How to Set up an Azure DevOps GitHub Integration: The Complete 2020 Guide

azure devops github integration

As software teams grow and diversify, it’s getting more common to have them manage their work on different platforms. These organizational systems are definitely a great help to your productivity. However, keeping them in sync, for instance achieving an Azure DevOps and GitHub integration, isn’t always that straightforward.

If you can solve the potential issues regarding the sync, you can give your business a real boost. Focussing on two particular platforms, we’ll look at how to set up an Azure DevOps GitHub Integration and to help your teams work in harmony.

We’ll discuss the problems that can happen when teams use different software and show how you can solve them with the right software integration solution. With these platforms integrated correctly, the work your teams do can complement each other. Your business can then achieve its goals more quickly.

Note: In this tutorial, we will be using a software integration tool called Exalate to set up the integration. You will learn more about this throughout this guide.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

Why Integrate Azure DevOps and GitHub

What is Azure DevOps?

Azure DevOps is a platform that has multiple features for managing software projects. It can handle project management, version control, reporting, and requirements management.

It is a Microsoft product, so you log into it via your Microsoft account. It integrates well with several other tools but is particularly suitable for teams using Visual Studio or Eclipse. Its project management capabilities make it a compatible tool for agile and waterfall teams.

You can run it on your own server or use the cloud version, which is handy when it comes to scalability. It also has a range of extensions available on its marketplace.

What is Github?

GitHub is a great way to keep code in one place. It handles versioning and source management. Project planning features, such as issue tracking and milestones, are also included.

It is also among the best choices for distributed teams, who can use it to share code with team members anywhere in the world.

Although it was originally an independent platform, it has been acquired by Microsoft. GitHub is one of the most popular coding tools around, especially with teams working on open source projects.

Why Integrate Azure DevOps and GitHub

Azure DevOps and GitHub are both great tools, but when you pick a platform for your team to use, you’ll want to pick the right one for the job. Since they offer different things, teams within your organization may want to use one or the other. 

That means they can take advantage of their best features. But it can also mean that the teams might lose track of what the others are doing. This can lead to a silo effect, where they handle the same issues separately or don’t share information that can be useful for those outside their group.

GitHub enables you to make your code visible to everybody, which is especially good for open source projects. Often though, there’ll be parts of your business that you want to keep private. You may want to limit what you share or filter the information people add to it. 

Azure DevOps, on the other hand, is great for handling backend code, or for working in the development environments it supports. 

So if you want to manage the relationship between these two platforms, you’ll need a tool that can handle them both and can sync data when needed.

How to Choose the Right Technology for Setting up your Azure DevOps Github Integration

When looking for the right solution for our integration, we need to make sure it fits our needs first. To help us do that, let’s look at the problems we’re aiming to solve. There are three particular features we should take into account:

1. Autonomy

Helping our teams work together without introducing unnecessary constraints is one of the most important features to consider. Information exchange should let our teams work together in the comfort of their own environment, meaning that they shouldn’t become dependent on one another. Both sides should be able to make changes without causing problems for the other.

2. Reliability

The integration needs to exchange information without getting in our way. We don’t want to have to fix problems every time we transfer information. Reliability is key to a smooth integration. Our system should be able to cope with occasional issues, such as outages on either side. It should be robust enough to resume as normal when both sides come online again.

A reliable system should do what we need without distracting us from other tasks. We should be able to set it up and forget about it until we want to make changes.

3. Flexibility

When sharing data, we want to control exactly what is shared and how it is done. We want to specify what is exchanged and define the conditions under which that takes place when first setting things up. As our system evolves, we will often want to make changes.

Teams working on other platforms may need to integrate with us in the future, so we need a system that can accommodate the software that we may consider using as our needs change and our team expands.

We’ve used a tool called Exalate which was designed specifically to meet these requirements. It lets us connect our platforms while avoiding these pitfalls.

Next, we’ll look at how to use it. We’ll see how to set it up on Azure DevOps, then on GitHub, and then see how we can configure what is shared and set the conditions for data exchange to take place.

How to Set up an Azure DevOps Github Integration (a Step by Step Process)

There are five steps to take to set up our integration. First, we’ll install Exalate on Azure DevOps and then on GitHub. Next, we’ll see how to connect the two. We’ll then configure the connection we’ve set up so that it does what we want. And finally, we’ll look at automated synchronization triggers to control when the information is exchanged.

Step 1: Install Exalate on Azure DevOps

Firstly, we need to install Exalate on Azure DevOps. For more information on this step, check out our Azure DevOps Exalate Documentation.

As well as having your own Azure DevOps instance, you’ll need to request an Exalate instance and you’ll need to work in both of them to have them set up correctly.

exalate instance for azure devops integration

Visit this page to request an Exalate instance. Choose the Azure DevOps option and enter your details in the form that pops up. Now, wait until you get a response via email. Click on the link in the email to access the node that was set up for you. The mail will also include an evaluation key.

Before using the new instance, head into your own DevOps instance and create a personal access token. Read this guide for an in-depth look at this step. Open the settings menu at the top right of the screen and click “Profile”. Now look at the left-hand menu and click on “Personal Access Tokens” in the “Security” section.

azure devops personal access token

Here you can see the tokens you already have and can edit or revoke them if needed. If you haven’t done this before though, it will likely be empty. Start by clicking on “New Token”.

A form will appear where you enter details for your new token. You can give it a name and organization, as well as choose when it expires. A longer lifespan means you won’t have to extend it as soon, but a shorter expiry date can be a better choice for security reasons.

azure devops integration creating a new access token

You also need to choose what the token grants access to in the scopes section. You can provide access to everything by selecting full access, or you can pick and choose what you want. For our installation, we need access to read, write, and manage work items. Select those, and then click “Create” to generate the token.

azure devops access token granted for an integration

A new window will appear containing your token, which is simply a string of text. Select this, making sure to get all of it, and copy it to a safe location. There’s an icon next to it that copies it straight to the clipboard which makes it easier. You only get one chance to do this, or else you’ll need to start over and create a new token.

Next, look in your email and find the response to your Exalate app node request. Follow the link that was sent to you and you’ll be taken to your new node. Accept the license to continue.

exalate for azure devops integration node

Now you can put your details in. Add your organization name and paste in the personal access token you just generated. There’s also a space to enter your DevOps URL. If yours doesn’t work, try using dev.azure.com instead.

Once you’ve set those details up, you’ll need to log in. Again, this uses your personal access token. Enter it and click the “Login” button. After that, you’ll see the settings page. We’ll come back here after installing GitHub.

Step 2: Install Exalate on GitHub

Now that Exalate is ready on Azure DevOps, we’ll move over to GitHub. We install Exalate on each of the platforms to guarantee autonomy on both sides of the connection.

Open GitHub, go to the marketplace and search for Exalate. You can follow this link to save some time if you prefer.

exalate for github azure devops integration

Click the green “Set up a plan” button first. Fortunately, Exalate for GitHub has a free trial, so you can try it out for nothing. Click the “Install it for free” box to take advantage of it.

install exalate on github for free

On the install screen, Exalate will allow you to select which repositories should be granted access to. You can pick all of them, or pick out a selection. Exalate doesn’t need to access the code itself as it just works with the metadata, the issues, and the pull requests.

Once you’re happy with your settings, click the “Install” button to continue. You’ll be sent to Exalate’s site to accept its user agreement.

Next, you can choose one of the two methods for accessing GitHub from Exalate. Giving it your username and password is the easiest, but that might be removed in the future. Creating an “OAuth token” is the other option. 

Once you’ve set up the access, you’ll need to request an evaluation license for GitHub. 

Note: If you don’t request an evaluation license, you won’t be able to synchronize issues later.

Step 3: Connect Azure DevOps and Github

After setting up Exalate on both platforms, we can now get to connecting them. We need to generate an invitation code on one platform, then accept it on the other. We can generate the invitation from either side, but for this tutorial, we’ll go back to Azure DevOps and start there.

getting started with azure devops and github integration

Go to the Azure DevOps node provided by Exalate and log in with your access token. Once you’re in, check the menu on the left-hand side and click on “Connections”. On the connections screen, click the green “Initiate connection” button.

exalate connections for github azure devops integration

On the next screen, choose your connection type. We can choose another instance that is either accessible or not accessible. For now, choose the default, “Accessible” and then click “Next”.

choose connection type for integrating azure devops and github

Next, enter the URL of your GitHub node. If you’re not sure what that is, access your GitHub account and look for the Exalate app in the marketplace. From there, click on “Configure access”. There’s a link next to “Looking for your Exalate Console URL” that will take you to a screen where you can enter your username and find your GitHub node.

choose azure devops and guthub sync rules

Once you’ve entered your node URL, click the green “Next” button. On the “Choose sync rules template” screen, we configure our synchronization. For now, leave the default “Single project” selected, which will decide what to exchange for us. We can later see how to customize these rules. So for now, just click the “Next” button.

pick a sync project to integrate github and azure devops

You need to pick a project to sync from those you have available on the next screen. Select one from the drop-down list and then click “Next”.

name the github azure devops sync

Now you need to give the connection a name. Choose something descriptive to help you keep track of it. This is especially important if you plan to set up multiple connections. We’re naming ours after the platforms we’re connecting. 

You can also add a description to make things even easier. Finally, the green tick-box at the bottom lets you choose whether to make the connection active or not. When you sort out that out, click “Initiate connection”.

exalate invitation code for an azure devops github integration

After a brief pause, our connection is created and an invitation code is generated. We need to copy that and paste it somewhere safe. We’ll use it to accept the connection on our GitHub node.

We’re done with Azure DevOps for the time being, so click the “Done” button and then we’ll head back to GitHub.

In our Exalate GitHub node, click on the “Connections” text. This time, we’ll click on the “Accept invitation” button.

enter the sync invitation code

On the next screen, paste in the invitation code we just generated. Then click the “Next” button. We’ll be taken through several of the same screens we’ve just seen in Azure DevOps. Make the same choices. Leave the default “Single project” on the “Choose sync rules template” screen and click “Next”.

azure devops github sync rules

On the project synchronization screen, we’ll see a list of our GitHub repositories. Click the one you want to connect and click the green “Confirm” button to set up the connection.

Our connection is now in place, but we still need to decide what is shared, and when. We’ll sort that out over the next two steps.

Step 4: Configure your Connection to Determine What Information Gets Shared

azure github sync connection info

Let’s make sure our connection shares what we want. In GitHub, click the three dots next to your connection name and select “Edit”.

edit connection info for github azure devops integration

You’ll see a screen with the “General” tab selected and the basic information that we entered earlier. You can edit that if you like, but we’re interested in the sync rules, so click the “Sync Rules” tab. Let’s take a look.

sync rules for syncing azure devops and github

Here we can see a list of the synchronization rules. These show which fields on each platform are matched to those on the other. For example in the outgoing sync, we can see most fields are matched to identically named fields on the other platform. There are some fields like that on the incoming sync rules and a few that use more complex rules to get the correct data.

We can edit these rules to give us more control over what is exchanged. We can remove any we don’t want to share, add the ones we do, and edit fields with different names to swap data if that’s what we want. Be careful here as any mistakes will cause an error, so be sure to test what you do and make sure it works as intended.

For more information, read our script helpers guide.

Step 5: Set up Automated Synchronization Triggers

Now, our platforms are exchanging the information we want, but we also need to choose when the information is shared and what will trigger the exchange.

exalate trigger for Github node

In your GitHub node, select “Triggers” from the left-hand menu. Then click the “Create Trigger” button.

setting a trigger for github azure devops integration

On this screen, you can set trigger conditions using GitHub advanced search syntax. If you hover over the “i” next to “if”, there’s a link to help you with that. Or simply take a look here. You can choose the connection your trigger applies to, and add a note to help you track what your triggers do. There’s also an “Active” switch to turn the trigger on and off. When you’re ready, click “Create”.

To read more about this and other advanced configurations, check this link.

Common Pitfalls to Keep in Mind when Completing the Azure DevOps Github Integration

To make sure our integration goes smoothly, we’ll look at some of the issues that can happen when setting it up. Keeping these potential problems in mind will help us avoid them and ensure we get the best out of our software integration.

Role Clarification

The right software integration can help our teams work together more effectively and prevent siloing. Beware of the opposite problem though. It’s a good point that the teams know about each other’s issues, but we don’t want them working on the same things.

When storing information in the same place, it’s important to keep track of who’s doing what, so teams don’t get distracted. Making sure everyone is fully aware of what they are responsible for is critical. As well as tracking who is assigned to each issue, it might be worth flagging which team is handling it, too.

Message Overload

We need to keep track of what our software is doing and most platforms help us with this by sending messages when anything of note happens. When platforms are integrated, the flow of information increases, and this can result in more messages. 

We don’t want this to become overwhelming. Getting too many notifications can decrease engagement and productivity. So, you may want to tune your notification settings to make sure you don’t see more than you want to when it comes to integrating platforms.

Architecture, Security, and Deployment for an Azure DevOps GitHub Integration

Now we’ll discuss Exalate technology in more detail. If you’re using it, you may be curious about its architecture and the security features it has.

Architectural Autonomy

Here’s a diagram that shows Exalate’s architecture:

exalate architecture for azure devops github integration

The blue end represents Azure DevOps and the red end represents GitHub. Exalate agents for each platform sit in between these two services and handle the exchange of information between them.

  • The letters A-F show how information flows between platforms. Both services use Exalate as an intermediary, which maintains the autonomy of each one.
  • The Exalate agents control what gets sent and how information is matched from one platform to the other.
  • As well as Azure DevOps and GitHub, there are Exalate agents available for Jira Cloud, ServiceNow, Jira On-Premise, HP ALM/QC, and Zendesk. More services will be added soon, so check back later if the one you need isn’t ready yet. You can also request an integration here.

Security

Security is a key consideration when exchanging information between platforms. Exalate is designed with security in mind so you can trust it to synchronize information securely. 

It uses the secure https protocol for most data exchange and nodes use a reverse proxy for data termination. It also uses JWT to ensure data requests come from trusted sources.

Exalate protects your data by taking daily backups, which are retained for two days. It also conducts monthly penetration tests to help find and eliminate potential security issues.

To learn more about how Exalate keeps data safe, read this free, “Exalate Security and Architecture Whitepaper

exalate security for integrations

This image shows the relationship between Exalate and the services it supports. 

Conclusion

If your teams are working on different platforms then it’s important to make sure they stay connected. There are many ways to do that, but getting the right balance between automation and customization can give an edge to your team’s performance.

Azure DevOps and GitHub both cater to different kinds of teams. Sometimes you want them kept apart. But when you don’t, you need a way to bridge the gap. We’ve done that with Exalate.

We’ve gone from having two separate platforms with information tracked separately, to an integrated system where data flows between the two automatically. The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing.

To learn more about a Jira Azure DevOps integration, check out this blog post. Or you might want to find out more about a Jira GitHub integration here. If you’re also interested in learning about software integration in general, you can download this ebook and read all about an effective cross-company integration.

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