlab CI

The Entrypoint in a docker image/container is actually the command which is run after a docker image is built and every time on startup of the container. So this is the point where the renovate process is triggered for the Renovate Bot docker image. Luckily Gitlab CI allows to overwrite this Entrypoint from within the .gitlab-ci.yml:

  name: renovate/renovate
  entrypoint: [""]

This allows us to put the renovate config into the right spot before actually executing the renovate job.


To get your Renovate Bot running inside Gitlab CI updating all of your projects' dependencies you first need an account for the bot on the Gitlab instance. Log in to the newly created bot user account and go to the user settings and chose Access Tokens. There you need to generate a personal access token with the api scope for renovate to access the repositories and create the branches and merge requests containing the dependency updates.

Then create a (private/internal) repository for the configuration etc. of renovate. Renovate will basically live in this repo then, as it will use those CI Pipelines. Go to the project's settings and paste your Gitlab token under CI / CD > Variables as a new variable and give it the name RENOVATE_TOKEN. You probably also want to set it to protected and masked to hide the token from the CI logs and to only use it for Pipelines starting on protected branches (your master branch is protected by default).
You'll also need a Github access token with the repos scope (see this how-to). Paste it as an other variable with the name GITHUB_COM_TOKEN. This is just needed to read sources and changelogs of dependencies hosted on Github and it's therefore not important what Github account is used. It's just needed because Github's rate-limiting would block your bot from getting this info pretty soon if it's making unauthenticated requests.

Now you'll want to create two files and push them to the master branch of your repo: a .gitlab-ci.yml and a config.js.

In the .gitlab-ci.yml you need to define the docker image to use and you overwrite said entrypoint we discussed earlier. You define a pipeline stage for renovate and in the before_script you copy the config from the working directory to the directory renovate expects to find it. In the last part you actually define the job: in which stage it's to be executed and you also restrict it to only be executed on the master branch of the bot config repo. Finally in the script session you call the actual renovate job with node:

  name: renovate/renovate
  entrypoint: [""]

  - renovate

  - cp config.js /usr/src/app/config.js

  stage: renovate
    - master
  script: 'node /usr/src/app/dist/renovate.js'


In the config.js you define your renovate config. You set the type of platform, which is Gitlab in our case, the api endpoint to your instance and the token which is injected securely over the environment variable. Then you can set some defaults which can be overwritten from a renovate.json in each project which is to be renovated: the author for the git commits made by renovate, labels and the user which is to be assigned to the merge request. Onboarding is whether renovate should create starter merge requests containing a config for new repositories.
Last but not least you define the repositories which are to be renovated. Remember that your Renovate Bot user needs developer access rights to those repositories, otherwise it can't create merge requests.

module.exports = {
    platform: 'gitlab',
    endpoint: 'https://gitlab.instance.domain/api/v4/',
    token: process.env.RENOVATE_TOKEN,
    gitAuthor: 'Renovate Bot <git-commit@email.example>',
    labels: ['renovate', 'dependencies', 'automated'],
    assignees: ['jonas'],
    onboarding: true,
    onboardingConfig: {
      extends: ['config:base'],
    repositories: [


As a last step you probably want to schedule Renovate Bot or better your Gitlab CI to run Renovate regularly. You can do this in the bot's config project / repository under CI / CD > Schedules by creating a new schedule and chosing the frequency to run your bot.

Congratulation! Now your Renovate Bot should be up and running for you making it easier to keep your project's dependencies up to date.

© Jonas Sulzer
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