GitHub Actions vs Jenkins explained

Introduction: GitHub Actions and Jenkins are two popular tools used for automating software development workflows, including continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD). While both serve similar purposes, they have different architectures, features, and capabilities. In this tutorial, we’ll compare GitHub Actions and Jenkins, explore their key differences, and provide examples to illustrate their usage.

GitHub Actions vs Jenkins


  • GitHub Actions:
    • Native CI/CD solution provided by GitHub.
    • YAML-based configuration for defining workflows directly in the repository.
    • Tight integration with GitHub repositories, pull requests, and events.
    • Supports both cloud-hosted and self-hosted runners.
  • Jenkins:
    • Open-source automation server with a vast ecosystem of plugins.
    • Provides flexibility to create custom pipelines using a graphical user interface (UI) or Jenkinsfile.
    • Suitable for complex CI/CD pipelines and extensive customization.
    • Requires separate infrastructure for hosting Jenkins servers.

Comparing GitHub Actions with Jenkins by example: Building a Node.js Application

Let’s see how both platforms handle building a simple Node.js application:

GitHub Actions:

name: CI

    branches: [ main ]

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest

      - uses: actions/checkout@v3
      - name: Use Node.js 16
        uses: actions/setup-node@v3
          node-version: 16
      - name: Install dependencies
        run: npm install
      - name: Run tests
        run: npm test


  • The workflow triggers on pushes to the main branch.
  • The build job runs on the ubuntu-latest runner.
  • The workflow checks out the code, installs Node.js 16, installs dependencies with npm install, and runs tests with npm test.


Pipeline Script (Jenkinsfile):

pipeline {
    agent any

    stages {
        stage('Checkout') {
            steps {
                git branch: 'main', url: ''
        stage('Build') {
            steps {
                sh 'npm install'
                sh 'npm test'


  • The pipeline defines stages for checkout and build.
  • The checkout stage uses the Git plugin to clone the repository.
  • The build stage uses shell commands (sh) to install dependencies and run tests.


Both examples achieve the same goal. However, the GitHub Actions workflow is more concise and leverages built-in actions for Node.js and checkout. Jenkins offers more flexibility with scripting but requires additional configuration for Node.js setup.


  • GitHub Actions:
    • Integrated directly into GitHub repositories, triggering workflows based on events like push, pull request, or repository dispatch.
    • Provides built-in GitHub Actions Marketplace for sharing and discovering actions.
    • Seamless integration with GitHub’s ecosystem, including issue tracking, pull requests, and deployments.
  • Jenkins:
    • Integrates with version control systems, including Git, SVN, and others.
    • Offers plugins for integrating with various tools, such as Slack, Docker, Kubernetes, and more.
    • Supports webhook-based triggering of builds and extensive customization options.


  • GitHub Actions:
    • Supports the creation of custom actions using Docker containers or JavaScript.
    • Actions can be reused across different workflows and repositories.
    • GitHub Marketplace provides a wide range of pre-built actions for common tasks.
  • Jenkins:
    • Extensive library of plugins for extending Jenkins’ functionality.
    • Plugins cover a wide range of use cases, including source code management, build tools, deployment, testing, and more.
    • Users can develop custom plugins to meet specific requirements.


  • GitHub Actions:
    • Well-suited for small to medium-sized projects with moderate complexity.
    • Built-in support for parallel and matrix builds.
    • Limited to GitHub’s infrastructure and concurrency limits.
  • Jenkins:
    • Highly scalable and suitable for large enterprise environments.
    • Can be deployed in a distributed manner across multiple nodes for load balancing and high availability.
    • Requires additional configuration and maintenance overhead for scaling.


This tutorial provides a basic comparison of GitHub Actions and Jenkins. Choosing the right tool depends on your specific needs and preferences. GitHub Actions offers a user-friendly and integrated approach, while Jenkins provides extensive customization possibilities. Consider the factors discussed and explore the documentation of both platforms to make an informed decision for your CI/CD pipeline.

For an introduction tutorial to GitHub Actions check this article: Getting started with GitHub Actions

If you want to get started with Jenkins, check this tutorial: Getting Started with Jenkins: A Step-by-Step Guide