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Testing changes to Renovate configs

·702 words·4 mins

I get a bit nervous whenever I touch renovate.json files, because I did not know how to test the effects of my changes. Well, this week I spent some quality time with Renovate and while the results are not perfect, they’re a lot better than what I had before!

If you’re not familiar with Renovate, it is a convenient way to keep your dependencies up to date. It understands dependencies in many language ecosystems, and supports a variety of ways to run and configure Renovate.


Testing is still a bit tedious, because Renovate has a lot of functionality, and the output does not conveniently sum up what renovate would do. But the information is there, you just have to know where to look.

First, the command I’m using:

LOG_LEVEL=debug \
RENOVATE_CONFIG_FILE=.github/renovate.json \
npx renovate --platform=local \
  • LOG_LEVEL=debug ensures we get plenty of output about decisions renovate is making. we need this flag to see what packages would be updated.
  • RENOVATE_CONFIG_FILE=... - specifies a local path to a renovate configuration to use for this run.
    • note: if you omit --require-config=ignored, this config will be merged with the one from this repository, which can cause unexpected results.
  • npx renovate - uses npx to run renovate. will prompt you to install renovate if not already present.
  • --platform=local - Renovate’s local platform works on the current directory only, and does not require a remote git repo
  • --require-config=ignored - tells renovate to ignore any configuration found in the repository.

How I test

In a git checkout of a repository, check out a point in time where I know I expect some renovate changes - for example, the commit just before your latest renovate PR was merged.

From here, I modify the renovate.json file to reflect my changes.

To ensure the config is well-formed, you can run npx -p renovate renovate-config-validator, which does some syntactic validation.

Then I run renovate, and interpret the results

LOG_LEVEL=debug RENOVATE_CONFIG_FILE=.github/renovate.json npx renovate --platform=local --require-config=ignored

Interpreting renovate’s debug output

The output from renovate’s debug logs is verbose. There are a few things I look for in the logs.

“flattened updates found”

This line summarizes the packages renovate has found updates for. This helps you ensure your datasources are configure correctly, and that updated packages are found. As of this writing, the line looks like this:

DEBUG: 5 flattened updates found: opentelemetry-sdk, opentelemetry-instrumentation-flask, opentelemetry-instrumentation-jinja2, opentelemetry-instrumentation-requests (repository=local)

This tells me that my datasources are configured correctly, because these are the updates I am expecting. The specific issue this helped me identify is that the opentelemetry-instrumentation packages were considered ‘unstable’ because they were versioned as 0.41b0, which is pre-release by pep440 versioning rules. Adding a renovate packageRule with "ignoreUnstable": false made the instrumentation packages appear in this list.

“packageFiles with updates”

Following this line is a large json object containing information about the files renovate would edit, and the updates that were found. This object is large, so I’ve omitted most of it, and only included the bits I look for:

"config": {
 "pip-compile": [
     "deps": [
         "depName": "opentelemetry-sdk",
         "datasource": "pypi",
         "currentVersion": "1.18.0",
         "updates": [
             "bucket": "non-major",
             "newVersion": "1.20.0",
             "releaseTimestamp": "2023-09-04T19:01:22.000Z",
             "updateType": "minor",
             "branchName": "renovate/opentelemetry"
        // more fields omitted.
       // More dependencies omitted
    "packageFile": ""
  • packageFile: the file in the repository that declares the dependencies. This is the file renovate would edit.

The rest of these fields will appear for each depencency renovate finds:

  • depName: what renovate calls this package.
  • currentVersion: the version currently listed in the packageFile
  • updates[0].newVersion: the version renovate will upgrade you to.
  • updates[0].branchName: the branch that this change will go into. This helps you identify if your package grouping rules are working as expected.

This is not the most concise summary of renovate’s intended changes, but it has certainly helped me feel more confident in making renovate.json changes.

For a more complete test, it is recommended that you fork an existing repo, and let renovate run on that fork. For me, this would have required downgrading some packages so that renovate would have updates to do. That seemed a little tedious for my current use case, but maybe there will be a part 2 😅.