Retrieving data from GitHub repositories

GitHub is a popular service for hosting software development. It provides git repositories associated with issues (tickets) and pull requests (proposed patches). All this information is available via the GitHub API. We will use Perceval GitHub backend to retrieve data from this API for issues and pull requests. For git repositories we can use the Perceval git backend, as we already introduced in the previous section.

Basic usage of the GitHub backend

To begin with, let’s get some help from our friend:

(perceval) $ perceval github --help
[2021-09-17 16:31:55,682] - Sir Perceval is on his quest.
usage: perceval [-h] [--category CATEGORY] [--tag TAG] [--filter-classified] [--from-date FROM_DATE] [--to-date TO_DATE]
                [--archive-path ARCHIVE_PATH] [--no-archive] [--fetch-archive] [--archived-since ARCHIVED_SINCE]
                [--no-ssl-verify] [-o OUTFILE] [--json-line] [--enterprise-url BASE_URL] [--sleep-for-rate]
                [--min-rate-to-sleep MIN_RATE_TO_SLEEP] [-t API_TOKEN [API_TOKEN ...]] [--github-app-id GITHUB_APP_ID]
                [--github-app-pk-filepath GITHUB_APP_PK_FILEPATH] [--max-items MAX_ITEMS] [--max-retries MAX_RETRIES]
                [--sleep-time SLEEP_TIME]
                owner repository

In that help banner, we see two different ways of using it:

  • with no credentials

  • with a user token

Retrieving from GitHub with category param

(perceval) $ perceval github --category issue grimoirelab perceval

You can pass category as parameter which take either of issue, pull_request or repository when using Github Perceval backend. Note that in GitHub every pull request is an issue, but not every issue is a pull request. Thus, the issues returned may contain pull request information (included in the field pull_request within the issue).

Retrieving from GitHub with no credentials

If you use the GitHub Perceval backend with no credentials, you’ll have basic access to the GitHub API. The main difference with using authenticated use is the rate limit: a much more stringent rate limit (number of requests to the GitHub API) will be applied by GitHub. In any case, this basic access is very simple, since it requires no user, password or token. For example, for accessing tickets and pull requests in the Perceval repository:

(perceval) $ perceval github grimoirelab perceval
[2016-10-11 00:49:33,714] - Sir Perceval is on his quest.
[2016-10-11 00:49:34,576] - Getting info for
    "backend_name": "GitHub",
    "backend_version": "0.2.2",
    "data": {
        "assignee": null,
        "assignee_data": {},
        "assignees": [],
        "body": "Based on Sphynx, prepared for ReadTheDocs.\r\n\r\nRight now, this produces (from jgbarah/perceval repository) [this documentation in ReadTheDocs]( Once this PR is accepted, I plan to switch ReadTheDocs to point to this repostory (master branch), so that the documentation gets rebuilt every time changes are made to the source code.\r\n\r\nThe configuration (docs/ include lines for running sphinx-apidoc, which generates automatically the docs/perceval.rst file, which is the entry point for the automatically generated documentation, produced based on the docstring comments in the source code.\r\n\r\nThe file index.rst is still a bare bones schema. It should be completed in a later patch, with more detailed information about Perceval itself.",
        "closed_at": "2016-01-04T13:51:56Z",
        "comments": 0,
        "comments_url": "",
        "created_at": "2016-01-03T23:46:04Z",
        "events_url": "",
        "html_url": "",
        "id": 124679251,
        "labels": [],
        "labels_url": "{/name}",
        "locked": false,
        "milestone": null,
        "number": 3,
        "pull_request": {
            "diff_url": "",
            "html_url": "",
            "patch_url": "",
            "url": ""
        "repository_url": "",
        "state": "closed",
        "title": "Config files for a documentation, using Sphinx.",
        "updated_at": "2016-01-04T17:42:23Z",
        "url": "",
        "user": {
            "avatar_url": "",
            "events_url": "{/privacy}",
            "followers_url": "",
            "following_url": "{/other_user}",
            "gists_url": "{/gist_id}",
            "gravatar_id": "",
            "html_url": "",
            "id": 1039693,
            "login": "jgbarah",
            "organizations_url": "",
            "received_events_url": "",
            "repos_url": "",
            "site_admin": false,
            "starred_url": "{/owner}{/repo}",
            "subscriptions_url": "",
            "type": "User",
            "url": ""
        "user_data": {
            "avatar_url": "",
            "bio": null,
            "blog": "",
            "company": null,
            "created_at": "2011-09-09T21:47:40Z",
            "email": null,
            "events_url": "{/privacy}",
            "followers": 37,
            "followers_url": "",
            "following": 0,
            "following_url": "{/other_user}",
            "gists_url": "{/gist_id}",
            "gravatar_id": "",
            "hireable": null,
            "html_url": "",
            "id": 1039693,
            "location": null,
            "login": "jgbarah",
            "name": "Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona",
            "organizations": [
                    "avatar_url": "",
                    "description": null,
                    "events_url": "",
                    "hooks_url": "",
                    "id": 1843608,
                    "issues_url": "",
                    "login": "MetricsGrimoire",
                    "members_url": "{/member}",
                    "public_members_url": "{/member}",
                    "repos_url": "",
                    "url": ""
            "organizations_url": "",
            "public_gists": 0,
            "public_repos": 26,
            "received_events_url": "",
            "repos_url": "",
            "site_admin": false,
            "starred_url": "{/owner}{/repo}",
            "subscriptions_url": "",
            "type": "User",
            "updated_at": "2016-09-27T20:51:09Z",
            "url": ""
    "origin": "",
    "perceval_version": "0.1.0",
    "timestamp": 1476139775.852378,
    "updated_on": 1451929343.0,
    "uuid": "c403532b196ed4020cc86d001feb091c009d3d26"

In the above perceval output, you can read one item obtained from the GitHub API. As in the case of git commits, the data obtained from GitHub is in the “data” field. In this case it is a pull request (notice the “pull_request” field in “data”) but the list of items include both issues and pull requests, since the same GitHub API provides both. Perceval also annotates each reference to a GitHub user with the information for that user, which is properly obtained from the users API. Notice the message where GitHub informs about a request to that API for obtaining the data for user “jgbarah”, in the second line of the output above:

[2016-10-11 00:49:34,576] - Getting info for

If during the retrieval of the data from the GitHub API, the API rate limit is exceeded, a message similar to this one will be seen:

RuntimeError: GitHub rate limit exhausted. 3446 seconds for rate reset

The number of seconds until the rate reset will depend on your mileage (but in general, the GitHub rate API for non-authenticated users is pretty low, 50 requests per hour).

To avoid having perceval exiting when the rate limit is exceeded, we can use the --sleep-for-rate option. When this option is used, instead of exiting, when the rate timit is reached perceval will just sit silently, waiting unting new API requests are available:

(perceval) $ perceval github grimoirelab perceval --sleep-for-rate
[2016-10-11 00:35:30,215] - Sir Perceval is on his quest.
[2016-10-11 00:35:31,066] - Getting info for
[2016-10-11 00:35:31,066] - GitHub rate limit exhausted. Waiting 3066 secs for rate limit reset.

In the following calls, we will always use this option, so that perceval will wait until the rate limit is reset.

In the case you persevere and run perceval once and again, it is likely that you reach the rate limit for your IP address. In that case, the message you’ll get will be similar to:

requests.exceptions.HTTPError: {'documentation_url': '', 'message': "API rate limit exceeded for (But here's the good news: Authenticated requests get a higher rate limit. Check out the documentation for more details.)"}

As the message itself states, you can avoid this rate limit by using authentication.

Retrieving from GitHub with authentication

To avoid the problems due to unauthenticated access to the GitHub API, we can use the Perceval GitHub backend with authentication using Github tokens:

(perceval) $ perceval github grimoirelab perceval --sleep-for-rate \
    -t XXXXX

Instead of “XXXXX” use your own GitHub token. You can obtain tokens via the GitHub web interface. Once you’re authenticated with GitHub, follow the following process:

  • Click on “Settings” on your personal pop-up menu (usually obtained by clicking on your avatar, on the top right corner of the web page).

  • Once in “Settings”, look for “Personal access tokens”, in the “Developer settings” submenu, in the right menu.

  • Once in “Personal access tokens”, click on “Generate new token” (top right).

  • Once in “New personal access token”, select a name for your token (“token desription”), and select the scopes for it. If you’re going to use it only with perceval, you don’t really need permissions for any scope, so you don’t need to select any.

Regardless of the method used, perceval produces (as it did for the git backend) a JSON document for each item in stdout, and some messages in stderr. You can see both differentiated, for example, by redirecting stdout to a file:

(perceval) $ perceval github grimoirelab perceval --sleep-for-rate \
    -t XXXXX > /tmp/perceval-github.output
[2016-10-11 01:20:12,224] - Sir Perceval is on his quest.
[2016-10-11 01:20:13,067] - Getting info for
[2016-10-11 01:20:14,358] - Getting info for
[2016-10-11 01:20:15,626] - Getting info for
[2016-10-11 01:20:16,961] - Getting info for
[2016-10-11 01:20:18,164] - Getting info for

Of course, in this case, all items (issues and ñpull requests) will be written to /tmp/perceval-github.output.

Retrieving from a Python script

As in the case of the git backend (and any other backend, for that matter) we can use a Python script to retrieve the data, instead of the perceval command. For example (

#! /usr/bin/env python3

import argparse

from perceval.backends.core.github import GitHub

# Parse command line arguments
parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(
    description = "Simple parser for GitHub issues and pull requests"
parser.add_argument("-t", "--token",
                    '--nargs', nargs='+',
                    help = "GitHub token")
parser.add_argument("-r", "--repo",
                    help = "GitHub repository, as 'owner/repo'")
args = parser.parse_args()

# Owner and repository names
(owner, repo) = args.repo.split('/')

# create a Git object, pointing to repo_url, using repo_dir for cloning
repo = GitHub(owner=owner, repository=repo, api_token=args.token)
# fetch all issues/pull requests as an iterator, and iterate it printing
# their number, and whether they are issues or pull requests
for item in repo.fetch():
    if 'pull_request' in item['data']:
        kind = 'Pull request'
        kind = 'Issue'
    print(item['data']['number'], ':', kind)

This script accepts as arguments a token and a GitHub repository, in the format “owner/repo” (for example, “grimoirelab/perceval”). From the repository, it extracts the owner and the repository name to later instantiate an object of the GitHub class. As we did in the example for git, we get a fetch iterator for the object, and for each iterated item we print its kind (issue or pull request) and its number.

  • Include the token in a list, api_token=[“XXXXXX”, “XXXXXX”, ……] as it is possiblity to pass a list of tokens to get over rate limits. To run this script, just run (of course, substituting “XXXXX” for your token):

(perceval) $ python3 --repo grimoirelab/perceval -t XXXXX XXXXX...
3 : Pull request
5 : Pull request
4 : Pull request
2 : Pull request
6 : Pull request
8 : Issue
7 : Pull request
9 : Issue
16 : Issue