Auto Formatting Code Using Prettier and GitHub Actions

Prettier is a very popular code formatter which uses very opinionated but sensible styles to format your code and prevent the ongoing debates about code styles. When implementing Prettier into a project, the typical approach is to setup a pre-commit hook using a tool such as lint-staged which will run Prettier on your staged files prior to committing. While this works well in most cases, there are a number of challenges with this approach.

  1. Non-staged files are not formatted. When changes are made to Prettier configuration or Prettier is updated, untouched files will not be formatted unless you manually run Prettier.
  2. Pre-commit steps can be skipped. Running git commit --no-verify will commit code without running pre-commit hooks which can result in files not being formatted.
  3. Pre-commit steps are slow. Running tasks like Prettier during pre-commit adds additional time when committing files due to Prettier having to format each file that is staged.

Finding a better way

Recently, a few of my coworkers implemented a tool called Spotless into a number of projects to automatically format Java code in our CI pipeline. I was quite intrigued by the concept of automatically formatting code in CI that I pondered if a similar process could be done using Prettier and GitHub Actions for JavaScript projects. Spoiler alert, it works!

After a few Google searches, I came across GitHub Prettier Action which formats your code using Prettier and commits any changes files when finished. While this looked like it would be the solution, it doesn’t use the version of Prettier specified in your dependencies meaning that local formatting changes applied by your editor or by running Prettier manually could get changed by the CI build if the versions differed. While this could be resolved by always keeping the version of Prettier in your npm dependencies and the GitHub action in sync, this adds extra work that needs to be done when updating dependencies.

So, while the Prettier Action is not the best solution, there is another solution that is just as easy to implement! This solution utilizes the git-auto-commit-action alongside whatever formatting script you have in your repository. For example, my repository has the following script to format using Prettier.

  "scripts": {
    "format": "prettier --write ."

To setup the GitHub action, all we need to do is install our dependencies (e.g. npm ci), run our format script (e.g. npm run format), and then commit any changes if necessary.

name: Format
    branches: [main]
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - uses: actions/checkout@v3
          ref: ${{ github.head_ref }}
      - uses: actions/setup-node@v3
          node-version: "16.x"
      - run: npm ci
      - run: npm run format
      - name: Commit changes
        uses: stefanzweifel/git-auto-commit-action@v4
          commit_message: Apply formatting changes
          branch: ${{ github.head_ref }}


By utilizing GitHub Actions for automatically formatting with Prettier, we were able to eliminate all three issues described at the beginning of this article. While the example I showed only performed formatting with Prettier, you could also run ESLint, stylelint, or any other formatting tool you use as part of the GitHub action!

If you are interested in the source code for this article, check out the example repository I put together. God bless and happy coding!