Using the GitHub API in your app

Introduction

This guide will help you build a GitHub App and run it on a server. The app you build will add a label to all new issues opened in the repository where the app is installed.

This project will walk you through the following:

  • Programming your app to listen for events
  • Using the Octokit.rb library to do REST API operations

Note: This guide demonstrates the app development process using the Ruby programming language. However, there are many flavors of Octokit. If you prefer JavaScript, you can use Probot and Node.js to develop GitHub Apps.

Once you've worked through the steps, you'll be ready to develop other kinds of integrations using the full suite of GitHub APIs. You can check out successful examples of apps on GitHub Marketplace and Works with GitHub.

Prerequisites

You may find it helpful to have a basic understanding of the following:

But you can follow along at any experience level. We'll link out to information you need along the way!

Before you begin, you'll need to do the following:

  1. Clone the Using the GitHub API in your app repository.

    git clone https://github.com/github-developer/using-the-github-api-in-your-app.git
    

    Inside the directory, you'll find a template_server.rb file with the template code you'll use in this quickstart and a server.rb file with the completed project code.

  2. Follow the steps in the Setting up your development environment quickstart to configure and run the template_server.rb app server. If you've previously completed a GitHub App quickstart other than Setting up your development environment, you should register a new GitHub App and start a new Smee channel to use with this quickstart.

    This quickstart includes the same template_server.rb code as the Setting up your development environment quickstart. Note: As you follow along with the Setting up your development environment quickstart, make sure to use the project files included in the Using the GitHub API in your app repository.

    See the Troubleshooting section if you are running into problems setting up your template GitHub App.

Building the app

Now that you're familiar with the template_server.rb code, you're going to create code that automatically adds the needs-response label to all issues opened in the repository where the app is installed.

The template_server.rb file contains app template code that has not yet been customized. In this file, you'll see some placeholder code for handling webhook events and some other code for initializing an Octokit.rb client.

Note: template_server.rb contains many code comments that complement this guide and explain additional technical details. You may find it helpful to read through the comments in that file now, before continuing with this section, to get an overview of how the code works.

The final customized code that you'll create by the end of this guide is provided in server.rb. Try waiting until the end to look at it, though!

These are the steps you'll complete to create your first GitHub App:

  1. Update app permissions
  2. Add event handling
  3. Create a new label
  4. Add label handling

Step 1. Update app permissions

When you first registered your app, you accepted the default permissions, which means your app doesn't have access to most resources. For this example, your app will need permission to read issues and write labels.

To update your app's permissions:

  1. Select your app from the app settings page and click Permissions & Webhooks in the sidebar.
  2. In the "Permissions" section, find "Issues," and select Read & Write in the "Access" dropdown next to it. The description says this option grants access to both issues and labels, which is just what you need.
  3. In the "Subscribe to events" section, select Issues to subscribe to the event.
  4. Click Save changes at the bottom of the page.
  5. If you've installed the app on your account, check your email and follow the link to accept the new permissions. Any time you change your app's permissions or webhooks, users who have installed the app (including yourself) will need to accept the new permissions before the changes take effect. You can also accept the new permissions by navigating to your installations page and clicking on "Configure" next to your app. You'll see a banner at the top of the page letting you know that the app is requesting different permissions. Click "Details" and click "Accept new permissions."

Great! Your app has permission to do the tasks you want it to do. Now you can add the code to make it work.

Step 2. Add event handling

The first thing your app needs to do is listen for new issues that are opened. Now that you've subscribed to the Issues event, you'll start receiving the issues webhook, which is triggered when certain issue-related actions occur. You can filter this event type for the specific action you want in your code.

GitHub sends webhook payloads as POST requests. Because you forwarded your Smee webhook payloads to http://localhost/event_handler:3000, your server will receive the POST request payloads in the post '/event_handler' route.

An empty post '/event_handler' route is already included in the template_server.rb file, which you downloaded in the prerequisites section. The empty route looks like this:

  post '/event_handler' do

    # # # # # # # # # # # #
    # ADD YOUR CODE HERE  #
    # # # # # # # # # # # #

    200 # success status
  end

Use this route to handle the issues event by adding the following code:

case request.env['HTTP_X_GITHUB_EVENT']
when 'issues'
  if @payload['action'] === 'opened'
    handle_issue_opened_event(@payload)
  end
end

Every event that GitHub sends includes a request header called HTTP_X_GITHUB_EVENT, which indicates the type of event in the POST request. Right now, you're only interested in issues event types. Each event has an additional action field that indicates the type of action that triggered the events. For issues, the action field can be assigned, unassigned, labeled, unlabeled, opened, edited, milestoned, demilestoned, closed, or reopened.

To test your event handler, try adding a temporary helper method. You'll update later when you Add label handling. For now, add the following code inside the helpers do section of the code. You can put the new method above or below any of the other helper methods. Order doesn't matter.

def handle_issue_opened_event(payload)
  logger.debug 'An issue was opened!'
end

This method receives a JSON-formatted event payload as an argument. This means you can parse the payload in the method and drill down to any specific data you need. You may find it helpful to inspect the full payload at some point: try changing logger.debug 'An issue was opened! to logger.debug payload. The payload structure you see should match what's shown in the issues webhook event docs.

Great! It's time to test the changes.

Note: You'll need to restart the Sinatra server before you can test changes. Enter Ctrl-C to stop the server, and then run ruby template_server.rb again. If you don't want to do this every time you change your app code, you can look into reloading.

In your browser, visit the repository where you installed your app. Open a new issue in this repository. The issue can say anything you like. It's just for testing.

When you look back at your Terminal, you should see a message in the output that says, An issue was opened! Congrats! You've added an event handler to your app. 💪

Step 3. Create a new label

Okay, your app can tell when issues are opened. Now you want it to add the label needs-response to any newly opened issue in a repository the app is installed in.

Before the label can be added anywhere, you'll need to create the custom label in your repository. You'll only need to do this one time. For the purposes of this guide, create the label manually on GitHub. In your repository, click Issues, then Labels, then click New label. Name the new label needs-response.

Tip: Wouldn't it be great if your app could create the label programmatically? It can! Try adding the code to do that on your own after you finish the steps in this guide.

Now that the label exists, you can program your app to use the REST API to add the label to any newly opened issue.

Step 4. Add label handling

Congrats—you've made it to the final step: adding label handling to your app. For this task, you'll want to use the Octokit.rb Ruby library.

In the Octokit.rb docs, find the list of label methods. The method you'll want to use is add_labels_to_an_issue.

Back in template_server.rb, find the method you defined previously:

def handle_issue_opened_event(payload)
  logger.debug 'An issue was opened!'
end

The add_labels_to_an_issue docs show you'll need to pass three arguments to this method:

  • Repo (string in "owner/name" format)
  • Issue number (integer)
  • Labels (array)

You can parse the payload to get both the repo and the issue number. Since the label name will always be the same (needs-response), you can pass it as a hardcoded string in the labels array. Putting these pieces together, your updated method might look like this:

# When an issue is opened, add a label
def handle_issue_opened_event(payload)
  repo = payload['repository']['full_name']
  issue_number = payload['issue']['number']
  @installation_client.add_labels_to_an_issue(repo, issue_number, ['needs-response'])
end

Try opening a new issue in your test repository and see what happens! If nothing happens right away, try refreshing.

You won't see much in the Terminal, but you should see that a bot user has added a label to the issue.

Note: When GitHub Apps take actions via the API, such as adding labels, GitHub shows these actions as being performed by bot accounts. For more information, see "Machine vs. bot accounts."

If so, congrats! You've successfully built a working app! 🎉

You can see the final code in server.rb in the app template repository.

See "Next steps" for ideas about where you can go from here.

Troubleshooting

Here are a few common problems and some suggested solutions. If you run into any other trouble, you can ask for help or advice in the GitHub Community Forum.

Conclusion

After walking through this guide, you've learned the basic building blocks for developing GitHub Apps! To review, you:

  • Programmed your app to listen for events
  • Used the Octokit.rb library to do REST API operations

Next steps

Here are some ideas for what you can do next:

  • Rewrite your app using GraphQL!
  • Rewrite your app in Node.js using Probot!
  • Have the app check whether the needs-response label already exists on the issue, and if not, add it.
  • When the bot successfully adds the label, show a message in the Terminal. (Hint: compare the needs-response label ID with the ID of the label in the payload as a condition for your message, so that the message only displays when the relevant label is added and not some other label.)
  • Add a landing page to your app and hook up a Sinatra route for it.
  • Move your code to a hosted server (like Heroku). Don't forget to update your app settings with the new domain.
  • Share your project or get advice in the Community Forum: https://github.community/t5/GitHub-API-Development-and/bd-p/api
  • Have you built a shiny new app you think others might find useful? Add it to GitHub Marketplace!