Using GitHub Packages for Scala

January 14, 2023

We use Scala at $WORK for multiple projects. These projects rely on various internal libraries. Being able to rely on built artifacts between projects in a way that is convenient for developers in different teams is a huge benefit.

The whole company uses GitHub to manage source code, so we have recently started using GitHub Packages to share Scala artifacts privately. After circumventing some quirks, it is actually a quite convenient way to share Scala (and other Maven) artifacts privately.

We use sbt as the build tool for all of our Scala projects, so the remainder of this post is written for sbt. It should be easy to adapt the instructions below to other build tools.

Setting Up Credentials to Authenticate with GitHub Packages

Authentication in GitHub Packages is done through personal access tokens. We can generate one in our GitHub personal settings. The token must have the read:packages (when we want to read packages from GitHub Packages) and the write:packages (when we want to write to GitHub Packages) permissions.

We can then set the credentials for sbt to be able to read them via the following, replacing <username> and <token> with our username and previously created token, respectively:

credentials += Credentials(
  "GitHub Package Registry",

The token is a password, so we should treat it as such. We shouldn’t commit this into our repositories, and ideally we have this set up in a global location that sbt has access to (like ~/.sbt/1.0/github-credentials.sbt).

Publishing an Artifact to GitHub Packages

When publishing artifacts in sbt, we always need to specify a repository where artifacts and descriptors are uploaded. In the case of GitHub Packages, every GitHub project provides a repository we can use to publish artifacts to. This means that, in sbt, we can define the location of our repository by setting the publishTo task key to something like the following:

publishTo := Some(
  "GitHub Package Registry (<project>)" at "<org>/<project>"

In the snippet above, we should replace the <org> and <project> placeholders by the organization and project we want to publish to, respectively.

If our credentials are properly set up, this now allows us to run sbt publish and have our artifacts published to GitHub Packages. Note that packages in GitHub Packages are immutable, so we can’t directly replace a package with the same version. We can, however, delete an existing version in GitHub.

Downloading Artifacts from GitHub Packages

In order to download artifacts from GitHub Packages as dependencies of our projects we must set up the appropriate resolvers in our sbt build. For that purpose, we can set up the same location we mentioned previously when publishing artifacts:

resolvers += ("GitHub Package Registry" at "<org>/<project>")

And then add the project as a regular library dependency:

libraryDependencies += "<org>" %% "<project>" % "<version>"

If credentials are properly set up, this now allows us to rely on GitHub Packages as a source of dependencies.

There is one slight inconvenience with the process suggested above, which is the fact that every project has its own resolver. When depending on multiple projects from the same organization, this can become cumbersome to manage, since every dependency would bring its own resolver. Fortunately, there’s a way to work around this and have an organization-wide resolver. The thing is that the <project> section of the resolver doesn’t need to exist, so we can reference some arbitrary repository, like _:

resolvers += ("GitHub Package Registry" at "<org>/_")

This will give us access to packages published on any repository within the organization. The personal access token we use will control our access. If the token only has access to public repositories, then this resolver won’t allow access to private ones. If it does have access to private repositories, then all artifacts will be visible.

With this resolver in place, we have convenient access to all artifacts published within the organization.

Interacting with GitHub Packages in Automated Workflows

Using GitHub Packages in a pipeline of continuous integration or continuous delivery is also possible. There are various ways to manage this. One way is to rely on an environment variable that is populated with the contents of some secret that includes a personal access token with appropriate access. For that purpose, we can set up something like the following in our sbt build:

credentials ++= {
  val githubToken = System.getenv("GITHUB_TOKEN")
  if (githubToken == null) Seq.empty
  else Seq(Credentials("GitHub Package Registry", "", "_", githubToken))

With the above in place, builds of our project will look at the existence of a GITHUB_TOKEN environment variable and use it to set up the appropriate sbt crendentials. Note that the above uses _ as the username for the crendentials. This is doable because GitHub Packages doesn’t care about the actual username that is used, only if the token has appropriate access.

When using GitHub Actions, there’s always a GITHUB_TOKEN secret that has access to the repository where the action is executed, so we can reference that:


Note that if we need to fetch artifacts from other projects, we need to set up a personal access token with more permissions.

Managing Snapshot Versions

It is customary for Maven artifacts to have snapshot versions which are usually versioned as X.Y.Z-SNAPSHOT. These snapshots are usually mutable and new versions continuously replace the existing snapshot. This doesn’t play very well with GitHub Packages because versions there are immutable and you can’t easily replace one. It is possible to delete the existing one and publish again, but it is cumbersome.

To allow for snapshots while using GitHub Packages, we have started using sbt-dynver. sbt-dynver is an sbt plugin that dynamically sets the version of our projects from git. You can look at some details on how sbt-dynver sets the version, but, essentially, when there is a tag in the current tree, then the version of the project is the version specified in the tag and, when there is not a tag in the current tree, then the version of the project is a string built from the closest tag and the distance to that reference.

With sbt-dynver we can have snapshot-like versions with the version immutability that GitHub Packages provides.


In terms of billing, we get a total amount of free storage and some amount of free data transfer per month. Anything above that incurs in $0.008 USD per GB of storage per day and $0.50 USD per GB of data transfer. One important note is that traffic using a GITHUB_TOKEN from within GitHub Actions is always free, regardless of where the runner is hosted.

In short, using GitHub Packages is a very convenient way to share Scala artifacts within a private organization, particularly if said organization already uses GitHub to manage their source code.