Pipelines for merge requests

Introduced in GitLab 11.6.

Usually, when you create a new merge request, a pipeline runs on the new change and checks if it’s qualified to be merged into a target branch. This pipeline should contain only necessary jobs for checking the new changes. For example, unit tests, lint checks, and Review Apps are often used in this cycle.

With pipelines for merge requests, you can design a specific pipeline structure for merge requests.

Configuring pipelines for merge requests

To configure pipelines for merge requests, add the only: merge_requests parameter to the jobs that you want to run only for merge requests.

Then, when developers create or update merge requests, a pipeline runs every time a commit is pushed to GitLab.

Note: If you use this feature with merge when pipeline succeeds, pipelines for merge requests take precedence over the other regular pipelines.

For example, consider the following .gitlab-ci.yml:

build:
  stage: build
  script: ./build
  only:
  - branches
  - tags
  - merge_requests

test:
  stage: test
  script: ./test
  only:
  - merge_requests

deploy:
  stage: deploy
  script: ./deploy

After the merge request is updated with new commits:

  • GitLab detects that changes have occurred and creates a new pipeline for the merge request.
  • The pipeline fetches the latest code from the source branch and run tests against it.

In the above example, the pipeline contains only build and test jobs. Since the deploy job doesn’t have the only: merge_requests parameter, deployment jobs will not happen in the merge request.

Pipelines tagged with the merge request badge indicate that they were triggered when a merge request was created or updated. For example:

Merge request page

The same tag is shown on the pipeline’s details:

Pipeline's details

Excluding certain jobs

The behavior of the only: merge_requests parameter is such that only jobs with that parameter are run in the context of a merge request; no other jobs will be run.

However, you may want to reverse this behavior, having all of your jobs to run except for one or two.

Consider the following pipeline, with jobs A, B, and C. Imagine you want:

  • All pipelines to always run A and B.
  • C to run only for merge requests.

To achieve this, you can configure your .gitlab-ci.yml file as follows:

.only-default: &only-default
  only:
    - master
    - merge_requests
    - tags

A:
  <<: *only-default
  script:
    - ...

B:
  <<: *only-default
  script:
    - ...

C:
  script:
    - ...
  only:
    - merge_requests

Therefore:

  • Since A and B are getting the only: rule to execute in all cases, they will always run.
  • Since C specifies that it should only run for merge requests, it will not run for any pipeline except a merge request pipeline.

As you can see, this will help you avoid a lot of boilerplate where you’d need to add that only: rule to all of your jobs in order to make them always run. You can use this for scenarios like having only pipelines with merge requests get a Review App set up, helping to save resources.

Important notes about merge requests from forked projects

Note that the current behavior is subject to change. In the usual contribution flow, external contributors follow the following steps:

  1. Fork a parent project.
  2. Create a merge request from the forked project that targets the master branch in the parent project.
  3. A pipeline runs on the merge request.
  4. A maintainer from the parent project checks the pipeline result, and merge into a target branch if the latest pipeline has passed.

Currently, those pipelines are created in a forked project, not in the parent project. This means you cannot completely trust the pipeline result, because, technically, external contributors can disguise their pipeline results by tweaking their GitLab Runner in the forked project.

There are multiple reasons about why GitLab doesn’t allow those pipelines to be created in the parent project, but one of the biggest reasons is security concern. External users could steal secret variables from the parent project by modifying .gitlab-ci.yml, which could be some sort of credentials. This should not happen.

We’re discussing a secure solution of running pipelines for merge requests that submitted from forked projects, see the issue about the permission extension.