GitHub puts prebuilt Codespaces into public beta

Say goodbye to your coffee break

Microsoft's GitHub on Wednesday said customers using its Codespaces hosted development environments can now try out prebuilt systems in a public beta test.

A prebuilt Codespace is basically a template consisting of source code, code editor extensions, project dependencies, commands, and settings that have been downloaded already.

The reason one might prefer a prepackaged Codespace is that building one from scratch can take time. When The Register tried doing so in December, 2020, several months after the service first was announced, it took several minutes to create and configure the virtual environment. That's not as tedious as compiling a browser from source code or waiting hours for an AI model to be trained. But it's still time that could be better spent.

"Our primary goal with Codespaces is to provide a one-click onboarding solution that enables developers to get started on a project quickly without performing any manual setup," said Tanmayee Kamath, senior product manager at GitHub, in a blog post.

"However, because a Codespace needs to clone your repository and (optionally) build a custom Dockerfile, install project dependencies and editor extensions, initialize scripts, and so on in order to bootstrap the development environment, there can be significant variability in the startup times that developers actually experience."

When GitHub began using Codespaces internally, the virtual environments would take 45 minutes to activate in some cases. Software engineering work drove startup times down to five minutes and using prebuilds dropped that to about 10 seconds.

Having completed a private preview for prebuilds with roughly 50 organizations, GitHub has incorporated feedback and is now making its virtual coding environment quickstart available as a public beta.

Public beta users can now choose faster startup times by picking a machine type with a "prebuild ready" tag.

Action time

These Codespaces can be set by repository admins to use specified prebuild configurations for different repo branches and regions. And GitHub has woven in support for GitHub Actions, to automate managing various workflow scripts for different branches.

"Prebuild configurations are now built on GitHub Actions virtual machines," said Kamath. "This enables faster prebuild template creations for each push made to your repository, and also provides repository admins with access to a rich set of logs to help with efficient debugging in case failures occur."

Now that rough spots like secrets management appear to have been ironed out and wait times have been tamed, it may be worth another look at cloud coding environments, if you're not fundamentally opposed to the idea.

Codespaces is currently available to GitHub Teams and GitHub Enterprise customers because cloud VMs cost money to run. Those looking for a free tier offering may wish to consider GitPod, which offers a similar service and has been around longer. ®

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