Using Git - Basics
Last modified on Sat 20 Mar 2021

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Git and GitHub

What is Git?

Git is a Version Control System (VCS). There are various version control systems, but Git is by far the most popular one, both for individual and company use. On a very basic level, there are a couple of awesome things a VCS offers:

You should already have Git installed on your Mac. To check the version, run the following command in the terminal:

git --version

In case you don’t have Git installed, the command above will also start the installation the first time you run it.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a cloud-based Git repository hosting service, i.e. a web-based Git repository. GitHub provides:


Repository (often called ‘repo’) is a location where your files and folders are stored.

Origin is the name of the originally cloned remote repository. The name origin is used instead of the repository's URL for easier referencing.

Main is the name of the default branch that git creates when first creating a repository. In most cases, main means the main branch. Sometimes you might hear or read about the master branch, which is the old default branch name that you can still see in some older projects.

The names main and origin are a standard convention and don't have a special meaning. Although they can be renamed to whatever you want, it’s better to leave them as it is.

Basic git commands

git init initializes a git repository. It can be used to create a new repository or to convert an existing directory into a git repository

git clone creates a local copy of a remote repository

git branch creates, lists or deletes branches (depending on the option it is used with)

git add prepares changes for commit, i.e. tells git which file(s) you want to include in the following commit

git commit saves the changes to your local repository. Think of it like clicking the Save button

git status shows the status of modified files

git pull updates your local files by downloading content from the remote repository. You use it when a team member has made commits to a branch on a remote repository, and you want to add those changes to your local environment

git push sends the changes (commits) made locally to the remote repository

git merge joins two or more branches together


Basic workflow

The sections below show the steps for a basic git workflow when starting a project from scratch - from creating a remote repository, cloning it to your machine, and then pushing the changes made locally to the remote repository.

How to create a new GitHub repository

The following steps will help you create an initialized GitHub repository with a README file included. By default, GitHub creates a single branch named main.

  1. Log in to GitHub

  2. Click the + button next to your profile image and select New repository

  3. Type in the repository name

  4. Choose the visibility of the repository by selecting Public or Private

    • Public repositories are visible to everyone so think twice before pushing anything to it
    • Private repositories are only accessible to you and the people you share them with
  5. In the Initialize this repository with section, select the Add a README file checkbox

    • It is a good idea to include a README file containing information about the project
  6. Click the Create Repository button

How to clone a GitHub repository

Cloning a GitHub repository creates a local copy of that remote repository. The following steps show how to clone a remote repository and create an initialized local repository on your machine.

  1. Go to GitHub and open the repository’s page

  2. Click the Code button to expand the dropdown menu

  3. Select the desired option, e.g. SSH, and copy the URL

    • NOTE: If you already have 2FA enabled and try to clone the repository using the HTTPS option, you might run into the 'Authentication failed' issue
  4. Open the terminal on your machine and position to a folder in which you want to put your new project (e.g. Documents folder)

    cd ~/Documents

  5. Clone the repository to your machine

    git clone

  6. When prompted, enter your GitHub username / password or passphrase, depending on the selected cloning option (HTTPS or SSH)

  7. Change the current working directory to the newly created directory

    cd repository

How to stage, commit and push changes

Once you have a local copy of the remote repository on your machine, it is time to start working on it. The first thing you want to do is to create a new line of development, that is, create a new branch to store your changes (for more information on branches, check Using Git - Advanced). Afterwards, you can make the changes to your files, stage them, commit and push to the remote repository.

  1. Create a new branch that will store your changes

    git branch my-branch

  2. Switch to the newly created branch

    git checkout my-branch

  3. Make the changes, e.g. edit files and

  4. Stage the modified files

    • To stage a single file

      git add

    • To stage all modified files

      git add .

  5. Check the status of the staged files

    git status

  6. Commit the changes (with an easy-to-understand message)

    git commit -m "Add method-abc"

  7. Push the changes to the remote GitHub repository

    git push -u origin my-branch

    git push -u origin main configures the relationship between the remote and your local repository when you push the changes for the first time. Later, you can simply use git pull and git push

This is how a complete workflow would look like: