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Use Cases

This page describes some common use cases for Renovate, for those who are new and would like to get their heads around the capabilities.

Development dependency updates

The original use case, and still the most popular one, is for developers to automate dependency updating in their software projects.

Updating of package files

The term "package file" is used to describe files which contain lists of dependencies, managed by a "package manager". Example package files include package.json (managed by npm or Yarn), Gemfile (managed by Bundler), or go.mod (managed by go modules).

Renovate will scan repositories to detect package files and their dependencies, look up if any newer versions exist, and then raise Pull Requests for available updates. The Pull Requests will patch the package files directly, and include Release Notes for the newer versions if they are available.

By default, there will be separate Pull Requests per dependency, and major updates will be separated out from non-major.

Package managers with lock files

Many package managers today support "lock files", which serve to freeze the entire dependency tree including transitive dependencies. Such managers include npm, Yarn, Bundler, Composer, Poetry, Pipenv, and Cargo.

When lock files exist, it's essential that any changes to package files are accompanied with a compatible change to the associated lock file. Although Renovate can patch/update package files directly, a package manager's lock file is typically too complex to "reverse engineer" so therefore Renovate will rely on the package manager itself to perform the lock file update. Here is a simplified example:

  • The repository has a package.json and package-lock.json containing version 1.0.0 of a dependency
  • Renovate determines that version 1.1.0 is available
  • Renovate patches the package.json to change the dependency's version from 1.0.0 to 1.1.0
  • Renovate then runs npm install, which triggers npm to update the package-lock.json accordingly
  • Renovate then commits both the package.json and package-lock.json files together for the PR

Custom dependency extraction

Renovate supports 60+ different types of package files natively, but sometimes dependencies will not be detected by Renovate by default due to either:

  • The package manager/file format is not yet supported, or
  • The file format is not a standard or is completely proprietary

In such cases, Renovate has a "regex" manager which you can configure with custom patterns to extract dependencies regardless. Users can configure the regex manager by telling it:

  • Which file pattern(s) to match
  • How to identify the dependency name and version from within the file
  • Which datasource (e.g. Docker registry, npm registry, etc) to use to look up new versions

The end result is that Renovate can keep dependencies in custom file formats up-to-date as long as the dependency datasource is already known to Renovate.

DevOps tooling

Renovate is increasingly used for purposes which are traditionally described as DevOps instead of Developer.

DevOps / Infrastructure as Code updates

Repositories today consist of more than just development dependencies, and commonly include DevOps-related files like CI/CD configs or "Infrastructure as Code" (IaC) files like Docker, Kubernetes or Terraform files. Renovate considers these all to be forms of "package managers" and "package files" and therefore detects and updates them accordingly.

Docker-compatible images are one of the key building blocks of modern software and so are most commonly found, in both CI/CD pipeline configs as well as referenced in IaC files. Renovate will detect these IaC files and then query Docker registries to determine if newer tags or digests exists.

An example of tag-based updating would be node images from Docker Hub. These are typically tagged using their version, like 14.17.4 but can also have more elaborate tags like 14.17.4-alpine3.11. Renovate handles both these tag scenarios and will propose updates such as from 14.17.4 to 14.7.5, or from 14.17.4-alpine3.11 to 14.17.5-alpine3.11.

A better example of Renovate's power is when updating Docker digests. While humans could be reasonably expected to check and update versions like 14.17.4, looking up image digests and updating them manually is impractical to do at scale. Renovate can not only keep Docker digests updated, but it can even be configured to "pin" digests from being tag-based to being tag+digest based to get immutable builds.

Internal package updates

Companies typically have at least dozens of repositories, if not hundreds or thousands. In most cases, these repositories do not operate in isolation and may have upstream or downstream internal dependencies. In such cases, it is best practice to:

  • Update downstream links as soon as possible, and
  • Keep internal version use as consistent as possible

Renovate is often used to achieve both the above best practices by detecting and updating internal dependencies just like external or Open Source dependencies.

An example from Renovate itself is the use of submodule updating to automate the process of updating Renovate's documentation:

  • Renovate's main repository renovatebot/renovate contains the majority of Markdown documentation files
  • Renovate's documentation build repository renovatebot/renovatebot.github.io contains a submodule link to renovatebot/renovate
  • Submodule updates are performed automatically whenever detected
  • After the automatic update is merged, the documentation site is rebuilt and pushed live

The above use case makes use of Renovate's "automerge" feature, which allows for fully automated updates without need for manual approval, merging, or even a PR at all if desired. Automerge is particularly useful for internal dependencies when it's best to use the approach of "if it passes tests then merge it".

To learn more about "automerge" read the key concepts, automerge documentation.

Advanced configuration

The below capabilities are common across the above use cases.

Batched updates

Although Renovate defaults to separating each dependency update into its own PR, some users prefer to batch or "group" updates together. For example, group all patch updates into one PR or even perhaps all non-major updates together (patches and minor updates).

Renovate supports this capability using the groupName configuration as part of packageRules.

Scheduled updates

Some users prefer to limit which hours of the day or week during which Renovate will raise updates. This may be to reduce "noise" during working hours, but also to reduce the chance of CI contention at times when developers are more likely to be waiting on tests to finish.

Renovate allows users to define time ranges during which to create updates using the schedule field.

On-demand updates

Renovate's "Dependency Dashboard" capability is supported on platforms which support dynamic Markdown checkboxes (GitHub, GitLab, and Gitea). When enabled, an issue titled "Dependency Dashboard" is created which lists all updates which are pending, in progress, or were previously closed ignored.

Importantly, it also enables the concept of "Dependency Dashboard Approval", meaning that configured PRs won't be raised automatically and will instead only be created once the corresponding checkbox is clicked on the dashboard. This can be an improvement in two ways:

  • By not raising PRs automatically, it can allow users to request them on-demand at times when they are ready to take action on them, and
  • Offering an alternative to permanently ignoring/disabling certain types of updates, such as major updates

By having this dashboard concept it gives users both visibility and control over updates.

Configuration presets

It's pretty common that users will run Renovate on many repositories and want mostly similar config on them all too. Renovate supports the concept of configuration "presets" to avoid users needing to duplicate configuration across all such repos.

Configuration presets are JSON configuration files which are committed to repositories and then referenced from others. Renovate also includes over 100 built-in presets, including the default recommended config:base preset.

The typical workflow for a company is:

  • Create a dedicated repository to store the company's default Renovate settings
  • Set that repository as the default extends value when onboarding new repositories

This means that repositories get the centralized config by default, while any changes made to the centralized config repository are then propagated out to other repositories immediately.

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