In GitLab CI, Runners run your yaml. A runner is an isolated (virtual) machine that picks up builds through the coordinator API of GitLab CI.
A runner can be specific to a certain project or serve any project in GitLab CI. A runner that serves all projects is called a shared runner.
Shared vs. Specific Runners
A runner that is specific only runs for the specified project. A shared runner
can run jobs for every project that has enabled the option
Allow shared runners.
Shared runners are useful for jobs that have similar requirements, between multiple projects. Rather than having multiple runners idling for many projects, you can have a single or a small number of runners that handle multiple projects. This makes it easier to maintain and update runners.
Specific runners are useful for jobs that have special requirements or for projects with a very demand. If a job has certain requirements, you can set up the specific runner with this in mind, while not having to do this for all runners. For example, if you want to deploy a certain project, you can setup a specific runner to have the right credentials for this.
Projects with high demand of CI activity can also benefit from using specific runners. By having dedicated runners you are guaranteed that the runner is not being held up by another project's jobs.
You can set up a specific runner to be used by multiple projects. The difference with a shared runner is that you have to enable each project explicitly for the runner to be able to run its jobs.
Specific runners do not get shared with forked projects automatically. A fork does copy the CI settings (jobs, allow shared, etc) of the cloned repository.
Creating and Registering a Runner
There are several ways to create a runner. Only after creation, upon registration its status as Shared or Specific is determined.
See the documentation for the different methods of installing a Runner instance.
After installing the runner, you can either register it as
Shared or as
You can only register a Shared Runner if you have admin access to the GitLab instance.
Registering a Shared Runner
You can only register a shared runner if you are an admin on the linked GitLab instance.
Grab the shared-runner token on the
admin/runners page of your GitLab CI
Now simply register the runner as any runner:
sudo gitlab-runner register
Note that you will have to enable
Allows shared runners for each project
that you want to make use of a shared runner. This is by default
Registering a Specific Runner
Registering a specific can be done in two ways:
- Creating a runner with the project registration token
- Converting a shared runner into a specific runner (one-way, admin only)
There are several ways to create a runner instance. The steps below only concern registering the runner on GitLab CI.
Registering a Specific Runner with a Project Registration token
To create a specific runner without having admin rights to the GitLab instance, visit the project you want to make the runner work for in GitLab CI.
Click on the runner tab and use the registration token you find there to setup a specific runner for this project.
To register the runner, run the command below and follow instructions:
sudo gitlab-runner register
Making an existing Shared Runner Specific
If you are an admin on your GitLab instance, you can make any shared runner a specific runner, but you can not make a specific runner a shared runner.
To make a shared runner specific, go to the runner page (
and find your runner. Add any projects on the left to make this runner
run exclusively for these projects, therefore making it a specific runner.
Using Shared Runners Effectively
If you are planning to use shared runners, there are several things you should keep in mind.
You must setup a runner to be able to run all the different types of jobs that it may encounter on the projects it's shared over. This would be problematic for large amounts of projects, if it wasn't for tags.
By tagging a Runner for the types of jobs it can handle, you can make sure shared runners will only run the jobs they are equipped to run.
For instance, at GitLab we have runners tagged with "rails" if they contain the appropriate dependencies to run Rails test suites.
Be Careful with Sensitive Information
If you can run a build on a runner, you can get access to any code it runs and get the token of the runner. With shared runners, this means that anyone that runs jobs on the runner, can access anyone else's code that runs on the runner.
In addition, because you can get access to the runner token, it is possible to create a clone of a runner and submit false builds, for example.
The above is easily avoided by restricting the usage of shared runners on large public GitLab instances and controlling access to your GitLab instance.
Whenever a project is forked, it copies the settings of the jobs that relate to it. This means that if you have shared runners setup for a project and someone forks that project, the shared runners will also serve jobs of this project.
Attack vectors in runners
Mentioned briefly earlier, but the following things of runners can be exploited. We're always looking for contributions that can mitigate these Security Considerations.