Update a Library variable from a pipeline in Azure DevOps

Update a Library variable from a pipeline in Azure DevOps

If you’re using Azure DevOps for your automation, you may use Variable Groups to manage your configuration in a centralized and secure way. Reading a variable from a pipeline is easy but updating its value can quickly be messy and complicated…

Hopefully, there are easy ways to update a variable value and they will be described in this post!

Example of a Variable Group in Azure DevOps (Pipelines > Library section)


First of all, let’s be clear on one thing: you cannot update the value of a variable with a simple call from a task in Azure pipeline, it is not possible.

The only solution is to use the Azure DevOps API, and it’s ok to do so! After all, Azure DevOps is basically a front-end on top of Azure DevOps API.

The keystone here is given by one of the predefined variable from an Azure pipeline: the almighty System.AccessToken.

Setup: Permission first

As explained in the documentation, you’ll have to do some admin actions in Azure DevOps for the API call to work.

  • In your “Project Settings > Settings”, make sure “Limit job authorization scope to current project” is not checked. (If you can’t edit it, you have to uncheck it in your “Organization Settings > Settings”)
Project > Settings > Pipelines > Settings
  • In your Variable Group > Security, add “Administrator” Role to “Project Collection Build Service (xxxx)” (xxxx being your project name)
Project > Pipelines > Library

Solution 1: Use an extension

There is an Azure DevOps free extension that relates to this action: Shared variable updater. Source code is available on GitHub: lanalua/azure-pipeline-variables-updater.

It works with hard coded values but not if the new variable value to be set is inside a pipeline variable unfortunately.


Solution 2: DIY with PowerShell

One way to update a variable is to use some PowerShell code that will make the call to Azure DevOps API.

In your Azure pipeline (yaml or classic or release), add a PowerShell task (Type: Inline). This will work on all types of platforms: Linux, Windows, macOS.

Then copy/paste the following code by updating the key and value for the variable.

$VariableGroupId = $(variable.group.id)
$NewValue = $(variablenewvalue)
$VariableName = $(variablename)

Write-Host "NewValue : $NewValue"

$url = "$($env:SYSTEM_TEAMFOUNDATIONCOLLECTIONURI)$env:SYSTEM_TEAMPROJECTID/_apis/distributedtask/variablegroups/$($VariableGroupId)?api-version=5.1-preview.1"

Write-Host "URL: $url"

$authHeader = @{Authorization = "Bearer $env:SYSTEM_ACCESSTOKEN"}

$definition = Invoke-RestMethod -Uri $url -Headers $authHeader

Write-Host "Pipeline = $($definition | ConvertTo-Json -Depth 100)"

$definition.variables.$VariableName.Value = "$($NewValue)"

$definitionJson = $definition | ConvertTo-Json -Depth 100 -Compress

Invoke-RestMethod -Method Put -Uri $url -Headers $authHeader -ContentType "application/json" -Body ([System.Text.Encoding]::UTF8.GetBytes($definitionJson)) | Out-Null

Ok but…

Solution 3: Use an existing tool

The code used in Solution 2 works but it’s not simple. There is another option, which comes from an open source tool: almops.

You only need to have the .NET Core SDK (which comes by default in Azure DevOps self-hosted agents).

Here is the YAML definition:

- task: UseDotNet@2
  displayName: 'Get latest .NET SDK'
    version: '3.1.300'
- task: DotNetCoreCLI@2
  displayName: 'Install almops .NET global tool'
    command: custom
    custom: tool
    arguments: 'install --global almops'
- bash: |
   almops config --org myorgname --token $(System.AccessToken)
   almops update variables -p $(System.TeamProject) --id $(variable.group.id) --type group --var mynewvariable
  displayName: 'Update XXX value'

The same tasks can work also on Release pipelines (classic editor):

In this case (classic editor), it’s very important to check the Agent “Allow scripts to access the OAuth token” option:

Et voilà!

Azure DevOps is really an incredible tool and if you’re limited by the UI, have a look at its API 😉

Use the OAuth token to access the REST API
Build job authorization scope


2 thoughts on “Update a Library variable from a pipeline in Azure DevOps

  1. I’m adding this comment and link because, even though this post is a year old, it came up high in my search results for a way to update group variables from a pipeline. Since this was posted, there is now another pipeline extension that is specifically for creating, updating, and/or deleting variable groups. It’s ManageVariableGroupTask by Moreno Bruschi, available in the Marketplace here: https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=MorenoBruschi.manage-variable-group-task

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