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What Is GitHub? Everything You Need to Know

Maria Kharlantseva, February 22, 2024
what is github?

GitHub continues to hit its stride as one of the most popular programming resources available for code sharing. As a social networking site for programmers, GitHub is a favorite of many companies and organizations looking to facilitate project management and remote collaboration efficiently. GitHub has created over 60 million new repositories, showcasing its relevance among brands and developers. 

Let’s take a look at how GitHub works in more detail!

how to host a website on github

What Is GitHub?

GitHub is as a platform for hosting code, facilitating version control and collaborative efforts. It enables seamless project collaboration regardless of location. This guide instructs you in fundamental GitHub concepts such as repositories, branches, commits, and pull requests, offering a comprehensive understanding of these essential elements.

Programmers can pick source codes in many different languages and use Git, the command-line interface, to make and keep track of any changes. As a result, every team member receives help to work together on multiple projects from any location, thanks to top-notch collaboration. As a token of its flexibility, GitHub lets users review previous projects created at an earlier point in time.

With the meaning of GitHub explained and out of the way, you can’t help but wonder why it is so important to developers. Firstly, GitHub offers a unique, user-friendly interface that allows a novice coder to take advantage of Git. That’s great since, without GitHub, it would take more technical knowledge and use of the command line. 

GitHub’s interface is easy enough to help individuals manage other projects, such as journals. Also, anybody can sign up and host a GitHub public code repository at no cost. That is why GitHub is especially popular with open-source projects. Further, GitHub helps organizations manage team members and security and develop internal projects.


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Understanding GitHub 

It’s not as straightforward to define GitHub or give such a platform a specific meaning. However, it is a web-based version control and collaboration platform for software developers. GitHub was founded on Git, an open-source code management system designed to help build software faster. 

You can learn more about Git and how go about it in this video.

Further, Git stores the source code for a project while tracking the complete history of all changes to that code. With that, developers can collaborate effectively on projects through tools built for managing potential conflicting changes from multiple developers. 

❓ GitHub explained: how it works

With GitHub, users can create accounts, upload files, and create coding projects. However, the major work of GitHub begins when users collaborate during projects. Teams are vital to the process because a group of people ultimately build many development projects, as opposed to coding individuals. 

Sometimes, such teams work in a single location, working asynchronously. This gives birth to different challenges when creating collaborative projects with distributed teams. However, this process can be made simpler with GitHub meaning it is the game changer.

1️⃣ Firstly, every code and documentation are in one place to limit issues with access for anyone who wants to contribute to a project. Also, each repository comes with instructions and other details to help outline project goals and rules.

2️⃣ Secondly, coding gets more creative and abstract when two or more team members work on different code pieces. Since one part of the code can make the other fail, GitHub works to solve potential problems. It does so by showing how both files will change the main branch and identifying errors you can fix along the way. 

❓ What is GitHub used for?

Now that you know how GitHub works, what can you use it for? After reading this section, you should be able to give a valid explanation when asked, “what is GitHub used for?” Software developers use GitHub to create remote, public, or private repositories on the cloud. A repository is a coding project’s files and the revision history for each file.

After setting up a repository on GitHub, you can copy it to your device, then add and modify files locally and “push” your changes back to the repository. These changes are then displayed to the public or team members. There are also lots of additional platforms and tools, with lots of tutorials available, for example, GitHub Actions tutorial.

❓ What sets GitHub apart from other version control systems?

When you come across other version control systems like Mercurial and Apache Subversion, it’s easy to see why GitHub stands at the top. GitHub holds a commanding market share over other software and stands apart from other systems because of its robust platform and built-in user base. 

Further, GitHub allows developers to collaborate more effectively and efficiently via tools that are easy to understand and tweak. Instead of starting from scratch, GitHub makes it easy to find and clone the perfect repositories for your project. You don’t need to hack solutions from scratch, thanks to simple actions. 

GitHub Basics 

❓ What is a repository on GitHub?

When you think, “what is a repository GitHub,” it is a storage space or directory that holds all your project’s files and each file’s revision history. The repository helps you communicate and manage your project’s work inside it. Also called “repo,” it can be local to a folder on your computer or a storage space on GitHub. Whatever the case, you can keep code files, text, images, and more inside a repository. 

❓ How to create, clone, and fork a GitHub repository 

GitHub uses its capabilities to help users create, clone, and fork a GitHub repository. 

How to create a GitHub repository 

Are you still wondering, “what is a GitHub repository?” Follow the steps below to create one.

  1. Click the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of any page, then select ‘new repository.’ 
  2. Write a short, memorable name for your repository, such as “Human-ox.” 
  3. Also, you can add a description of your repository. For example, “My new repository on GitHub.”
  4. Choose repository visibility. 
  5. Select ‘Initialize this repository using README.’ 
  6. Now, click ‘create repository.’

After these steps, you have successfully created your first repository with a README file.

How to clone a GitHub repository

Cloning a repository is just as easy. Follow these steps: 

  1. On GitHub.com, head to the main page of the repository. 
  2. Check the list of files for “Code” above and click it. 
  3. Copy the URL and use it for the repository. 
  4. Open Terminal 
  5. Change the current working directory to your preferred location where you want the cloned directory. 
  6. Now, Type Git clone, then paste the URL copied earlier. 
  7. Press Enter to create your local clone. 

How to fork a GitHub repository 

These steps will help you: 

  1. Go to GitHub.com and navigate to the octocat/Spoon-Knife repository. 
  2. At the top-right side of the page, click on ‘fork.’ 
  3. Choose an owner for the forked repository.
  4. By default, forks get named the same as their upstream repositories. However, to distinguish it, you can change the fork’s name. 
  5. Conversely, you can add a description of your fork.
  6. Choose whether to copy the default branch or all branches to the new fork. Multiple forking scenarios exist where you only need to copy the default branch, such as contributing to open-source projects. In such scenarios, you only need to copy the default branch. But by default, only the default branch gets copied. 
  7. Now, click ‘create fork.’ 

🔧 What does GitHub do: GitHub features and functionalities

1. Smooth project management

GitHub project management features are vast. It provides a place where project managers and developers can collaborate to coordinate, track, and update their work. With this, projects are fast, timely, and transparent. 

2. Safe packages

Thanks to the GitHub introduction, you can publish packages privately, within the team, or publicly to the open-source community. You can then use or reuse the packages by downloading them from GitHub.

3. Improved code writing 

GitHub enables team members to review, develop, and propose new codes. They can also discuss any implementation and proposals before changing the source code. 

4. Unique code safety

GitHub is packed with dedicated tools to help individuals and teams identify and analyze vulnerabilities in the code that other tools tend to miss. Development teams everywhere can collaborate to secure the software supply chain from beginning to end.

5. Effective team management

With GitHub, teams carry the same mindset, which makes them organized. Also, moderation tools, such as Issue and Pull Request Locking, help the team to focus on the code.

6. Code hosting is easy 

Code hosting is another area that shows how functional GitHub is. You have all the code and documentation in one place. With the millions of repositories on GitHub, you have various tools to help you host and release code. 

Collaborating with GitHub

There are several reasons why GitHub is used among teams and organizations, but how does it facilitate developer collaboration?

GitHub provides distributed version controls geared towards tracking and managing changes to software code. In line with this, several developers can work on a Git repository and track changes along the way.

Further, every team member can access the database simultaneously to view previous versions. As a result, it is easier for them to work simultaneously as a team, regardless of their location. Through version control, developers can also store the history of changes and who made them. This enables them to revert or look back to previous versions of documents and understand how contributions by different contributors have changed the project over time.

🔁 Working with branches, pull requests, and commits on GitHub

Branches, commits, and pull requests are some of the features that will make you ask yourself how does Git Hub work? A branch represents a parallel version of a repository. It remains in the repository without affecting the primary branch. This way, you can improve the code without altering the ‘live’ version. 

A pull request flows from a branch and lets you inform other team members about changes you pushed to a branch in a repository. Once you open a pull request, you can discuss and review the potential changes with collaborators before adding follow-up commits (more on commits coming soon) before your changes merge into the base branch. For example, if a person has edited the remote file you’re both working on, you can pull the changes to your local copy and keep it updated. 

As for commits, they let individuals and teams keep a record of the specific changes committed, who made them, and when. In addition, commits convey a brief description of what changes were made. Simply put, a commit is an individual change to a file or set of files.

🕵️‍♀️ Using GitHub for project management 

It’s no secret that many organizations use GitHub for project management via GitHub Issues. So how does GitHub work for project managers? You can use it to track progress and encourage transparent communication among teams, especially when GitHub is integrated with first-class GitHub time-tracking software like Everhour. With this innovative integration, you can analyze reports, track time, automate payroll, and boost project management right from your GitHub page. The process is straightforward as well.

Use the following setup steps to use GitHub for project management.

  1. Click on your repository’s ‘Projects’ tab and select ‘create a new project.’
  2. Give your project a name and description (you can do that from some templates available). Note that the templates offer a quick way to set up the columns representing the workflow’s different stages. For example, ‘To-Do,’ ‘In Review,’ and ‘Done.’ Additionally, you can choose no template to begin with a blank board and customize every aspect of your project without sacrificing functionality.
  3. You’re all set to start creating categories and adding issues/tasks for your project. 

The features of project management on GitHub include the following

– Automated triggers to move tasks around. 
– Milestones to help you track progress on a collection of issues or pull requests in a project. 
– Wikis provide documentation and detailed information about the project, including its design, purpose, and goals. 
– Integrations with tools like Everhour and Asana to aid project management. 

GitHub Pricing and Options 

Is GitHub free? With all the resources and qualities available, this question is inevitable. GitHub is free to an extent. For example, there’s free GitHub for personal accounts. You can use it to collaborate with an infinite number of people on an unlimited number of public repositories with a full feature set. That includes an unlimited number of private repositories with a limited feature set. 

💰 Different pricing tiers for GitHub

GitHub has the following pricing tiers: 

1️⃣ Free tier

For individuals and organizations. 
Cost: $0 per year forever

2️⃣ Team tier

Advanced collaboration and support for multiple teams. 
Cost: $4 monthly per user 

3️⃣ Enterprise tier

A wide range of features covering security, compliance, integrations, and everything in between. 
Cost: $21 monthly per user

🆚 Features available for free vs paid accounts 

GitHub comes with many features, and if you’re starting, you can use the free tier to figure things out first. But the real deal begins with the paid accounts. 

On the free version, individuals and organizations can use unlimited public and private repositories. That gives them some functionalities to perform actions on public repositories with some limits. Additionally, GitHub provides small storage of about 500MB for public repositories and allows unlimited collaborators.

The paid versions include the Team and Enterprise plans, with the former being the most popular version for developer teams. In the paid versions, users enjoy everything included in the Free tier plus protected branches, providing more security leverage for companies and individuals over their projects. 

Further, you can expect 2GB of storage for public repositories on the Team tier. The Enterprise tier offers up to 50GB of GitHub package storage. Also, GitHub Connect is available on the Enterprise tier.

Advantages of GitHub

The uses of GitHub span many scopes and levels of application. That’s why it’s no wonder that it packs many advantages. Some of the advantages of GitHub are as follows: 

✅ GitHub makes it easy for users to contribute to open-source projects. Whether that’s a wiki and issue tracker, or something else, you can contribute by forking a project, making changes, and sending a pull request via the GitHub web interface. 

✅ GitHub provides exceptional documentation through the help section and guide for almost any topic you can think of. 

✅ As one of the largest platforms for software developers, GitHub helps you get exposure to your work. 

✅ Tracking changes in your code across versions is an advantage GitHub provides. It’s challenging to keep track of versions, such as changes in files, storage, etc. GitHub takes care of that and more. Everything gets noticed when you have a version history of your code. 

✅ Multiple integration options make it easier to work on different projects. For example, you can have integrations with several platforms, such as Amazon, Google Cloud, Everhour, and Code Climate. Most importantly, GitHub integrates smoothly with Visual Studio Code—a popular code editor among software developers. And this integration eliminates the need to worry about VS Code font. 

❓ Why is GitHub so widely used among developers?

Now that we’re done answering the question “what is Git Hub?”, let’s discuss the reasons behind its popularity. Thanks to the sheer number of users it commands, GitHub can be likened to a den of developers. But why is that?

Firstly, GitHub is an affordable resource featuring a great open-source community. Secondly, as a cloud-based tool, codes and VS Code fonts are easily visible across the organization, facilitating every participant’s contributions. 

Further, GitHub is widely used among developers because it allows collaboration with other developers around the globe. Developers can contribute and share their knowledge with the world. 

👩‍💻 Use cases for GitHub

You’re wondering what’s GitHub designed for. You don’t have to go far to find numerous use cases. GitHub is used to perform a variety of functions. The use cases span areas such as the following: 

  • Open-source projects: Share projects with individuals who want to use your software, collaborate on it, and network with developers on different levels. The networking capabilities, in particular, have earned GitHub a classification as a social media site. Also, you can link it to other community sites like Reddit via the repository notes. 
  • Enterprise solutions: Businesses use GitHub as a version control system, with their development team members tracking changes to source codes while others collaborate. As a result, multiple coders work on the latest code version, simplifying project management. The Enterprise tier helps with this by providing regulatory support and compliance. 
  • Instructing tool: Not everyone understands GitHub at first, but with programming instructors and students around, they can apply GitHub in several ways. Interested users will be guided on how to use GitHub via many low-cost resources. 
  • Thanks to intuitive control tools for collaboration in different niches, GitHub is also available to nonprogrammers to work on document-based and multimedia projects. 

Generally, GitHub has changed the software development landscape, thanks to an incredibly efficient and easy-to-use tool. That has only seen it grow as one of the most widely used source code management systems. Further, GitHub has made it possible to work collaboratively with others while maintaining a usable history. 

GitHub appeared built for experienced developers from the onset, but that notion has changed drastically. Improvements on the facade have made it simpler to use, even in complex situations. However, the best part is that there’s a lower barrier to entry and education needed for more junior or inexperienced developers. 

Getting Started with GitHub

🧠 Introduction to GitHub for beginners 

By way of an introduction to GitHub for beginners, you can follow these steps to get started: 

  • Download and Install Git on your PC. 
  • Next, create a GitHub account. Provide some details required before proceeding. 
  • Connect your GitHub account to your Git account. You can do that from your terminal and use your email to confirm your account. 
  • Create and edit your code files locally. 
  • Create a repository on GitHub. Do that by clicking the + sign at the top-right corner of your screen. 
  • Lastly, you can push your local code to GitHub. 

Watch this video to see how GitHub works in a nutshell.

💡 Tips for using GitHub effectively 

Apply the following tips to use GitHub Effectively 

  1. Use GitHub for code collaboration on all your projects. This will help you track what needs doing and those responsible for it. 
  2. Use the ‘Git blame’ command to trace changes in a file, especially if you need to track down an individual that changed a particular line of code in an existing project and why. 
  3. GitHubARM is perfect for quick and efficient prototyping. It’s the beer option when you want to quickly test ideas without writing any code. 
  4. Write comments on commits. The comments written will provide context and details about the changes made to a particular project and why. 
  5. GitHub pages are ideal for simple web development. The platform lets you create a web page without worrying about the underlying code base. 
  6. Use keyboard tags and shortcuts to locate areas quickly and perform project tasks. 

Additional resources for learning and using GitHub include the following:

📚 An introduction and guide on how to use GitHub
📚 A simple guide and resource to GitHub for Non-developers
📚 Getting started with GitHub on desktop computers
📚 GitHub training kit

Conclusion

What is GitHub? This article has answered the question in many ways. You learned more about GitHub, including these key takeaways:

  • GitHub is a website with many developers and programmers working collaboratively on codes.
  • It has many significant benefits, including seamless collaborations, templates, integrations, and repositories that give your work and project the exposure it needs.
  • GitHub has multiple uses, including for enterprises, open-source codes, etc.
  • It is quite straightforward; beginners will learn to navigate its easy interface quickly!

Finally, understanding GitHub is essential for developers, especially those just starting. GitHub will help you find source codes in many languages and use the command-line interface, Git, to make and keep track of any changes. Further, understanding GitHub allows every team to collaborate on projects remotely. 

You can also take a look at the list of GitHub alternatives to see how it fares against them, along with GitLab vs GitHub comparison.

Maria Kharlantseva

Maria is a proud content guardian with experience working for international teams and projects of different complexities. Maria has a passion for fantasy novels, music, black-and-white films, and nitpicking (because there is always room for improvement!).