maelvls dev blog

maelvls dev blog

Systems software engineer. I write mostly about Kubernetes and Go. About

09 May2020

Github Actions with a private Terraform module


A common way of sharing terraform modules is to move them in a separate repo. And for companies, that means a private repo. When terraform init is run, the terraform module is fetched and if this module is stored on a Github private repo, you will need to work around the authentication.

Imagine that these shared modules are stored on the private Github repo “”. Importing this module from a different repo would look something like:

module "some_instance_of_this_module" {
  source = ""

Using git+ssh as a way of fetching this private module will work great locally since you might probably have a private key that Github knows about. Locally, terraform init will work.

But what about CI, should I create a key pair and store the private key as a secret and have the public key known by Github (or Gitlab)?

Using SSH key pairs is not ideal. The key pair is tied to an individual and can’t be linked to a Github App like github-bot. Plus, the key pair mechanism doesn’t offer access to a specific repo, which means all your company’s repositories are exposed. And finally, some companies do not have port 22 open for security reasons, which means git+https is their only option.

To use https instead of ssh, we start by changing the way we import these modules:

 module "some_instance_of_this_module" {
-   source = ""
+   source = "git::"

Local development & git over https

Locally, you will have to make sure you can git clone this private repo, for example, the following should work:

git clone

If it doesn’t work, Github has a helpful page “Caching your GitHub password in Git”.

Continous integration & git over HTTPS

It is a bit trickier to get HTTPS working on the CI. In the following, I’ll take the example of Github Actions but that will work for any CI provider. There are two main solutions:

  1. using url.insteadof,
  2. or using credential.helper.

For both options, you will need a PAT (personal access token) linked your own account. I refer to this token as GH_TOKEN. To create a PAT, you can go to your Github settings.

⚠️ NOTE: around April 2020, Github decided to prevent users from using Github Secrets names that begin with GITHUB_. We used to use the name GITHUB_PAT frequently in Github Actions readmes, I guess we will all have to update everything!

Solution 1: url.insteadof

  1. actions/checkout@v2 sets the ‘Authorization’ for any git command issued from the checked out repo. But since this uses the Github Actions GITHUB_TOKEN which is limited to the current repository. And since we want to access another private repo, we have to disable that.
  2. instead, you can use git config --global url.insteadof. The GH_TOKEN Github Secret is a Github personal token that has the ‘repo’ scope (full control of private repositories).

Note: when using git over https with a token on, the username doesn’t matter, that’s why we put foo here.

- run: |
    git config --local --remove-section http.""
    git config --global url."https://foo:${GH_TOKEN}".insteadOf ""
    GH_TOKEN: ${{ secrets.GH_TOKEN }}

Solution 2: credential.helper

When git config url.insteadof does not work, you can try using git credential.helper instead. For example:

- run: |
    cat <<EOF > creds
      echo protocol=https
      echo username=foo
      echo password=${GH_TOKEN}
    sudo install creds /usr/local/bin/creds
    git config --global credential.helper "creds"
    GH_TOKEN: ${{ secrets.GH_TOKEN }}

Solution 2 bis: credential.helper with a Github Action

Same as solution 2 but wrapped in a neat Github Action setup-git-credentials.

This action stores the credentials in the file $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/git/credentials and configures git to use it by calling:

git config --global credential.helper store/

The actions also makes sure all ssh calls are rewritten to https. The ‘credentials’ field must be of the form https://foo:$

- uses: fusion-engineering/setup-git-credentials@v2
    credentials: https://foo:{{secrets.GH_TOKEN}}
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