What Is GitHub and Why Should You Use It?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

GitHub is a web-based interface that allows real-time collaboration. It encourages teams to work together to develop code, build web pages, and update content. Read on for a quick introduction to GitHub, who uses it, and why it’s popular.

[Featured image] A DevOps engineer is taking notes on a GitHub repository.

GitHub is useful in the development stage for code, content, research, web pages, and more. GitHub is popular with many users because it easily tracks changes and navigates revisions. This article describes how to use GitHub, its benefits, and where you might encounter it, as well as how to use it.

Read more: Information Technology (IT) Terms: A to Z Glossary

What is GitHub used for?

GitHub allows you to create, store, change, merge, and collaborate on files or code. Any member of a team can access and edit the GitHub repository (think of this as a folder for files) and see the most recent version in real-time. GitHub has been called “a social coding platform” because it lets users make requests to one another and internally discuss the iterations along the way [1]. GitHub encourages people to coordinate, share, and collaborate code across distributed and asynchronous environments.  

What’s the difference between Git and GitHub?

Git is the version control system GitHub uses. Git is open source and free to use  for small and large projects. It is the system that keeps track of every change you make in GitHub. GitHub, meanwhile, is where people can share and collaborate on the files they have created. GitHub lets you use Git without having to first learn the command codes.

Who uses GitHub?

Developers use GitHub to work together on a single project with the benefit of version control. This helps them reduce duplicating work. Plus, GitHub allows developers to try new things. If the changes aren’t positive, they can easily revert back to the previous version.

You’ll also find others using GitHub, such as:

Why is version control important?

Version control is important as it makes collaboration more transparent and reproducible. By visibly tracking iterative changes, an entire team can experiment with new approaches, knowing that you can revert to the original as needed. 

Version control, also known as source or revision control, supports code management throughout development. The team can code concurrently to address problem areas with the safety of knowing there will also be a single source tracking the experimentation. The developers can resolve conflicting code with easy visibility into the different iterations. Plus, no one can damage a product in development permanently because teams can always look back at the previous versions of the code and reverse it if necessary.

GitHub claims it is used by more than 4 million organizations and more than 100 million developers [2]. Read on, to learn about the characteristics that contribute to its popularity.

Easy to use

With a free account, GitHub lets you access nearly 30 million public repositories of code. Even non-programmers can benefit from having unlimited collaborators with version control supported. It’s simple to start, and once your files are in GitHub, it’s easy to share the repository with others. 

You can also take advantage of other people’s available, open-source code to expedite your own project or come up with fresh approaches. Additionally, GitHub can support quality control by letting users automate some of the more mundane tasks, such as unit testing. 

Robust documentation and support

GitHub’s popularity means it’s easy to find support documentation to help you answer any questions. 

Encourages collaboration

GitHub encourages collaboration by allowing you to track changes with the benefit of version control. You’ll always have access to the code’s complete history. You can also work with unlimited collaborators on projects big and small and leave messages that tell contributors what you did and why. 

Alternatives to GitHub

GitHub may be the largest code host out there, but it isn’t the only option available. You might also try:

  • Bitbucket: This GitHub alternative allows for both public and private repositories and is good for smaller teams.

  • GitLab: This is a repository like GitHub, but it’s focused on DevOps and continuous integration.  It only allows its team of web developers to collaborate on code.

  • SourceForge: This web service welcomes GitHub migrants by letting you transfer your repositories to its open-source code hosting platform.

  • Google Cloud Source Repositories: This is an option for private repositories that limits the number of users on the free tier.

How to use GitHub as a portfolio 

Using GitHub for your e-portfolio demonstrates a technological savvy, which can help you stand out in this digital world. Follow these steps to use GitHub for your portfolio:

  1. Sign up for a free GitHub account.

  2. Create your content first in a separate platform (e.g., Google Docs or Word) to ensure you have a master copy.

  3. Add your work to a GitHub project board by creating a new repository. Keep in mind that GitHub repositories are publicly visible by default. You may want to set it to private if it’s a work in progress.

  4. Share with others and ask for input.

  5. Edit and revise in the collaborative interface.

  6. Publish your work to a GitHub page open to the public.

  7. Share your final portfolio with your network of potential employers. You could also put it on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Getting started with Coursera 

GitHub claims Shopify, Mercedes-Benz, Philips, Spotify, and Buzzfeed among its customers. Knowing how to use GitHub can help aspiring developers expand their career opportunities. Learn Git and GitHub and other in-demand skills in the Google IT Automation With Python Professional Certificate, or pursue Google’s on Coursera. 

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