In this blog post we're going to cover how to use git and Concourse to automatically set, update, and archive your pipelines using the set_pipeline step. No longer will you need to use fly set-pipeline to update any of your pipelines!

For consistency we will refer to the pipeline that contains all the set_pipeline steps as the parent pipeline. The pipelines created by the set_pipeline steps will be called child pipelines.

Scroll to the bottom to see the final pipeline template or click here. What follows is a detailed explanation of how the parent pipeline works along with git and automatic archiving.

Prerequisites

To run the pipelines in this blog post for yourself you can get your own Concourse running locally by following the Quick Start guide.

You will also need to fork the github.com/concourse/examples repo and replace USERNAME with your github username in the below examples. We will continue to refer to the repo as concourse/examples. Once you have forked the repo clone it locally onto your machine and cd into the repo.

$ git clone git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git
$ cd examples

Create the Parent Pipeline

Inside your fork of concourse/examples that you have cloned locally, create a file named reconfigure-pipelines.yml inside the pipelines folder. This is the pipeline that we are going to be building. We will refer to this pipeline as the parent pipeline.

$ touch ./pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml

Like the fly set-pipeline command, the set_pipeline step needs a YAML file containing a pipeline configuration. We will use the concourse/examples repo as the place to store our pipelines and thankfully it already contains many pipelines! Let's add the repo as a resource to our parent pipeline.

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

Now we will add a job that will set our pipelines. The first step in the job will fetch the concourse/examples repo, making it available to future steps as the concourse-examples artifact. We will also add the trigger parameter to ensure that the job will run whenever a new commit is pushed to the concourse/examples repo.

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

jobs:
- name: configure-pipelines
  public: true
  plan:
    - get: concourse-examples
      trigger: true

Next we will add the set_pipeline step to set one of the pipelines in the concourse/examples repo. We will set the hello-world pipeline first.

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

jobs:
- name: configure-pipelines
  public: true
  plan:
    - get: concourse-examples
      trigger: true
    - set_pipeline: hello-world
      file: concourse-examples/pipelines/hello-world.yml

Let's commit what we have so far and push it to github.

$ git add pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
$ git commit -m "add reconfigure-pipelines"
$ git push -u origin head

Setting the Parent Pipeline

Now we have a chicken or the egg problem, except in this case we know our parent pipeline comes first! Let's set our pipeline with fly and execute the configure-pipelines job.

$ fly -t local set-pipeline \
  -p reconfigure-pipelines \
  -c pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yaml

...
apply configuration? [yN]: y

$ fly -t local unpause-pipeline \
  -p reconfigure-pipelines
  
unpaused 'reconfigure-pipelines'

$ fly -t local trigger-job \
  -j reconfigure-pipelines/configure-pipelines \
  --watch

Once the job is done running you should see two pipelines, reconfigure-pipelines and hello-world.

UI showing two pipelines
dashboard showing two pipelines

Now any changes you make to the hello-world pipeline will be updated automatically in Concourse once it picks up the commit with your changes.

Pipelines Setting Themselves

Our parent pipeline is setting and updating one other pipeline now but it has one glaring limitation: it doesn't set itself. We have to fly set-pipeline every time we want to add a new pipeline to the configure-pipelines job.

To resolve this we can do the following to our parent pipeline:

  • Add a job before the configure-pipelines job that self-updates the parent pipeline. We'll name the job configure-self.
  • Add a passed constraint to the configure-pipelines job to only run once the concourse-examples resource has passed the new configure-self job.

By doing the above we will never have to use fly to update the parent pipline again. Every commit to the concourse/examples repo will cause the parent pipeline to update itself and then all of its child pipelines. Now our pipelines are following a GitOps type of workflow!

Here is what the above changes look like when implemented:

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

jobs:
- name: configure-self
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
  - set_pipeline: reconfigure-pipelines
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
- name: configure-pipelines
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
    passed: [configure-self]
  - set_pipeline: hello-world
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/hello-world.yml

Side-note: for the configure-self job, you could also use the self keyword, though this is labelled as experimental and may disappear in the future.

Lets set the parent pipeline one more time with fly and then we'll make commits to the repo to make all future changes.

$ fly -t local set-pipeline \
  -p reconfigure-pipelines \
  -c pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yaml
  
...
apply configuration? [yN]: y

The parent pipeline should now look like this. Now the pipeline will first update itself and then update any existing child pipelines.

parent pipeline with config-self job
parent pipeline with config-self job

Let's commit our changes, which will be a no-op since we've already updated the pipeline with the latest changes.

$ git add pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
$ git commit -m "add configure-self job"
$ git push

Now comes the real fun! To add a pipeline to Concourse all we need to do is add a set_pipeline step to the parent pipeline, commit it to the concourse/examples repo, and let the parent pipeline pick up the new commit and make the changes for us.

Lets add the time-triggered pipeline to our reconfigure-pipelines.yml file.

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

jobs:
- name: configure-self
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
  - set_pipeline: reconfigure-pipelines
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
- name: configure-pipelines
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
    passed: [configure-self]
  - set_pipeline: hello-world
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/hello-world.yml
  - set_pipeline: time-triggered
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/time-triggered.yml

Commit and push the changes to github.

$ git add pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
$ git commit -m "add time-triggered pipeline"
$ git push

Once Concourse picks up the commit (may take up to a minute by default) you should see three pipelines on the dashboard. Now you never need to use fly to set pipelines!

parent and child pipelines
parent and child pipelines

Detour: A Future Alternative of Setting Pipelines

In the future there will be a different solution to setting parent pipelines: no more parent pipelines! How will Concourse eliminate the current need to start with a parent pipeline in order to set child pipelines? The answer is RFC 32: Projects.

If RFC 32 is implemented as currently described then you won't have to ever use fly set-pipeline to create pipelines, you'll simply create a Project, which involves pointing Concourse to a repo where you code lives. In the proposed project.yml you can then define all of your child pipelines with set_pipeline steps. No need to create a parent pipeline; the project.yml replaces the parent pipeline and no longer requires you to have a separate job that does set_pipeline: self.

The RFC is still open and looking for feedback. Check out the PR and leave your thoughts for the community to discuss!

Now let's get back on track and talk about the last step in a pipeline's lifecycle: archiving.

Automatically Archiving Pipelines

Having Concourse automatically set pipelines for you is great but that only covers half of the lifecycle that a pipeline can go through. Some pipelines stay around forever and get continously updated. Other pipelines may only be around for a small amount of time and then be deleted or archived.

Thanks to RFC #33 you can now archive pipelines and have Concourse automatically archive pipelines for you as well. You've been able to archive pipelines using fly since Concourse 6.1.0. Automatic archiving was added in 6.5.0.

A pipeline will only be considered for automatic archiving if it was previously set by a set_pipeline step. It will be archived if one of the following is true:

  • the set_pipeline step is removed from the job
  • the job that was setting the child pipeline is deleted
  • the parent pipeline is deleted or archived

We can test this out with the parent pipeline we were just using. Let's remove the hello-world pipeline.

resources:
- name: concourse-examples
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/examples.git

jobs:
- name: configure-self
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
  - set_pipeline: reconfigure-pipelines
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
- name: configure-pipelines
  plan:
  - get: concourse-examples
    trigger: true
    passed: [configure-self]
  - set_pipeline: time-triggered
    file: concourse-examples/pipelines/time-triggered.yml

Commit and push the changes to github.

$ git add pipelines/reconfigure-pipelines.yml
$ git commit -m "remove hello-world pipeline"
$ git push

After a few seconds the pipeline should disappear from the dashboard (unless you toggle "show archived" on).

With automatic archiving the entire lifecycle of your pipelines can now be managed with a git repo and a few commits.

I suggest checking out the documentation for set_pipeline to see all the other fields available for the step, like team and vars!

The Parent Pipeline Template (tl;dr)

resources:
- name: ci
  type: git
  icon: github
  source:
    uri: git@github.com:USERNAME/repo-where-pipelines-live.git

jobs:
- name: configure-self
  plan:
  - get: ci
    trigger: true
  - set_pipeline: self
    file: ci/path/to/parent-pipeline.yml
- name: configure-pipelines
  plan:
  - get: ci
    trigger: true
    passed: [configure-self]
  - set_pipeline: some-pipeline
    file: ci/path/to/some-pipeline.yml
  - set_pipeline: another-pipeline
    file: ci/path/to/another-pipeline.yml
`