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How to download from GitHub

Here’s how to clone publicly available repositories and files on GitHub

GitHub mascot on a smartphone

It’s difficult to mention software or web development without mentioning GitHub; the service goes hand-in-hand with programmers across the world and is a go-to collaboration platform for teams working on open source coding projects.

Collaborative code can turn messy quite quickly. Different programming styles combined with numerous changes made across iterations and an ever-growing bank of files and folders can lead to exciting projects turning into headaches. Many cooks really can spoil the broth.

What GitHub offers developers is a powerful suite of collaboration tools that simplify the process of tracking changes to project files while adding tools for task management, issue tracking, and continuous integration.

GitHub is an exciting platform for developers new and old, providing the playground for projects to be bettered and opportunities for fledgling programmers to get their first taste of open source development. The go-to platform for open source projects supports unlimited numbers of collaborators on unlimited projects, known as ‘repositories’, or ‘repos’.

Adding to its list of features is the platform’s pull requests which allow developers to notify others working on any given repository of the changes they’ve pushed. Users can also accompany these changes with a written summary of the proposed changes to make it easier for collaborators to see exactly what the developer has worked on.

The download process in GitHub can be somewhat of an intimidating one, especially to newcomers who are not familiar with its user interface which can be unintuitive to some. There are multiple options for downloading source code into your own integrated developer environment (IDE) but it’s a straightforward process once mastered.

How to download a repository from GitHub

Public repositories contain open source codebases users can download for free. They don’t even need a GitHub account.

Follow these steps to download an open source database:

1. Navigate to GitHub’s website at

2. Click “Explore” on the top left corner of the page.

3. In the “Explore GitHub” menu, select “Topics.”

4. Pick a topic from the featured list of topics. GitHub will list all public repositories matching the selected topic. You may also choose to filter the repositories based on programming language, sort by most stars, and more.

5. Click on the desired repository. 

6. Navigate to the “<>Code” tab.

7. Click on the “Code” button on the right. A dropdown should appear.

8. In the “Clone” menu, under the “HTTPS” tab, click on “Download ZIP”

GitHub download box screenshot

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The chosen repository will download as a ZIP file. Once the repository installs on your device, use the “” file for setup and use instructions.

Note: It’s not always possible to download private repositories from GitHub, as they’re only visible to the repository owners and collaborators.

If you wish to contribute to a project and push changes to the original code, forking a repository is the way to go. According to GitHub, “a forked repository differs from a clone in that a connection exists between your fork and the original repository itself.”

Forking allows you to experiment or change a file on your computer without affecting the original repository. You may choose to propose changes to the original repository via pull requests, which are subject to the project owner’s approval. Keep in mind that you need an active GitHub account to access fork and pull request features.

How to fork a repository on GitHub

It is relatively easy to fork a project on GitHub. Here’s how to do it.

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1. On GitHub, navigate to your desired public repository.

2. Click on “Fork” on the top right corner.

A copy of the original repository will be saved to your GitHub account. Next, you’d create a clone of the fork locally on your computer so the changes remain local to your system.

Use the following steps to create a local clone of your fork:

1. Hover on your Github username to view repositories.

2. Navigate to the desired fork or clone of a repository.

3. Click on “Code” above the list of files. 

4. Click on the copy file URL icon in the clone menu under "Clone with HTTPS” to copy the URL. 

5. Change the current working directory to your preferred directory.

6. Type “git clone” and paste the URL you copied earlier. For instance, to clone Spoon-Knife repo, use the following command line: “$ git clone”

7. Press “Enter.”

You now have a local copy of your desired repository’s fork. When you're done making local changes, you can push your local branch to GitHub by initiating a pull request.

Lastly, GitHub also makes it possible to download an archive of your account data. Below are the instructions.

How to download an archive of your GitHub data

1. Navigate to your ”Account Settings” page.

2. In the "Export account data" section, click “Start export.” GitHub will now send a download link to your primary email address.

3. Click the download link in your email and re-enter your password if prompted

By default, GitHub packages your account data in a tar.gz file. The download link will automatically expire after seven days. GitHub stores repositories and profile metadata as part of personal account activity.

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