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Getting changes from a remote repository

You can use common Git commands to access remote repositories.

Options for getting changes

These commands are very useful when interacting with a remote repository. clone and fetch download remote code from a repository's remote URL to your local computer, merge is used to merge different people's work together with yours, and pull is a combination of fetch and merge.

Cloning a repository

To grab a complete copy of another user's repository, use git clone like this:

$ git clone
# Clones a repository to your computer

You can choose from several different URLs when cloning a repository. While logged in to GitHub, these URLs are available on the main page of the repository when you click Code.

Screenshot of the main page of a repository. A green button, labeled "Code," is outlined in dark orange and expanded to show the HTTPS URL for the repository.

When you run git clone, the following actions occur:

  • A new folder called repo is made
  • It is initialized as a Git repository
  • A remote named origin is created, pointing to the URL you cloned from
  • All of the repository's files and commits are downloaded there
  • The default branch is checked out

For every branch foo in the remote repository, a corresponding remote-tracking branch refs/remotes/origin/foo is created in your local repository. You can usually abbreviate such remote-tracking branch names to origin/foo.

Fetching changes from a remote repository

Use git fetch to retrieve new work done by other people. Fetching from a repository grabs all the new remote-tracking branches and tags without merging those changes into your own branches.

If you already have a local repository with a remote URL set up for the desired project, you can grab all the new information by using git fetch *remotename* in the terminal:

$ git fetch REMOTE-NAME
# Fetches updates made to a remote repository

Otherwise, you can always add a new remote and then fetch. For more information, see "Managing remote repositories."

Merging changes into your local branch

Merging combines your local changes with changes made by others.

Typically, you'd merge a remote-tracking branch (i.e., a branch fetched from a remote repository) with your local branch:

# Merges updates made online with your local work

Pulling changes from a remote repository

git pull is a convenient shortcut for completing both git fetch and git mergein the same command:

# Grabs online updates and merges them with your local work

Because pull performs a merge on the retrieved changes, you should ensure that your local work is committed before running the pull command. If you run into a merge conflict you cannot resolve, or if you decide to quit the merge, you can use git merge --abort to take the branch back to where it was in before you pulled.

Further reading