The best tools for managing GitHub notifications

Harness GitHub notifications to review, merge, and ship faster

Ted Spare's avatar
Ted Spare

Nov 17, 2021

App icons in the macOS menu bar

App icons in the macOS menu bar

Software teams use GitHub to host, review, and deploy code. The ever-growing scope of GitHub is a boon for developers. It also means GitHub notifications have grown from a trickle of emails to a river of activity. Notification overload can take us away from writing code. That said, teams can either wade ashore or jump on a raft, figuratively, harnessing notifications to power code review, add visibility, and ship faster.

So managing notifications means higher throughput, leading to better-served users. There are plenty of tools for doing so – Octobox, DevHub, and Gitify occupy the lion's share of downloads. More unique approaches come from Lotus, GitPigeon, and Trailer. Yet another class of tools (for a future post) draws insights from your repository activity, such as Orwell and GitView.

We'll explore the benefits of each app. Then, we'll show you how Neat is the simplest way to keep your team on top of code review by harnessing the power of GitHub notifications.

GitHub notifications are great for adding observability to your projects. Sometimes it's too much. Maybe you get notified of every comment on a thread you once chimed in on, but you somehow miss a PR review until your next stand-up meeting. Which updates matter to your team?

Default view of Octobox on desktop

Default view of Octobox on desktop

A natural approach to notification overload is filtering. Octobox excels with filtering by repo, author, assignee, unread, and status, among others. DevHub takes this idea further by allowing you to choose multiple filters or views on the same screen. For instance, I might want to see all pull requests that are

  • open,
  • assigned to me, and
  • older than 3 days.

Any tag (added by you or GitHub) can be used to sift notifications down to what you need. Fine-grained filters are best for those who focus on a subset of their codebase.

Default view of DevHub on desktop

Default view of DevHub on desktop

Filtering manually is great, but it, too, can result in overload (see screenshots). Plus, your time is better spent writing code. What if your tools showed you what you need at the time you need it? A newer cohort of GitHub notification apps can be summarized by their efforts to filter intelligently.

GitPigeon and Lotus each use their own algorithm, of varying depth, to ping you only when necessary. GitPigeon pings you for mentions, pull request reviews, and CI/CD builds. Lotus takes a note from email by putting notifications from unknown repos in a Hey.com-style screening inbox.

This family of apps vary in the degree to which they let you stay in your workflow. Octobox lives in a browser tab. GitPigeon lives in the macOS Notification Center while Lotus is a desktop app. DevHub is cross-platform; it works on mobile, desktop, or the browser. Gitify and Trailer favour simplicity, placing a feed of notifications on your macOS menu bar. Gitify, like Octobox, is also open-source, allowing projects like ours to jumpstart.

Gitify in the macOS menu bar

Gitify in the macOS menu bar

You probably can and do write code. You could build a custom tool for every one of your team's needs, but you're probably busy. Your time is best spent on the important problems. To that end, Neat is an opinionated tool with the aim of leaving your focus to work on new things.

Banners, preview, and important notifications in Neat

Banners, preview, and important notifications in Neat

Neat makes educated guesses about what's important. It pings you for @mentions, reviews, assignments, and review requests. When a notification banner shows up, you can quickly copy its link or dismiss it. The app is accessible in your menu bar or via a global shortcut ( G by default). Notifications in your feed can be previewed, marked as unread, pinned, or archived. Everything is controllable by mouse or keyboard shortcuts, like copying a link or sending a quick reply. Neat lets you fly through your most important GitHub notifications to review, merge, and ship features faster.

Keyboard shortcuts in Neat

Keyboard shortcuts in Neat

Git and GitHub are great for managing the life cycle of code. They continue to evolve at a rapid clip: git itself is only 16 years old. That said, as agile software development continues to eat the world, high-performing teams demand high-quality tools that can keep up with them. The development process must be scalable, observable, and human-friendly. While GitHub notifications cover the observability, Neat brings the sanity and focus to your GitHub workflow.

You can download and use Neat for free on macOS. We're building as fast as we can, planning to add support for snooze, snippets, and suggested repos, among others.

Join our Slack and follow us on Twitter to help guide our roadmap!

Neat has easter eggs for you to discover, too

Neat has easter eggs for you to discover, too