Understanding and implementing Pipeline as Code

Pipeline as Code describes a set of features that allow Jenkins users to define pipelined job processes with code, stored and versioned in a source repository. These features allow Jenkins to discover, manage, and run jobs for multiple source repositories and branches — eliminating the need for manual job creation and management.

To use Pipeline as Code, projects must contain a file named Jenkinsfile in the repository root.

Additionally, one of the enabling jobs needs to be configured in Jenkins:

  • Multibranch Pipeline: build multiple branches of a single repository automatically

  • Organization Folders: scan a GitHub Organization or Bitbucket Team to discover an organization’s repositories, automatically creating managed Multibranch Pipeline jobs for them

Fundamentally, an organization’s repositories can be viewed as a hierarchy, where each repository may have child elements of branches and pull requests.

Example Repository Structure
+--- GitHub Organization
    +--- Project 1
        +--- master
        +--- feature-branch-a
        +--- feature-branch-b
    +--- Project 2
        +--- master
        +--- pull-request-1
        +--- etc...

Prior to Multibranch Pipeline jobs and Organization Folders, CloudBees Folders could be used to create this hierarchy in Jenkins by organizing repositories into folders containing jobs for each individual branch.

Multibranch Pipeline and Organization Folders eliminate the manual process by detecting branches and repositories, respectively, and creating appropriate folders with jobs in Jenkins automatically.

The Jenkinsfile

Presence of the Jenkinsfile in the root of a repository makes it eligible for Jenkins to automatically manage and execute jobs based on repository branches.

The Jenkinsfile should contain a Pipeline Script, specifying the steps to execute the job. The script has all the power of Pipeline available, from something as simple as invoking a Maven builder, to a series of interdependent steps, which have coordinated parallel execution with deployment and validation phases.

A simple way to get started with Pipeline is to use the Snippet Generator available in the configuration screen for a Jenkins Pipeline job. Using the Snippet Generator, you can create a Pipeline script as you might through the dropdowns in other Jenkins jobs.

CloudBees Jenkins Enterprise users have more options than only using Jenkinsfile. See the reference section Custom Pipeline as Code Scripts.

Custom Pipeline as Code Scripts

Pipeline as Code describes how to create multibranch projects and organization folders automatically from SCM repositories containing a Jenkinsfile. This file serves two functions: it contains the Pipeline script which defines the project’s behavior; and it indicates which repositories and branches are ready to be built by Jenkins.

For large organizations with a homogeneous build environment, keeping a Jenkinsfile in every repository could be undesirable for several reasons:

  • The content could become redundant. This risk can be minimized by using global libraries to define a DSL for the organization’s builds, though the syntax is limited to what Groovy supports.

  • Developers may not want to see any Pipeline script in their repositories. Again this can be minimized using global libraries to some extent: the learning curve can be restricted to copying and editing a short example Jenkinsfile.

  • Some organizations may not want to have any Jenkins-specific files in repositories at all.

  • Administrators may not trust developers to write Pipeline script, or more broadly to define job behavior. While the Groovy sandbox defends against malicious scripts (for example, changing system configuration or stealing secrets), it does not prevent overuse of shared build agents, questionable plugin usage, lack of timeouts or resource caps, or other mistakes or poor decisions.

To support administrators wanting to restrict how Pipelines are defined, CloudBees Jenkins Enterprise includes an additional option for multibranch projects and organization folders. With this option, the configuration in Jenkins consists of both the name of a marker file, and the Pipeline script to run when it is encountered.

For a single repository, create a Multibranch Pipeline. Configure your branch source as usual, but then under Build Configuration » Mode, select Custom script. Select a Marker file, which will be the name of a file in matching repositories. Under Pipeline » Definition, you may type in a Pipeline script directly, or use Pipeline script from SCM to load the definition from an external source.

custom factory single

More commonly, you will want to configure a project definition applicable across an entire organization. To do this, create a GitHub Organization. Configure your repository source as usual, but then under Project Recognizers, delete Pipeline Jenkinsfile and add Custom script instead.

custom factory multiple

In this example, any repository containing a Maven pom.xml at top level will be recognized as a buildable Jenkins project. As usual with Pipeline as Code, checkout scm checks out the repository sources on a build node.

Note that you may have multiple project recognizers defined for a single organization: say, one for pom.xml and one for build.gradle. Only one recognizer will be used for a given repository: the first one that finds its marker file in at least one branch. You can even include the standard Pipeline Jenkinsfile recognizer in the list as one option.

Trusted files

There is also a facility for limiting what changes may be made in untrusted branches (such as pull requests filed by people not authorized to push to the main repository). In the standard recognizer, Jenkinsfile will always be read from a trusted branch (such as the base branch of an untrusted pull request). This ensures that an outsider cannot alter the overall build process merely by filing a pull request.

When using custom factories, or in some cases when using Jenkinsfile, you may want to restrict modifications to other files too. To do so, just have your script call the readTrusted step, which returns the text of a repository file, aborting if it has been modified in an untrusted branch. For example, to simulate the standard Pipeline Jenkinsfile recognizer you could use a custom recognizer based on Jenkinsfile with the script

evaluate(readTrusted 'Jenkinsfile')

(Currently the standard recognizer would quietly ignore modifications to Jenkinsfile in untrusted pull requests, whereas this script would fail the build.)

The return value could be ignored if you merely wanted to ensure that a file used by some other process was not modified. With the marker file Makefile:

readTrusted 'Makefile'
node {
  checkout scm
  sh 'make'

Untrusted pull requests could edit regular source files, but not Makefile.

For a more complex example, suppose you wanted to run make inside a Docker image, optionally specified in the repository, and optionally performing some custom Pipeline steps, such as sending mail notifications or publishing test results:

node {
  checkout scm
  docker.image(fileExists('image') ? readFile('image').trim() : 'ubuntu').inside {
    sh 'make'
  if (fileExists 'extra.groovy') {
    evaluate(readTrusted 'extra.groovy')

Here anyone is free to edit Makefile, because it is run inside a container, and to create or edit image to specify the build environment. But only committers to the repository can create or edit extra.groovy.

Folder Computation

Multibranch Pipeline projects and Organization Folders extend the existing folder functionality by introducing 'computed' folders. Computed folders automatically run a process to manage the folder contents. This computation, in the case of Multibranch Pipeline projects, creates child items for each eligible branch within the child. For Organization Folders, computation populates child items for repositories as individual Multibranch Pipelines.

Folder computation may happen automatically via webhook callbacks, as branches and repositories are created or removed. Computation may also be triggered by the Build Trigger defined in the configuration, which will automatically run a computation task after a period of inactivity (this defaults to run after one day).

folder computation build trigger schedule

Information about the last execution of the folder computation is available in the Folder Computation section.

folder computation main

The log from the last attempt to compute the folder is available from this page. If folder computation doesn’t result in an expected set of repositories, the log may have useful information to diagnose the problem.

folder computation log


Both Multibranch Pipeline projects and Organization Folders have configuration options to allow precise selection of repositories. These features also allow selection of two types of credentails to use when connecting to the remote systems:

  • scan credentials, which are used for accessing the GitHub or Bitbucket APIs

  • checkout credentials, which are used when the repository is cloned from the remote system; it may be useful to choose an SSH key or "- anonymous -", which uses the default credentials configured for the OS user

If you are using a GitHub Organization, you should create a GitHub access token to use to avoid storing your password in Jenkins and prevent any issues when using the GitHub API. When using a GitHub access token, you must use standard Username with password credentials, where the username is the same as your GitHub username and the password is your access token.

Multibranch Pipeline Projects

Multibranch Pipeline projects are one of the fundamental enabling features for Pipeline as Code. Changes to the build or deployment procedure can evolve with project requirements and the job always reflects the current state of the project. It also allows you to configure different jobs for different branches of the same project, or to forgo a job if appropriate. The Jenkinsfile in the root directory of a branch or pull request identifies a multibranch project.

Multibranch Pipeline projects expose the name of the branch being built with the BRANCH_NAME environment variable and provide a special checkout scm Pipeline command, which is guaranteed to check out the specific commit that the Jenkinsfile originated. If the Jenkinsfile needs to check out the repository for any reason, make sure to use checkout scm, as it also accounts for alternate origin repositories to handle things like pull requests.

To create a Multibranch Pipeline, go to: New Item > Multibranch Pipeline. Configure the SCM source as appropriate. There are options for many different types of repositories and services including Git, Mercurial, Bitbucket, and GitHub.

To add GitHub as a Branch source for a Multibranch Pipeline:

  1. Select Add Source and select GitHub.

  2. Select the appropriate credentials or click the Add button to create a new set of credentials.

  3. Select Repository HTTPS URL if you know the specific repository URL you want to add.

    You can specify a repo from GitHub Enterprise using this method. The API endpoint will be automatically inferred.


    Select Repository Scan and enter the API endpoint and Owner.

    • The API endpoint is either the default GitHub endpoint or an alternate API endpoint of a self-hosted GitHub Enterprise account. Users can add servers/API endpoints on the Manage Jenkins > Configure Jenkins > GitHub Enterprise Servers page.

    • The Owner is the name of the GitHub Organization or GitHub User Account.

      After scanning, the Repository drop-down will populate with the available repositories. Select the appropriate repository from the list.

      If your organization or user account has a large number of repositories and you select Repository Scan, the scan may time out. If the scan does not work for this reason, you should select Repository HTTPS URL and enter the specific repository’s URL instead.
  4. Select Behavior options.

  5. Select the Property strategy and, if applicable, add properties. This setting allows users to define custom properties for each branch or apply the same properties to all branches. Properties:

    • Pipeline branch speed/durability override - This setting allows users to change the default durability mode for running Pipelines. In most cases this is a trade-off between performance and the ability for running pipelines to resume after unplanned Jenkins outages.

    • Suppress automatic SCM triggering - This setting suppresses the normal SCM commit trigger coming from branch indexing.

After configuring these items and saving the configuration, Jenkins will automatically scan the repository and import appropriate branches.

Discover branches and strategy options are extensible, so other plugins may contribute additional options. This set of steps only describes the default options.

Behavior options for GitHub branch sources

  • Discover branches - determines which branches are discovered.

    • Strategy options:

      • Exclude branches that are also filed as PRs - If you are discovering origin pull requests, you may not want to also build the source branches for those pull requests.

      • Only branches that are also filed as PRs - Similar to discovering origin pull requests, but discovers the branch rather than the pull request. This means env.GIT_BRANCH will be set to the branch name rather than PR-#. Also, status notifications for these builds will only be applied to the commit and not to the pull request.

      • All branches - Ignores whether the branch is also filed as a pull request and instead discovers all branches on the origin repository.

  • Discover pull requests from origin - determines how pull requests from origin are discovered.

    • Strategy options:

      • Merging the pull request with the current target branch revision - Discover each pull request once with the discovered revision corresponding to the result of merging with the current revision of the target branch.

      • The current pull request revision - Discover each pull request once with the discovered revision corresponding to the pull request head revision without merging.

      • Both the current pull request revision and the pull request merged with the current target branch revision - Discover each pull request twice. The first discovered revision corresponds to the result of merging with the current revision of the target branch in each scan. The second parallel discovered revision corresponds to the pull request head revision without merging.

  • Discover pull requests from forks - determines how pull requests from forks are discovered.

    • Strategy options:

      • Merging the pull request with the current target branch revision - Discover each pull request once with the discovered revision corresponding to the result of merging with the current revision of the target branch.

      • The current pull request revision - Discover each pull request once with the discovered revision corresponding to the pull request head revision without merging.

      • Both the current pull request revision and the pull request merged with the current target branch revision - Discover each pull request twice. The first discovered revision corresponds to the result of merging with the current revision of the target branch in each scan. The second parallel discovered revision corresponds to the pull request head revision without merging.

    • Trust options - In order to protect against a malicious pull request modifying the Jenkinsfile, which would allow it to run Pipeline code on the Jenkins master, you can define the trust policy for pull requests from forks:

      Even with these trust options, you should make sure no secrets are made available to the agent running the build if accepting PRs from forks.
      • Nobody - Pull requests from forks will all be treated as untrusted. This means that where Jenkins requires a trusted file (e.g. Jenkinsfile) the contents of that file will be retrieved from the target branch on the origin repository and not from the pull request branch on the fork repository.

      • Contributors - Pull requests from collaborators to the origin repository will be treated as trusted; all other pull requests from fork repositories will be treated as untrusted.

        If credentials used by Jenkins for scanning the repository do not have permission to query the list of contributors to the origin repository, then only the origin account will be treated as trusted. This will fall back to Nobody.
        All collaborators are trusted, even if they are only members of a team with read permission.
      • Everyone - All pull requests from forks will be treated as trusted.

        This option can be dangerous if used on a public repository hosted on GitHub.
      • From users with Admin or Write permission - Pull requests forks will be treated as trusted if and only if the fork owner has either Admin or Write permissions on the origin repository.

        This is the recommended policy. This strategy requires the Review a user’s permission level API; as a result, on GitHub Enterprise Server versions before 2.12, selecting this policy is the same as trusting Nobody.

Organization Folders

Organization Folders offer a convenient way to allow Jenkins to automatically manage which repositories are automatically included in Jenkins. Particularly, if your organization utilizes GitHub Organizations or Bitbucket Teams, any time a developer creates a new repository with a Jenkinsfile, Jenkins will automatically detect it and create a Multibranch Pipeline project for it. This alleviates the need for administrators or developers to manually create projects for these new repositories.

To create an Organization Folder in Jenkins, go to: New Item → GitHub Organization or New Item → Bitbucket Team and follow the configuration steps for each item, making sure to specify appropriate Scan Credentials and a specific owner for the GitHub Organization or Bitbucket Team name, respectively.

Other options available are:

  • Repository name pattern - a regular expression to specify which repositories are included

  • API endpoint - an alternate API endpoint to use a self-hosted GitHub Enterprise

  • Checkout credentials - alternate credentials to use when checking out the code (cloning)

After configuring these items and saving the configuration, Jenkins will automatically scan the organization and import appropriate repositories and resulting branches.

Orphaned Item Strategy

Computed folders can remove items immediately or leave them based on a desired retention strategy. By default, items will be removed as soon as the folder computation determines they are no longer present. If your organization requires these items remain available for a longer period of time, simply configure the Orphaned Item Strategy appropriately. It may be useful to keep items in order to examine build results of a branch after it’s been removed, for example.

orphaned item strategy

Icon and View Strategy

You may also configure an icon to use for the folder display. For example, it might be useful to display an aggregate health of the child builds. Alternately, you might reference the same icon you use in your GitHub organization account.

folder icon


To demonstrate using an Organization Folder to manage repositories, we’ll use the fictitious organization: CloudBeers, Inc..

Go to New Item. Enter 'cloudbeers' for the item name. Select GitHub Organization and click OK.

Optionally, enter a better descriptive name for the Description, such as 'CloudBeers GitHub'. In the Repository Sources section, complete the section for "GitHub Organization". Make sure the owner matches the GitHub Organization name exactly, in our case it must be: cloudbeers. This defaults to the same value that was entered for the item name in the first step. Next, select or add new "Scan credentials" - we’ll enter our GitHub username and access token as the password.

folder comp build executor status

After saving, the "Folder Computation" will run to scan for eligible repositories, followed by multibranch builds.

Refresh the page after the job runs to ensure the view of repositories has been updated.


A this point, you’re finished with basic project configuration and can now explore your imported repositories. You can also investigate the results of the jobs run as part of the initial Folder Computation.


To utilize Bitbucket Team, follow the same set of steps, selecting Bitbucket Team instead of GitHub Organization as the new item type, and entering appropriate Bitbucket credentials.

Additional Resources