Simple Git Secrets

Apps have secrets, and you don't want to accidentally put them in git. Lets try a simple approach
31st May 2022, four minutes to read

There are lots of solutions, guides, and services that help you manage your secrets in a professional, secure manner. These are absolutely the type of solution you want for your production environment.

But I’m not building services. I’m building client apps that deploy as a self-contained package. Sometimes, I’m just offering some Open Source that I include tests for, but that call a real service that needs API keys.

In both of those cases there are two constraints that matter to me:

  1. Minimal management & setup for me
  2. Let people manage their own secrets

My tactical solution isn’t magic, nor is it relevant for many services, where solutions at the top are much better suited. But it’s free and works well for my use cases (aka client apps that I open source).


  1. Create a template file that is present in the repo, but not in a path that it would be included in compilation
  2. Add the location of where it will be included in compilation to .gitignore
  3. Reference that location in your build.
    1. Be smart: Include an existence check with a friendly error message! This will identify issues quickly.
  4. Add details to your README.md telling people how to get keys & place the completed file in the right location

Preparing the way

Create a template

Firstly, we need a mechanism for representing the secrets to the consumers in your apps. e.g., offer programmatic way to access them. In my use case, it’s a file offering static members that represent the keys:

module Codevoid.Storyvoid {
    // Instapaper Tokens. Replace with tokens & IDs
    // that are issued to you for Instapapers developer
    // access: https://www.instapaper.com/main/request_oauth_consumer_token
    export var INSTAPAPER_CLIENT_ID: string = "PLACEHOLDER";
    export var MIXPANEL_KEY: string = "PLACEHOLDER";


You can do this in any language, store them in a text file leveraged during build process, or read at runtime. It’s your choice!

Note, the values here are PLACEHOLDER. This is absolutely the point & intention — do not put your actual keys here. That would, you know, defeat the purpose.

You may be tempted to place this in your repo at the location that you will directly consume it — don’t do that! You don’t want this template file to be included in your compilation / build phase since it’s just a template.

Decide a location & .gitignore that location

To prevent people accidentally committing the filled-out template, you need to add the location of the filled-out file to your .gitignore file. This is what prevents the file from being committed to the repo. In my use case, I had two locations for keys app/keys.ts and test/keys.ts. I added these into my .gitignore:


Now knuckleheads like myself don’t accidentally commit the file when they’ve filled it out (As I kept doing with an earlier iteration of this pattern).

Helping people succeed

Now that you’ve got things prepared, you need to help people fall into a pit of success. You don’t want weird runtime errors when the template hasn’t been filled out — you want to know ASAP that something ain’t right.

Add details to your README.md

You have a README.md which you’ve already written super clear instructions on building-and-running. Keys without question make it less open-and-go, but you can still make it feel obvious.

Write whatever steps or details are required to obtain keys, where to place the files etc. in your README.md. You can see an example here.

Fail quickly, and clearly

Depending on your build & packaging system, there are many ways to achieve this. The general pattern is:

  1. Check file exists
  2. If it doesn’t exist fail the compilation/build/package with a clear error message

In my use case, it’s within a MSBuild project, which makes for easy declarative syntax for these situations:

Don't let people get confused with missing class names, error early if the
API key file is missing
<Target Name="CheckKeyFilePresent" BeforeTargets="BeforeBuild">
  <Error Condition="!Exists('$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\keys.ts')"
         Text="Please create a Keys.ts in $(MSBuildProjectDirectory). See README.md for more details" />

No surprises!

For node, you can use the :pre suffix in your package.json scripts section to check if a file exists.

Wrapping up

Simple! Cheap-as-chips.

To reiterate, this is a simple solution for constrained scenarios. If you have a real service, and production tooling absolutely use a mission-critical service such as Azure Vault.