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Github for Artists

Welcome to GitHub for artists! This repository is an introduction to the history and basics of git, by Matt Ross and Brent Bailey. Git and GitHub are extremely powerful tools for collaborative and iterative work, and an essential part of anyone working in creative technology or digital media’s toolkit. It’s our hope that these tutorials and resources will help people new to these technologies begin to adopt them. To that end, we’re happy to accept pull requests, suggestions, and more to make these resources as useful as they can be.

This repository and tutorials are designed for beginners to both git and GitHub, although some prior experience using the Terminal and programming will be helpful. If you haven’t used the Terminal before or are out of practice, here are some beginner tutorial for Mac and Linux. I wouldn’t recommend using Windows with this tutorial since it wasn’t designed for that system, but if you want to try here’s a primer for Powershell.

You’ll also want to ensure you have git installed. Once that’s done, create a github account, and set up SSH access:

  1. Check for SSH keys. If you don’t have any, generate one.

  2. Add an SSH key to your GitHub account.

  3. Test your connection.

Once that’s all done, you should be ready to go.

What’s Git?

Git is a version control system.

What’s Version Control?

Version control software allows multiple developers to manage and track changes to software over time. Git is a distributed version control system, meaning rather than every developer making changes to the same files that are centralized, all the changes made in git and similar version control systems are made on a local instance that is then “pushed” to a central repository when the changes are ready. Distributed version control systems are great because they:

  1. Keeps track of all changes made to every file in a repository (this is the fancy word people use for a file or set of files stored in git).
  2. Allows individual developers “push”, “pull”, “merge” and “branch” repositories.

Pull: this allows you to download the code from the original repository, or any branch stored on GitHub.

Push: this allows you to send changes you’ve made locally back to the original or master repository.

Branch: this allows you to create a different version of a repository to work on a specific set of changes.

Merge: this allows you to combine different branches of the same repository

Linus Torvalds, creator of Git and Linux

Git was created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds for use by the open-source team working on the Linux kernel. He called it “git” because it’s British slang for a stupid person, and he calls it “the stupid content tracker”. This is what passes for humor in programming.

Alternatives to git

  • Mercurial: distributed VCS. Git’s closest competitor (although it’s losing the battle), allegedly easier to learn than git.
  • Subversion: centralized VCS. No branching, better for storing binary files, more access control, considered easier to learn than git.

What’s GitHub?

GitHub is a git repository hosting service. It provides a web-based UI for git, and allows users to “fork” a repository, which is probably its “killer app”: forking allows users to create their own copies of someone else’s repository, add changes, and then create a “pull request” to the original repository if they so wish so that their changes are added to the original.

There are a few alternatives to GitHub, although it’s by far the most popular hosting service available right now. I’ll list these, and their pros and cons, here:

App Pros Cons
GitHub Most popular by far, great featureset, easy UI Owned by Microsoft if that bothers you, doesn’t automatically come with continuous integration, doesn’t automatically come with a deployment platform, can’t export projects to other systems
Bitbucket Allows hosting with Mercurial as well as git, many of the same features as GitHub, unlimited private and public repos Less pricing options, GUI is uglier
GitLab Self-owned, comes with CI and deployment platform, greater control over permissions, allows importing data from other vendors, cheaper enterprise plan Adoption less widespread, not as big of a dev community

Other Things To Know

README files

Want other people to actually use the things you’re posting on GitHub? You’ll need a file. These are files written in “markdown” language, generally containing information about and instructions for use of a repository. This repository is a great example of them, since both the primary directory and each folder contains a README, but if you want to learn to write one yourself, you may want more resources. What just about every programmer goes to first is the Markdown Cheat Sheet, a list of basic syntax you’ll find yourself using a lot in Markdown. If you want to get more complex, the same website, markdown guide has a ton of useful resources for learning the deeper complexities of Markdown.

Other Stuff You Can Do On GitHub

Github Pages : a quick and easy hosting solution for static websites. Unlimited repositories. Can’t host any servers or anything particularly complex.

Wikis: a great way to document more complex open-source projects (or use as a blog, syllabus, or any other purpose you might think of).

Pro and Enterprise : starting a business? Working with a big group? Want to keep your code closed-source (boooooo)? Github has a range of options for professional and enterprise use.


Most publicly available code on GitHub is considered open-source (which means anyone can use or contribute to it). If you want to keep your code closed-source and private, you’ll have to register for the paid GitHub tier. If you’re comfortable with keeping your code open, it’s wise to pick a license. Licenses are basically some legalese that determines how your code can be used. If you need help choosing your license, ChooseALicense is a helpful resource. To add licensing to your repository, you can follow the instructions here. This repository uses the Gnu Public License, which prevents the distribution of closed-source versions.


If we’ve successfully convinced you that git and GitHub are the way to go, you’re in luck: there are tons of resources out there for both. We’ll list a few here:

Git Cheat Sheet : a list of commonly used git commands.

*GitHub Guides: a series of tutorials produced by GitHub for learning its tools. Great way to get started with GitHub Pages, creating wikis, and more.

*Version Control with Git : getting reallllly into git? Check out O’Reilly’s version control with git, a great resource for getting super in-depth.

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