Create an Assumable Identity for a GitHub Actions Workflow

Procedural tutorial outlining how to create a Chainguard Enforce identity that can be assumed by a GitHub Actions workflow.

Chainguard’s assumable identities are identities that can be assumed by external applications or workflows in order to perform certain tasks that would otherwise have to be done by a human.

This procedural tutorial outlines how to create an identity using Terraform, and then create a GitHub Actions workflow that will assume the identity to interact with Chainguard resources.


To complete this guide, you will need the following.

  • terraform installed on your local machine. Terraform is an open-source Infrastructure as Code tool which this guide will use to create various cloud resources. Follow the official Terraform documentation for instructions on installing the tool.
  • chainctl — the Chainguard command line interface tool — installed on your local machine. Follow our guide on How to Install chainctl to set this up.
  • A GitHub repository you can use for testing out GitHub identity federation. To complete this guide, you must have permissions to create GitHub Actions on this testing repo.

Creating Terraform Files

We will be using Terraform to create an identity for a GitHub Actions workflow to assume. This step outlines how to create three Terraform configuration files that, together, will produce such an identity.

To help explain each configuration file’s purpose, we will go over what they do and how to create each file one by one. First, though, create a directory to hold the Terraform configuration and navigate into it.

mkdir ~/github-id && cd $_

This will help make it easier to clean up your system at the end of this guide.

The first file, which we will call, will serve as the scaffolding for our Terraform infrastructure.

The file will consist of the following content.

terraform {
  required_providers {
    chainguard = {
      source = "chainguard-dev/chainguard"

This is a fairly barebones Terraform configuration file, but we will define the rest of the resources in the other two files. In, we declare and initialize the Chainguard Terraform provider.

Next, you can create the file. will create a couple of structures that will help us test out the identity in a workflow.

This Terraform configuration consists of two main parts. The first part of the file will contain the following lines.

data "chainguard_group" "group" {
  name = ""

This section looks up a Chainguard IAM organization named This will contain the identity — which will be created by the file — to access when we test it out later on.

Now you can move on to creating the last of our Terraform configuration files,

The file is what will actually create the identity for your GitHub Actions workflow to assume. The file will consist of four sections, which we’ll go over one by one.

The first section creates the identity itself.

resource "chainguard_identity" "actions" {
  parent_id   =
  name    	= "github-actions"
  description = <<EOF
    This is an identity that authorizes the actions in this
    repository to assume to interact with chainctl.

  claim_match {
    issuer  = ""
    subject = "repo:<github_orgName>/<github_repoName>:ref:refs/heads/main"

First, this section creates a Chainguard Identity tied to the Chainguard Organization looked up in the file. The identity is named github-actions and has a brief description.

The most important part of this section is the claim_match. When the GitHub Actions workflow tries to assume this identity later on, it must present a token matching the issuer and subject specified here in order to do so. The issuer is the entity that creates the token, while the subject is the entity (here, the Actions workflow) that the token represents.

In this case, the issuer field points to, the issuer of OIDC tokens for GitHub Actions. The subject field, meanwhile, points to the main branch of an example GitHub repository. The GitHub documentation provides several examples of subject claims which you can refer to if you want to construct a subject claim specific to your needs. For the purposes of this guide, though, you will need to replace <github_orgName> and <github_repoName> with the name of your GitHub user or organization and the repository where your GitHub Actions workflow is hosted.

The next section will output the new identity’s id value. This is a unique value that represents the identity itself.

output "actions-identity" {
  value =

The section after that looks up the viewer role.

data "chainguard_role" "viewer" {
  name = "viewer"

The final section grants this role to the identity.

resource "chainguard_rolebinding" "view-stuff" {
  identity =
  group	=
  role 	= data.chainguard_role.viewer.items[0].id

Following that, your Terraform configuration will be ready. Now you can run a few terraform commands to create the resources defined in your .tf files.

Creating Your Resources

First, run terraform init to initialize Terraform’s working directory.

terraform init

Then run terraform plan. This will produce a speculative execution plan that outlines what steps Terraform will take to create the resources defined in the files you set up in the last section.

terraform plan

Then apply the configuration.

terraform apply

Before going through with applying the Terraform configuration, this command will prompt you to confirm that you want it to do so. Enter yes to apply the configuration.

. . .

Plan: 3 to add, 0 to change, 0 to destroy.

Changes to Outputs:
  + actions-identity = (known after apply)

Do you want to perform these actions?
  Terraform will perform the actions described above.
  Only 'yes' will be accepted to approve.

  Enter a value:

After pressing ENTER, the command will complete and will output an actions-identity value.

. . .

Apply complete! Resources: 3 added, 0 changed, 0 destroyed.


actions-identity = "<your actions identity>"

This is the identity’s UIDP (unique identity path), which you configured the file to emit in the previous section. Note this value down, as you’ll need it to set up the GitHub Actions workflow you’ll use to test the identity. If you need to retrieve this UIDP later on, though, you can always run the following chainctl command to obtain a list of the UIDPs of all your existing identities.

chainctl iam identities ls

Note that you may receive a PermissionDenied error part way through the apply step. If so, run chainctl auth login once more, and then terraform apply again to resume creating the identity and resources.

You’re now ready to create a GitHub Actions workflow which you’ll use to test out this identity.

Creating and Testing a GitHub Actions Workflow

To create a GitHub workflow, navigate to your repository in your browser and click the Actions tab. From there, find and click the New workflow button in the left-hand sidebar menu.

Screenshot of part of the Actions tab in a GitHub repository. At the left of the &ldquo;All workflows&rdquo; list is a &ldquo;New workflow&rdquo; button.

Next, you’ll be prompted to choose a workflow template. Because this tutorial includes the exact code you’ll need for this workflow, you can skip this step by clicking the set up a workflow yourself ➔ link.

You can name the workflow file whatever you like, although the default — main.yaml — will work for the purposes of this guide.

In the Edit textbox, add the following. Be sure to replace <your actions identity> with the actions-identity value produced by the previous terraform apply command.

name: Assume and Explore

  workflow_dispatch: {}

    name: actions assume example

      id-token: write

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest

    - uses: chainguard-dev/setup-chainctl@main
        identity: <your actions identity>

    - run: |
      docker pull<your organization>/example-image:latest

This workflow is named actions assume example. The permissions block grants write permissions to the workflow for the id-token scope. Per the GitHub Actions documentation, you must grant this permission in order for the workflow to be able to fetch an OIDC token.

This workflow performs two actions:

  • First, it assumes the identity you just created with Terraform.
  • Second, the workflow runs the docker pull command to pull an image from the organization’s Chainguard registry.

Commit the workflow to your repository, then navigate back to the Actions tab. The Assume and Explore workflow will appear in the left-hand sidebar menu. Click on this, and then click the Run workflow button on the resulting page to execute the workflow.

Screenshot of the &ldquo;Assume and Explore&rdquo; workflow, with the &ldquo;Run workflow&rdquo; button showing.

This indicates that the workflow can indeed assume the identity and interact with the organization.

Screenshot showing the output of the &ldquo;Assume and Explore&rdquo; workflow.

If you’d like to experiment further with this identity and what the workflow can do with it, there are a few parts of this setup that you can tweak. For instance, if you’d like to give this identity different permissions you can change the role data source to the role you would like to grant.

data "chainguard_role" "editor" {
  name = "editor"

You can also edit the workflow itself to change its behavior. For example, instead of pulling an image, you could have the workflow list available repos:

	- run: chainctl images repos list

Of course, the GitHub Actions workflow will only be able to perform certain actions on certain resources, depending on what kind of access you grant it.

Removing Sample Resources

To remove the resources Terraform created, you can run the terraform destroy command.

terraform destroy

This will destroy the role-binding, and the identity created in this guide. It will not delete the organization.

You can then remove the working directory to clean up your system.

rm -r ~/github-id/

Following that, all of the example resources created in this guide will be removed from your system.

Learn more

For more information about how assumable identities work in Chainguard, check out our conceptual overview of assumable identities. Additionally, the Terraform documentation includes a section on recommended best practices which you can refer to if you’d like to build on this Terraform configuration for a production environment. Likewise, for more information on using GitHub Actions, we encourage you to check out the official documentation on the subject.

Last updated: 2024-05-09 08:48