Getting Started With Git and GitHub in Your Python Projects
Version-Controlling Your Python Projects With Git and GitHub

Heads up! You've already completed this tutorial.

Using a version control system (VCS) is crucial for any software development project. These systems allow developers to track changes to the project's codebase over time, removing the need to keep multiple copies of the project folder.

VCSs also facilitate experimenting with new features and ideas without breaking existing functionality in a given project. They also enable collaboration with other developers that can contribute code, documentation, and more.

In this article, we'll learn about Git, the most popular VCS out there. We'll learn everything we need to get started with this VCS and start creating our own repositories. We'll also learn how to publish those repositories to GitHub, another popular tool among developers nowadays.

Installing and Setting Up Git

To use Git in our coding projects, we first need to install it on our computer. To do this, we need to navigate to Git's download page and choose the appropriate installer for our operating system. Once we've downloaded the installer, we need to run it and follow the on-screen instructions.

We can check if everything is working correctly by opening a terminal or command-line window and running git --version.

Once we've confirmed the successful installation, we should provide Git with some personal information. You'll only need to do this once for every computer. Now go ahead and run the following commands with your own information:

shell
$ git config --global user.name <"YOUR NAME">
$ git config --global user.email <name@email.com>

The first command adds your full name to Git's config file. The second command adds your email. Git will use this information in all your repositories.

If you publish your projects to a remote server like GitHub, then your email address will be visible to anyone with access to that repository. If you don't want to expose your email address this way, then you should create a separate email address to use with Git.

As you'll learn in a moment, Git uses the concept of branches to manage its repositories. A branch is a copy of your project's folder at a given time in the development cycle. The default branch of new repositories is named either master or main, depending on your current version of Git.

You can change the name of the default branch by running the following command:

shell
$ git config --global init.defaultBranch <branch_name>

This command will set the name of Git's default branch to branch_name. Remember that this is just a placeholder name. You need to provide a suitable name for your installation.

Another useful setting is the default text editor Git will use to type in commit messages and other messages in your repo. For example, if you use an editor like Visual Studio Code, then you can configure Git to use it:

shell
# Visual Studio Code
$ git config --global core.editor "code --wait"

With this command, we tell Git to use VS Code to process commit messages and any other message we need to enter through Git.

Finally, to inspect the changes we've made to Git's configuration files, we can run the following command:

shell
$ git config --global -e

This command will open the global .gitconfig file in our default editor. There, we can fix any error we have made or add new settings. Then we just need to save the file and close it.

Understanding How Git Works

Git works by allowing us to take a snapshot of the current state of all the files in our project's folder. Each time we save one of those snapshots, we make a Git commit. Then the cycle starts again, and Git creates new snapshots, showing how our project looked like at any moment.

Git was created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel. Git is an open-source project that is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2. It was initially made to facilitate kernel development due to the lack of a suitable alternative.

The general workflow for making a Git commit to saving different snapshots goes through the following steps:

  1. Change the content of our project's folder.
  2. Stage or mark the changes we want to save in our next commit.
  3. Commit or save the changes permanently in our project's Git database.

As the third step mentions, Git uses a special database called a repository. This database is kept inside your project's directory under a folder called .git.

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Version-Controlling a Project With Git: The Basics

In this section, we'll create a local repository and learn how to manage it using the Git command-line interface (CLI). On macOS and Linux, we can use the default terminal application to follow along with this tutorial.

On Windows, we recommend using Git Bash, which is part of the Git For Windows package. Go to the Git Bash download page, get the installer, run it, and follow the on-screen instruction. Make sure to check the Additional Icons -> On the Desktop to get direct access to Git Bash on your desktop so that you can quickly find and launch the app.

Alternatively, you can also use either Windows' Command Prompt or PowerShell. However, some commands may differ from the commands used in this tutorial.

Initializing a Git Repository

To start version-controlling a project, we need to initialize a new Git repository in the project's root folder or directory. In this tutorial, we'll use a sample project to facilitate the explanation. Go ahead and create a new folder in your file system. Then navigate to that folder in your terminal by running these commands:

shell
$ mkdir sample_project
$ cd sample_project

The first command creates the project's root folder or directory, while the second command allows you to navigate into that folder. Don't close your terminal window. You'll be using it throughout the next sections.

To initialize a Git repository in this folder, we need to use the git init command like in the example below:

shell
$ git init
Initialized empty Git repository in /.../sample_project/.git/

This command creates a subfolder called .git inside the project's folder. The leading dot in the folder's name means that this is a hidden directory. So, you may not see anything on your file manager. You can check the existence of .git with the ls -a, which lists all files in a given folder, including the hidden ones.

Checking the Status of Our Project

Git provides the git status command to allow us to identify the current state of a Git repository. Because our sample_project folder is still empty, running git status will display something like this:

shell
$ git status
On branch main

No commits yet

nothing to commit (create/copy files and use "git add" to track)

When we run git status, we get detailed information about the current state of our Git repository. This command is pretty useful, and we'll turn back to it in multiple moments.

As an example of how useful the git status command is, go ahead and create a file called main.py inside the project's folder using the following commands:

shell
$ touch main.py

$ git status
On branch main

No commits yet

Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
    main.py

nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

With the touch command, we create a new main.py file under our project's folder. Then we run git status again. This time, we get information about the presence of an untracked file called main.py. We also get some basic instructions on how to add this file to our Git repo. Providing these guidelines or instructions is one of the neatest features of git status.

Now, what is all that about untracked files? In the following section, we'll learn more about this topic.

Tracking and Committing Changes

A file in a Git repository can be either tracked or untracked. Any file that wasn't present in the last commit is considered an untracked file. Git doesn't keep a history of changes for untracked files in your project's folder.

In our example, we haven't made any commits to our Git repo, so main.py is naturally untracked. To start tracking it, run the git add command as follows:

shell
$ git add main.py

$ git status
On branch main

No commits yet

Changes to be committed:
  (use "git rm --cached <file>..." to unstage)
    new file:   main.py

This git add command has added main.py to the list of tracked files. Now it's time to save the file permanently using the git commit command with an appropriate commit message provided with the -m option:

shell
$ git commit -m "Add main.py"
[main (root-commit) 5ac6586] Add main.py
 1 file changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 main.py

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean

We have successfully made our first commit, saving main.py to our Git repository. The git commit command requires a commit message, which we can provide through the -m option. Commit messages should clearly describe what we have changed in our project.

After the commit, our main branch is completely clean, as you can conclude from the git status output.

Now let's start the cycle again by modifying main.py, staging the changes, and creating a new commit. Go ahead and run the following commands:

shell
$ echo "print('Hello, World!')" > main.py
$ cat main.py
print('Hello, World!')

$ git add main.py

$ git commit -m "Create a 'Hello, World!' script  on  main.py"
[main 2f33f7e] Create a 'Hello, World!' script  on  main.py
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

The echo command adds the statement "print('Hello, World!')" to our main.py file. You can confirm this addition with the cat command, which lists the content of one or more target files. You can also open main.py in your favorite editor and update the file there if you prefer.

We can also use the git stage command to stage or add files to a Git repository and include them in our next commit.

We've made two commits to our Git repo. We can list our commit history using the git log command as follows:

shell
$ git log --oneline
2f33f7e (HEAD -> main) Create a 'Hello, World!' script  on  main.py
5ac6586 Add main.py

The git log command allows us to list all our previous commits. In this example, we've used the --oneline option to list commits in a single line each. This command takes us to a dedicated output space. To leave that space, we can press the letter Q on our keyboard.

Using a .gitignore File to Skip Unneeded Files

While working with Git, we will often have files and folders that we must not save to our Git repo. For example, most Python projects include a venv/ folder with a virtual environment for that project. Go ahead and create one with the following command:

shell
$ python -m venv venv

Once we've added a Python virtual environment to our project's folder, we can run git status again to check the repo state:

shell
$ git status
On branch main
Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
    venv/

nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

Now the venv/ folder appears as an untracked file in our Git repository. We don't need to keep track of this folder because it's not part of our project's codebase. It's only a tool for working on the project. So, we need to ignore this folder. To do that, we can add the folder to a .gitignore file.

Go ahead and create a .gitignore file in the project's folder. Add the venv/ folders to it and run git status:

shell
$ touch .gitignore
$ echo "venv/" > .gitignore
$ git status
On branch main
Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
    .gitignore

nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

Now git status doesn't list venv/ as an untracked file. This means that Git is ignoring that folder. If we take a look at the output, then we'll see that .gitignore is now listed as an untracked file. We must commit our .gitignore files to the Git repository. This will prevent other developers working with us from having to create their own local .gitignore files.

We can also list multiple files and folders in our .gitignore file one per line. The file even accepts glob patterns to match specific types of files, such as *.txt. If you want to save yourself some work, then you can take advantage of GitHub's gitignore repository, which provides a rich list of predefined .gitignore files for different programming languages and development environments.

We can also set up a global .gitignore file on our computer. This global file will apply to all our Git repositories. If you decide to use this option, then go ahead and create a .gitignore_global in your home folder.

Working With Branches in Git

One of the most powerful features of Git is that it allows us to create multiple branches. A branch is a copy of our project's current status and commits history. Having the option to create and handle branches allows us to make changes to our project without messing up the main line of development.

We'll often find that software projects maintain several independent branches to facilitate the development process. A common branch model distinguishes between four different types of branches:

  1. A main or master branch that holds the main line of development
  2. A develop branch that holds the last developments
  3. One or more feature branches that hold changes intended to add new features
  4. One or more bugfix branches that hold changes intended to fix critical bugs

However, the branching model to use is up to you. In the following sections, we'll learn how to manage branches using Git.

Creating New Branches

Working all the time on the main or master branch isn't a good idea. We can end up creating a mess and breaking the code. So, whenever we want to experiment with a new idea, implement a new feature, fix a bug, or just refactor a piece of code, we should create a new branch.

To kick things off, let's create a new branch called hello on our Git repo under the sample_project folder. To do that, we can use the git branch command followed by the branch's name:

shell
$ git branch hello
$ git branch --list
* main
  hello

The first command creates a new branch in our Git repo. The second command allows us to list all the branches that currently exist in our repository. Again, we can press the letter Q on our keyboard to get back to the terminal prompt.

The star symbol denotes the currently active branch, which is main in the example. We want to work on hello, so we need to activate that branch. In Git's terminology, we need to check out to hello.

Checking Out to a New Branch

Although we have just created a new branch, in order to start working on it, we need to switch to or check out to it by using the git checkout command as follows:

shell
$ git checkout hello
Switched to branch 'hello'

$ git branch --list
  main
* hello

$ git log --oneline
2f33f7e (HEAD -> hello, main) Create a 'Hello, World!' script  on  main.py
5ac6586 Add main.py

The git checkout command takes the name of an existing branch as an argument. Once we run the command, Git takes us to the target branch.

We can derive a new branch from whatever branch we need.

As you can see, git branch --list indicates which branch we are currently on by placing a * symbol in front of the relevant branch name. If we check the commit history with git log --oneline, then we'll get the same as we get from main because hello is a copy of it.

The git checkout can take a -b flag that we can use to create a new branch and immediately check out to it in a single step. That's what most developers use while working with Git repositories. In our example, we could have run git checkout -b hello to create the hello branch and check out to it with one command.

Let's make some changes to our project and create another commit. Go ahead and run the following commands:

shell
$ echo "print('Welcome to PythonGUIs!')" >> main.py
$ cat main.py
print('Hello, World!')
print('Welcome to PythonGUIs!')

$ git add main.py
$ git commit -m "Extend our 'Hello, World' program with a welcome message."
[hello be62476] Extend our 'Hello, World' program with a welcome message.
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

The final command committed our changes to the hello branch. If we compare the commit history of both branches, then we'll see the difference:

shell
$ git log --oneline -1
be62476 (HEAD -> hello) Extend our 'Hello, World' program with a welcome message.

$ git checkout main
Switched to branch 'main'

$ git log --oneline -1
2f33f7e (HEAD -> main) Create a 'Hello, World!' script  on  main.py

In this example, we first run git log --oneline with -1 as an argument. This argument tells Git to give us only the last commit in the active branch's commit history. To inspect the commit history of main, we first need to check out to that branch. Then we can run the same git log command.

Now say that we're happy with the changes we've made to our project in the hello branch, and we want to update main with those changes. How can we do this? We need to merge hello into main.

Merging Two Branches Together

To add the commits we've made in a separate branch back to another branch, we can run what is known as a merge. For example, say we want to merge the new commits in hello into main. In this case, we first need to switch back to main and then run the git merge command using hello as an argument:

shell
$ git checkout main
Already on 'main'

$ git merge hello
Updating 2f33f7e..be62476
Fast-forward
 main.py | 1 +
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

To merge a branch into another branch, we first need to check out the branch we want to update. Then we can run git merge. In the example above, we first check out to main. Once there, we can merge hello.

Deleting Unused Branches

Once we've finished working in a given branch, we can delete the entire branch to keep our repo as clean as possible. Following our example, now that we've merged hello into main, we can remove hello.

To remove a branch from a Git repo, we use the git branch command with the --delete option. To successfully run this command, make sure to switch to another branch before:

shell
$ git checkout main
Already on 'main'

$ git branch --delete hello
Deleted branch hello (was be62476).

$ git branch --list
* main

Deleting unused branches is a good way to keep our Git repositories clean, organized, and up to date. Also, deleting them as soon as we finish the work is even better because having old branches around may be confusing for other developers collaborating with our project. They might end up wondering why these branches are still alive.

Using a GUI Client for Git

In the previous sections, we've learned to use the git command-line tool to manage Git repositories. If you prefer to use GUI tools, then you'll find a bunch of third-party GUI frontends for Git. While they won't completely replace the need for using the command-line tool, they can simplify your day-to-day workflow.

You can get a complete list of standalone GUI clients available on the Git official documentation.

Most popular IDEs and code editors, including PyCharm and Visual Studio Code, come with basic Git integration out-of-the-box. Some developers will prefer this approach as it is directly integrated with their development environment of choice.

If you need something more advanced, then GitKraken is probably a good choice. This tool provides a standalone, cross-platform GUI client for Git that comes with many additional features that can boost your productivity.

Managing a Project With GitHub

If we publish a project on a remote server with support for Git repositories, then anyone with appropriate permissions can clone our project, creating a local copy on their computer. Then, they can make changes to our project, commit them to their local copy, and finally push the changes back to the remote server. This workflow provides a straightforward way to allow other developers to contribute code to your projects.

In the following sections, we'll learn how to create a remote repository on GitHub and then push our existing local repository to it. Before we do that, though, head over to GitHub.com and create an account there if you don't have one yet. Once you have a GitHub account, you can set up the connection to that account so that you can use it with Git.

Setting Up a Secure Connection to GitHub

In order to work with GitHub via the git command, we need to be able to authenticate ourselves. There are a few ways of doing that. However, using SSH is the recommended way. The first step in the process is to generate an SSH key, which you can do with the following command:

shell
$ ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -C "GitHub - name@email.com"

Replace the placeholder email address with the address you've associated with your GitHub account. Once you run this command, you'll get three different prompts in a row. You can respond to them by pressing Enter to accept the default option. Alternatively, you can provide custom responses.

Next, we need to copy the contents of our id_ed25519.pub file. To do this, you can run the following command:

shell
$ cat ~/.ssh/id_ed25519.pub

Select the command's output and copy it. Then go to your GitHub Settings page and click the SSH and GPG keys option. There, select New SSH key, set a descriptive title for the key, make sure that the Key Type is set to Authentication Key, and finally, paste the contents of id_ed25519.pub in the Key field. Finally, click the Add SSH key button.

At this point, you may be asked to provide some kind of Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) code. So, be ready for that extra security step.

Now we can test our connection by running the following command:

shell
$ ssh -T git@github.com
The authenticity of host 'github.com (IP ADDRESS)' can not be established.
ECDSA key fingerprint is SHA256:p2QAMXNIC1TJYWeIOttrVc98/R1BUFWu3/LiyKgUfQM.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])?

Make sure to check whether the key fingerprint shown on your output matches GitHub's public key fingerprint. If it matches, then enter yes and press Enter to connect. Otherwise, don't connect.

If the connection is successful, we will get a message like this:

shell
Hi USERNAME! You have successfully authenticated, but GitHub does not provide shell access.

Congrats! You've successfully connected to GitHub via SSH using a secure SSH key. Now it's time to start working with GitHub.

Creating and Setting Up a GitHub Repository

Now that you have a GitHub account with a proper SSH connection, let's create a remote repository on GitHub using its web interface. Head over to the GitHub page and click the + icon next to your avatar in the top-right corner. Then select New repository.

Give your new repo a unique name and choose who can see this repository. To continue with our example, we can give this repository the same name as our local project, sample_project.

To avoid conflicts with your existing local repository, don't add .gitignore, README, or LICENSE files to your remote repository.

Next, set the repo's visibility to Private so that no one else can access the code. Finally, click the Create repository button at the end of the page.

If you create a Public repository, make sure also to choose an open-source license for your project to tell people what they can and can't do with your code.

You'll get a Quick setup page as your remote repository has no content yet. Right at the top, you'll have the choice to connect this repository via HTTPS or SSH. Copy the SSH link and run the following command to tell Git where the remote repository is hosted:

shell
$ git remote add origin git@github.com:USERNAME/sample_project.git

This command adds a new remote repository called origin to our local Git repo.

The name origin is commonly used to denote the main remote repository associated with a given project. This is the default name Git uses to identify the main remote repo.

Git allows us to add several remote repositories to a single local one using the git remote add command. This allows us to have several remote copies of your local Git repo.

Pushing a Local Git Repository to GitHub

With a new and empty GitHub repository in place, we can go ahead and push the content of our local repo to its remote copy. To do this, we use the git push command providing the target remote repo and the local branch as arguments:

shell
$ git push -u origin main
Enumerating objects: 9, done.
Counting objects: 100% (9/9), done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads
Compressing objects: 100% (4/4), done.
Writing objects: 100% (9/9), 790 bytes | 790.00 KiB/s, done.
Total 9 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 0
To github.com:USERNAME/sample_project.git
 * [new branch]      main -> main
branch 'main' set up to track 'origin/main'.

This is the first time we push something to the remote repo sample_project, so we use the -u option to tell Git that we want to set the local main branch to track the remote main branch. The command's output provides a pretty detailed summary of the process.

Note that if you don't add the -u option, then Git will ask what you want to do. A safe workaround is to copy and paste the commands GitHub suggests, so that you don't forget -u.

Using the same command, we can push any local branch to any remote copy of our project's repo. Just change the repo and branch name: git push -u remote_name branch_name.

Now let's head over to our browser and refresh the GitHub page. We will see all of our project files and commit history there.

Now we can continue developing our project and making new commits locally. To push our commits to the remote main branch, we just need to run git push. This time, we don't have to use the remote or branch name because we've already set main to track origin/main.

Pulling Content From a GitHub Repository

We can do basic file editing and make commits within GitHub itself. For example, if we click the main.py file and then click the pencil icon at the top of the file, we can add another line of code and commit those changes to the remote main branch directly on GitHub.

Go ahead and add the statement print("Your Git Tutorial is Here...") to the end of main.py. Then go to the end of the page and click the Commit changes button. This makes a new commit on your remote repository.

This remote commit won't appear in your local commit history. To download it and update your local main branch, use the git pull command:

shell
$ git pull
remote: Enumerating objects: 5, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (5/5), done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
remote: Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 0
Unpacking objects: 100% (3/3), 696 bytes | 174.00 KiB/s, done.
From github.com:USERNAME/sample_project
   be62476..605b6a7  main       -> origin/main
Updating be62476..605b6a7
Fast-forward
 main.py | 1 +
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

Again, the command's output provides all the details about the operation. Note that git pull will download the remote branch and update the local branch in a single step.

If we want to download the remote branch without updating the local one, then we can use the [git fetch](https://git-scm.com/docs/git-fetch) command. This practice gives us the chance to review the changes and commit them to our local repo only if they look right.

For example, go ahead and update the remote copy of main.py by adding another statement like print("Let's go!!"). Commit the changes. Then get back to your local repo and run the following command:

shell
$ git fetch
remote: Enumerating objects: 5, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (5/5), done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
remote: Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 0
Unpacking objects: 100% (3/3), 731 bytes | 243.00 KiB/s, done.
From github.com:USERNAME/sample_project
   605b6a7..ba489df  main       -> origin/main

This command downloaded the latest changes from origin/main to our local repo. Now we can compare the remote copy of main.py to the local copy. To do this, we can use the git diff command as follows:

shell
$ git diff main origin/main
diff --git a/main.py b/main.py
index be2aa66..4f0e7cf 100644
--- a/main.py
+++ b/main.py
@@ -1,3 +1,4 @@
 print('Hello, World!')
 print('Welcome to PythonGUIs!')
 print("Your Git Tutorial is Here...")
+print("Let's go!!")

In the command's output, you can see that the remote branch adds a line containing print("Let's go!!") to the end of main.py. This change looks good, so we can use git pull to commit the change automatically.

Exploring Alternatives to GitHub

While GitHub is the most popular public Git server and collaboration platform in use, it is far from being the only one. GitLab.com and BitBucket are popular commercial alternatives similar to GitHub. While they have paid plans, both offer free plans, with some restrictions, for individual users.

Although, if you would like to use a completely open-source platform instead, Codeberg might be a good option. It's a community-driven alternative with a focus on supporting Free Software. Therefore, in order to use Codeberg, your project needs to use a compatible open-source license.

Optionally, you can also run your own Git server. While you could just use barebones git for this, software such as GitLab Community Edition (CE) and Forgejo provide you with both the benefits of running your own server and the experience of using a service like GitHub.

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Conclusion

By now, you're able to use Git for version-controlling your projects. Git is a powerful tool that will make you much more efficient and productive, especially as the scale of your project grows over time.

While this guide introduced you to most of its basic concepts and common commands, Git has many more commands and options that you can use to be even more productive. Now, you know enough to get up to speed with Git.

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Getting Started With Git and GitHub in Your Python Projects was written by Punition Chaetognathan with contributions from Leo Well .

Punition is a technology enthusiast with a focus on Linux and digital privacy. Punition is currently trying to learn Python so he can build paid, open source applications and libraries with Linux as a first-class citizen.