I recently shipped CommitCheck which allows users to sign in via GitHub. It works via OAuth, which is a standardized way of accessing user account data from external services. There are a few ways to do this in Github: Personal access tokens, OAuth Apps or GitHub Apps. In this blog post I’ll explain how to authenticate using a GitHub App. The reason to use an app, as apposed to other methods, is to build a product that others can use, Eg: Pull Panda or CommitCheck. In this example I’ll use Ruby on Rails but the principles can be applied to other languages/frameworks.

Please note, this post does not try to explain OAuth in general. If you don’t know how OAuth works go and learn about that before reading this post.

Creating a GitHub App

Creating an app is simple.

  1. Navigate to Settings, in GitHub
  2. Go to Developer settings
  3. Go to GitHub App
  4. Click New GitHub App
  5. Fill in name, description & homepage url
  6. Choose a User authorization callback URL. This is the endpoint that GitHub will use to call back to your application with user data
  7. You’ll also need to specify a Webhook URL. This is the endpoint that GitHub will call when events/hooks (that you’ve subscribed to) are called. I won’t cover webhooks in this post.

GitHub has a more detailed setup guide, if you need it.

Setting up the OAuth flow with Devise

1. Add Devise and Omniauth

Add the devise and omniauth-github gems to your project and bundle install.

2. Configure devise

Devise provides a couple of setup commands. The first for generating configuration files and the second for configuring the devise user:

$ rails generate devise:install
$ rails generate devise User

You can replace User with any model you like.

This will generate a migration, which creates the model with Devise fields.

3. Configure the omniauth gem

Add the following line to config/initializers/devise.rb:

config.omniauth :github, 'YOUR_CLIENT_ID', 'YOUR_CLIENT_SECRET'

To obtain your client_id and client_secret, navigate to the ‘general’ section of your app.


4. Add OAuth logic

Add a new route for authenticating via GitHub:

devise_for :users, controllers: { omniauth_callbacks: 'users/omniauth_callbacks' }, skip: [:session]

This route will be called by GitHub in order to return the user data. Next add a controller and action for the route:

class Users::OmniauthCallbacksController < Devise::OmniauthCallbacksController
  def github
    if github_user.persisted?
      sign_in_and_redirect github_user, event: :authentication
      # Maybe set a flash message here
      # Do something if user creation fails


  def github_user
    @github_user ||= User.from_omniauth(request.env['omniauth.auth'])

The controller calls User.from_omniauth, you need to define that method on the User model.

def self.from_omniauth(auth)
  where(provider: auth.provider, uid: auth.uid).first_or_create do |user|
    user.email = auth.info.email
    user.password = Devise.friendly_token[0, 20]
    user.github_username = auth.extra.raw_info.login

You’ll also need to generate a migration that adds the new fields to your User model.

class AddOmniauthToUsers < ActiveRecord::Migration[5.2]
  def change
    add_column :users, :provider, :string
    add_column :users, :uid, :string
    add_column :users, :github_username, :string
    change_column :users, :email, :string, null: true

provider, uid, github_username & email are the fields that I think are most important but you can change the migration and .from_omniauth method if you want to use different ones. Just check the auth hash returned from GitHub to see what’s available.

5. Add login button

With everything in place, you can add the login button to your homepage:

<%= link_to "Sign in with GitHub", user_github_omniauth_authorize_path %>

When users click this button they will be re-directed to GitHub’s login page. They will then be redirected back to your application. By default, sign_in_and_redirect will redirect users to your root route. You can override that by defining after_sign_in_path_for.