How To Download and Clone Public Code Repositories From GitHub


GitHub is a popular platform used by developers to host and share code repositories. A code repository contains all the files and folders needed for a software project. GitHub makes it easy to browse public repositories, download code to use in your own projects, or clone repositories to your local machine for development. This guide covers the main ways to download and clone from GitHub.

Download a Single File

To download an individual file from a GitHub repository:

  1. Navigate to the main page of the repository on GitHub
  2. Browse to the file you want to download
  3. Click on the Raw button to view the raw file content
  4. Right click in your browser and choose Save As to download the file

This allows you to quickly grab a specific file like a configuration script or README without having to download the entire repository.

Download a Repository as a ZIP File

To download the entire repository as a ZIP file:

  1. Go to the main page of the repository on GitHub
  2. Click on the green Code button
  3. Select Download ZIP from the dropdown

This downloads all files and folders in the repository as a compressed ZIP archive that you can then uncompress on your local machine. This method gives you a snapshot of the repository for offline use.

Clone a Repository (Recommended)

Cloning a repository using Git is the preferred way to download a full repository for development:

  • Gives you a full local copy with all commits and branches
  • Enables you to contribute back using commits and pushes
  • Keeps your local copy in sync as the repository is updated

To clone a repository:

  1. Install Git on your machine
  2. Click on the green Code button and copy the HTTPS or SSH URL
  3. Open terminal/command prompt and run:
   git clone [URL]
  1. This will create a complete local copy in a new folder

Now you can work on the code, commit changes, create branches, and push to the remote repository.

Best Practices When Cloning Repositories

Here are some best practices to follow when cloning GitHub repositories:

  • Fork first: Forking creates a copy under your GitHub account before cloning so you can openly contribute
  • Use SSH: Clone with SSH instead of HTTPS for easier authentication
  • Clone recursively: For repositories with submodules, use git clone --recursive
  • Cache credentials: Use git credential caching so you don’t have to re-enter credentials each time
  • Clone bare repos: Check out a bare clone to temporarily experiment with code


  • Downloading individual files lets you quickly access part of a repository
  • Downloading as a ZIP gives you an offline compressed snapshot
  • Cloning with Git is best for actively working on projects locally
  • Follow best practices like forking and caching credentials for an optimal experience

Now you have the essential techniques for accessing public repositories on GitHub!