GitHub Secrets

Guidance on using GitHub Action secrets safely with common source setups.

GitHub provides encrypted secrets to allow you to store sensitive information like AWS or GitHub service account credentials for use with GitHub Actions.

Classify Your Secret

To determine your storage options, classify its possible use as:

  • read-only : a secret that provide read-only access to another resource.
  • append-only : a secret that provides write access to another resource but in a non-destructive append-only format that cannot change existing setup or configuration (e.g. an access key to trigger a build/test, append to a log or send a message).
  • write : a secret that provides write access to another resource that includes deleting or changing existing configuration or settings (e.g. AWS credentials or GitHub service account with write permissions).

Assess whether you can change the nature of your secret to be safer (e.g. append rather than write), or even remove the need for a secret altogether. For example, GitHub are working on an Open ID Connect feature to remove the need to use GitHub secrets for AWS credentials.

Secrets Storage

There are 3 places you can store secrets to make them available to GitHub Actions:

Where Recommended For
Repository Environment Secrets with any write permissions.
Repository A read-only or append-only secret required by all repository pull requests.
Organisation A read-only or append-only secret required by many repositories.

Note in particular the recommended use of repository environments to store a secret with any write permissions instead of a direct repository secret.

Environment Secrets

A repository environment is a way to restrict the usage of a secret to a specific repository branch where it can be protected by branch protection rules. A repository environment, branch restrictions and the addition of secrets within it can be configured in Settings > Environments. The GitHub Action that requires the secret should be set to target the environment you have configured.


The fsc-cli-tool repository uses a scheduled action to update the service catalogue. This requires the credentials of a GitHub App service account that includes write permissions. A prod environment is configured on the repository, with its use restricted to the main branch only. The credentials are stored as secrets in this environment, and referenced in the workflow yaml definition (environment: prod) so they can be used.

The repository has a typical GitHub Flow service branch protection setup. The all-flutter-global team has write access to enable contribution, with the main branch protected by a required codeowner review. Repository secrets can be used by any branch (so anyone with write access). However in this case the secret is restricted by an environment only accessible to the main branch, because of this any change to the use of this secret requires codeowner approval.

Repository Secrets

Repository secrets are configured in Settings > Secrets > Actions. They can be used by all branches in the repository. This is appropriate for read-only or access secrets required for pull request automated tests that need to be run on any branch on-demand.

The reason to use repository secrets with caution is:

  • The names and nature of any secrets are known to anyone with access to the repository because they can see them being used in the action workflows in .github/workflows.
  • Repository secrets not protected by an environment are accessible to workflows in all branches.
  • Any user with repository write access can create a new branch, modify or create workflows in that branch and use those workflows to capture or reveal the secrets available without any review or approval process.
  • A typical inner source access control setup encourages granting all-flutter-global team write access which contains all members of the organisation.


Sending Slack messages from an action (e.g. slack-action-notifier) requires a webhook URL. This can only be used to send new messages so is an append-only secret. It is usually stored as a repository secret so messages can be triggered from unmerged PRs in any branch.

Organisation Secrets

Organisation secrets are configured by an organisation owner. The owners of Flutter-Global are the inner source team who will manage the access control of these secrets on your behalf. Organisational secrets can be made available to all repositories in the organisation, or to a selected set of repositories. If made available to a repository, they are made available to all branches like a repository secret. At present, they cannot be linked into a single repository environment (which is part of this GitHub public roadmap item).


For the access control and analytics automation in Flutter-Global, multiple repositories require access to the membership of other division-specific GitHub organisations. The credentials of a GitHub App service account installed by the divisional owners of the orgs must be available to these repositories. The access is read-only, needed by multiple repositories and in some of those repositories used in pull request dry run test packs. The credentials are stored as organisation secrets and made available to all branches within selected repositories.


Secrets can also be separately configured for individual development environments (GitHub Codespaces). These can configured as personal settings, by repository (Settings > Secrets > Codespaces) or across the whole organisation (via inner source team). Use of Codespaces repository or organisation secrets should also be restricted to read-only or append-only secrets as they are accessible to all those who have write access to the repository.