Skip to main content

Contributing to projects

Learn how to contribute to a project through forking.

About forking

If you want to contribute to someone else's project but don't have write access to the repository, you can use a "fork and pull request" workflow.

A fork is a new repository that shares code and visibility settings with the original “upstream” repository. Forks are often used to iterate on ideas or changes before they are proposed back to the upstream repository, such as in open source projects or when a user does not have write access to the upstream repository.

You can contribute by submitting pull requests from your fork to the upstream repository. For more information, see "Fork a repo."

Forking a repository

This tutorial uses the Spoon-Knife project, a test repository that's hosted on GitHub.com that lets you test the fork and pull request workflow.

  1. Navigate to the Spoon-Knife project at https://github.com/octocat/Spoon-Knife.

  2. In the top-right corner of the page, click Fork.

    Screenshot of the main page of repository. A button, labeled with a fork icon and "Fork 59.3k," is outlined in dark orange.

  3. Under "Owner," select the dropdown menu and click an owner for the forked repository.

  4. By default, forks are named the same as their upstream repositories. Optionally, to further distinguish your fork, in the "Repository name" field, type a name.

  5. Optionally, in the "Description" field, type a description of your fork.

  6. Optionally, select Copy the DEFAULT branch only.

    For many forking scenarios, such as contributing to open-source projects, you only need to copy the default branch. If you do not select this option, all branches will be copied into the new fork.

  7. Click Create fork.

Note: If you want to copy additional branches from the upstream repository, you can do so from the Branches page. For more information, see "Creating and deleting branches within your repository."

Cloning a fork

You've successfully forked the Spoon-Knife repository, but so far, it only exists on GitHub. To be able to work on the project, you will need to clone it to your computer.

You can clone your fork with the command line, GitHub CLI, or GitHub Desktop.

  1. On GitHub, navigate to your fork of the Spoon-Knife repository.

  2. Above the list of files, click Code.

    Screenshot of the list of files on the landing page of a repository. The "Code" button is highlighted with a dark orange outline.

  3. Copy the URL for the repository.

    • To clone the repository using HTTPS, under "HTTPS", click .

    • To clone the repository using an SSH key, including a certificate issued by your organization's SSH certificate authority, click SSH, then click .

    • To clone a repository using GitHub CLI, click GitHub CLI, then click .

      Screenshot of the "Code" dropdown menu. To the right of the HTTPS URL for the repository, a copy icon is outlined in dark orange.

  4. Open TerminalTerminalGit Bash.

  5. Change the current working directory to the location where you want the cloned directory.

  6. Type git clone, and then paste the URL you copied earlier. It will look like this, with your GitHub username instead of YOUR-USERNAME:

    $ git clone https://github.com/YOUR-USERNAME/Spoon-Knife
  7. Press Enter. Your local clone will be created.

    $ git clone https://github.com/YOUR-USERNAME/Spoon-Knife
    > Cloning into `Spoon-Knife`...
    > remote: Counting objects: 10, done.
    > remote: Compressing objects: 100% (8/8), done.
    > remove: Total 10 (delta 1), reused 10 (delta 1)
    > Unpacking objects: 100% (10/10), done.

To learn more about GitHub CLI, see "About GitHub CLI."

To create a clone of your fork, use the --clone flag.

gh repo fork REPOSITORY --clone=true
  1. In the File menu, click Clone Repository.

    Screenshot of the menu bar on a Mac. The "File" dropdown menu is expanded, and the "Clone Repository" option is highlighted with an orange outline.

    Screenshot of the "GitHub Desktop" menu bar on Windows. The "File" dropdown menu is expanded, and the "Clone Repository" option is highlighted with an orange outline.

  2. Click the tab that corresponds to the location of the repository you want to clone. You can also click URL to manually enter the repository location.

    Screenshot of the "Clone a repository" window. At the top of the window, tabs labeled "GitHub.com", "GitHub Enterprise" and "URL" are highlighted with an orange outline.

  3. From the list of repositories, click the repository you want to clone.

    Screenshot of the "Clone a repository" window. The "github/docs" repository is highlighted with an orange outline.

  4. To select the local directory into which you want to clone the repository, next to the "Local Path" field, click Choose... and navigate to the directory.

    Screenshot of the "Clone a repository" window. A button, labeled "Choose", is highlighted with an orange outline.

  5. At the bottom of the "Clone a Repository" window, click Clone.

Creating a branch to work on

Before making changes to the project, you should create a new branch and check it out. By keeping changes in their own branch, you follow GitHub Flow and ensure that it will be easier to contribute to the same project again in the future. For more information, see "GitHub flow."

git branch BRANCH-NAME
git checkout BRANCH-NAME
git branch BRANCH-NAME
git checkout BRANCH-NAME

For more information about how to create and manage branches in GitHub Desktop, see "Managing branches in GitHub Desktop."

Making and pushing changes

Go ahead and make a few changes to the project using your favorite text editor, like Visual Studio Code. You could, for example, change the text in index.html to add your GitHub username.

When you're ready to submit your changes, stage and commit your changes. git add . tells Git that you want to include all of your changes in the next commit. git commit takes a snapshot of those changes.

git add .
git commit -m "a short description of the change"
git add .
git commit -m "a short description of the change"

For more information about how to stage and commit changes in GitHub Desktop, see "Committing and reviewing changes to your project in GitHub Desktop."

When you stage and commit files, you essentially tell Git, "Okay, take a snapshot of my changes!" You can continue to make more changes, and take more commit snapshots.

Right now, your changes only exist locally. When you're ready to push your changes up to GitHub, push your changes to the remote.

git push
git push

For more information about how to push changes in GitHub Desktop, see "Pushing changes to GitHub from GitHub Desktop."

Making a pull request

At last, you're ready to propose changes into the main project! This is the final step in producing a fork of someone else's project, and arguably the most important. If you've made a change that you feel would benefit the community as a whole, you should definitely consider contributing back.

To do so, head on over to the repository on GitHub where your project lives. For this example, it would be at https://github.com/<your_username>/Spoon-Knife. You'll see a banner indicating that your branch is one commit ahead of octocat:main. Click Contribute and then Open a pull request.

GitHub will bring you to a page that shows the differences between your fork and the octocat/Spoon-Knife repository. Click Create pull request.

GitHub will bring you to a page where you can enter a title and a description of your changes. It's important to provide as much useful information and a rationale for why you're making this pull request in the first place. The project owner needs to be able to determine whether your change is as useful to everyone as you think it is. Finally, click Create pull request.

Managing feedback

Pull Requests are an area for discussion. In this case, the Octocat is very busy, and probably won't merge your changes. For other projects, don't be offended if the project owner rejects your pull request, or asks for more information on why it's been made. It may even be that the project owner chooses not to merge your pull request, and that's totally okay. Your changes exist in your fork. And who knows--maybe someone you've never met will find your changes much more valuable than the original project.

Finding projects

You've successfully forked and contributed back to a repository. Go forth, and contribute some more! For more information, see "Finding ways to contribute to open source on GitHub."