Saying stuff about stuff.


Have you tried Dependabot yet? I’ve been using Dependabot for a some months now and I am really impressed, it’s like adding a developer to your team.

In the past I’ve dismissed development bots as a bit of a fad, often more noise than help — sometimes even feeling that they increase my workload. I already had some automated security vulnerability detection running on CI but there’s a huge difference between waking up to a failing build and waking up to a detailed pull request that has updated the offending dependency, passed through your CI pipeline, and is available for verification via a review app — it may have even already been merged and deployed.

One piece of advice from GitHub’s recent work on upgrading Rails is to “upgrade early and upgrade often” and Dependabot lets you achieve this with hardly any effort at all. Beyond the initial setup, interacting with Dependabot is performed through your normal development flow — another thing that makes it feel like you’re working with another developer. It usually goes like this:

  • Receive a GitHub pull request notification for a dependency update.
  • Read the detailed description of the changes.
  • Tests pass / manually verify.
  • Merge.

However, there are times when bumping a dependency is just the start of a journey and, even if the tests pass, further changes may be required. That’s OK, remember it’s a normal branch/pull request so you can git checkout and carry on as usual.

One of the little things that I think is an indicator of Dependabot’s quality is that it cleans up after itself:

  • It deletes branches when they’ve been merged/closed.
  • If a dependency is updated while there’s an existing pull request then it’ll be closed and a new one opened - with a reference between the two.
  • If you remove a dependency from the default branch then related pull requests will be closed.
  • If changes to the master branch cause a merge conflict then affected pull requests will be rebased.

GitHub security alerts have been around for a while, they’re nice but slightly hidden away and often seem to be some days behind. Here’s an example of how Dependabot deals with a security vulnerability:

Security vulnerability announced in Loofah < 2.2.3. We’ve submitted a PR to the RubySec Advisory Database with details and have triggered dependency updates for all Dependabot users. Thanks to @flavorjones for alerting us.


Then 90 minutes later:

In the 90 minutes since today’s Loofah vulnerability was announced we’ve opened PRs to patch it on 1,078 repos. 195 have already been merged. Stay safe out there🕵️‍♀️


To top it all off it’s free for open source and private personal repositories so what are you waiting for, go and sign up to Dependabot now. (My one tip is to turn it on for only a couple of projects at a time as you’ll likely receive a whole load of pull requests in the first few days.)