Free Periodic Visual Testing with Percy, GitHub Actions, and Slack

Published on


View of visual changes diff in Percy

Visual testing helps you catch unwanted changes to your website. For example, if you have global CSS for multiple pages and make changes for one page, it might introduce unexpected issues on another page. Visual testing tools can help automate the review process of visual changes to your website.

Percy by BrowserStack is a tool for that, it can take screenshots of your website pages using different browsers and screen resolutions. Then it will compare them to the previous (baseline) screenshots and tell you which pages have changed and require your review and approval.

GitHub Actions is a CI/CD tool for automating your workflows, it integrates seamlessly with Git repositories hosted on GitHub.

Slack is an instant messaging platform for teams, and Percy easily integrates with it, allowing you to get push notifications on your devices when a visual change is detected for you to review.

In this article, I will tell you how I set up free visual testing for my blog using the above tools. Note, that I chose periodic testing on production instead of trying to catch unwanted visual changes in a CI/CD process, because in my case this seems to provide a perfect balance between quality and resource usage, as well as my risk tolerance for this project, consider if this is right for you.

Setting up Percy

Creating a new Percy project
  1. Go to Percy
  2. Sign up for a free account
  3. Create new project
    • Link your GitHub repository to see at which commit the test was run
      Note: this is indicative only in my approach since we'll be testing deployed production website, but tests are run on the main branch. But it's still a pretty good indication, because I have auto-deployment of the main branch as long as unit tests are passing, so it should be accurate most of the time
    • For "Baseline management" I selected "Git", will test how "Visual Git" works for another project and update the article
  4. Copy PERCY_TOKEN and ignore setup guides
  5. Go to the "Project settings" and under "Project Details" clear the "Auto-approve branches" field, it should be empty, and click "Save"

Configuring GitHub Actions

Add a secret

Adding a new secret for GitHub Actions
  1. Open your GitHub repository → Settings → Security → Secrets and variables → Actions
  2. Add "New repository secret":

Prepare your project

  1. Pin the @percy/cli version to ensure your workflow doesn't break with new version releases:
    npm install --save-dev @percy/cli
  2. Create Percy config:
    npx percy config:create
    Change snapshot widths in .percy.yml if you'd like, the number of widths will affect your limit usage, see the Staying Within Free Plan Limits section for details
  3. Pin NodeJS version to ensure the runtime in GitHub Actions is the same as your local:
    node -v > .nvmrc
  4. Make sure your website has a Sitemap as it'll be used by Percy to find all your website pages; See percy snapshot command docs for more options

Create a workflow

Log of running percy snapshot command in GitHub Actions

Create .github/workflows/percy.yml file in your repository:

name: Percy

    - cron: '0 23 * * *'
  workflow_dispatch: # for manual testing

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout
        uses: actions/checkout@v3

      - name: Use Node.js
        uses: actions/setup-node@v3
          node-version-file: '.nvmrc' # to create this file, run `node -v > .nvmrc`
          cache: 'npm'

      - name: Install NPM dependencies
        run: npm ci # make sure you have `@percy/cli` installed and `package-lock.json` file

      - name: Run Percy
        run: npx percy snapshot # replace with your sitemap URL
          PERCY_TOKEN: ${{ secrets.PERCY_TOKEN }}

It's inspired by the official Integrate Percy with GitHub Actions article.

In summary, it will use NodeJS, install NPM dependencies, and run Percy once every day.

Let's break it down:

  1. cron: '0 23 * * *' - this is a schedule
  2. workflow_dispatch - this will let you run the workflow manually without waiting for the schedule, to do that after committing this workflow file to your repository, go to Actions → Percy → Run workflow
  3. Checkout step downloads your project into GHA environment
  4. Use Node.js step will install the required NodeJS version, make sure you have .nvmrc file
  5. Install NPM dependencies step will install dependencies cleanly, make sure that you have package-lock.json
  6. Run Percy step is where Percy will download your website sitemap and make screenshots of all the pages listed in there

Staying Within Free Plan Limits

Percy's free plan currently has the following limitations:

So if your website has 6 pages and you are only interested in 2 screen resolutions - then the formula would look like this:

5000 screenshots / (4 browsers * 2 screen sizes * 6 pages) / 30 days ~= 3 times per day



As you can see, I can run my tests approximately 3 times per day and stay within the free tier limit. I think that one time per day should be enough for my case, and also leaves quite a bit of room for growth of the website before I'll have to change this.

Pro tip: you can quite easily add HTML snapshot testing for your pages using Jest or Vitest if you would like to add more certainty while keeping expenses and maintenance costs low.

Setting up Slack notifications

Slack notifications from Percy
  1. Sign up at Slack and create a workspace for your website (you don't have to use it for anything other than notifications)
  2. In Percy go to "Integrations", find "Slack" and click "Install", select #general channel and "Unreviewed & Changes requested" notifications
  3. Now you might want to install the Slack app to your mobile phone, sign in, and make sure notifications are enabled on the device


With the described setup my workflow looks like this:

This approach allows me to maintain a high velocity of development and deployment as I don't have to go through reviews every time I make a visual change. I get to review and address visual changes at my own pace because reviews don't block anything. And I will get notified about visual changes so I can address unexpected regressions promptly.

Please, share (Tweet) this article if you found it helpful or entertaining!