How to Create a Pull Request on GitHub
Davis Gitonga / August 10, 2020
8 min read •
Photo by Yancy Min
Git is a free and open-source version control system for tracking changes in computer files and coordinating work on those files among multiple people. Open-source projects maintain their files in a Git repository hosted on a cloud-based service like GitHub or Bitbucket.
Pull requests are a feature that makes it easier for developers to collaborate using GitHub.
This blog post will guide you through making a pull request to a Git repository through the command line so that you can contribute to open-source software projects.
You should have Git installed on your computer. To check if you have Git installe, open your terminal and run the following command.
You will also need to have or create a GitHub account. You can do so through the official GitHub website and can either log in or create your account.
Finally, you should identify an open-source project to contribute.
Create a Copy of the Repository
To contribute to an open-source GitHub project, you will first need to make a copy of the repository. To do this, you should fork the repository and then clone it to have a local working copy.
You can use my demo repo to follow along.
Fork the Repository
You can fork a repository on GitHub by navigating the browser to the GitHub URL of the open-source project you would like to contribute.
Once there, click on the Fork button in the top-right corner. That creates a new copy of my demo repository under your GitHub user account with a URL like:
Clone the Repository
Once the repository is in your account, clone it to your machine to work with it locally.
To clone, click the Clone or download button and copy the web URL.
Next, clone the repository by opening the terminal window on your computer and running the following command:
git clone https://github.com/<USERNAME>/<REPO>.git
Now that we have a local copy of the code, we first need to navigate to that local folder by running this command:
Now we can move on to creating a new branch.
Creating a New Branch
It is considered best practice to branch the repository to manage the workflow, isolate your code, and control what features make it back to the
master branch of the project repository.
Now, we’ll create and switch to a new branch, with the following command and
git checkout -b [BRANCH NAME]
At this point, you can now modify existing files or add new files to the project on your branch.
Make Changes Locally and Commit
Once you have modified existing files or added new files to the project, you can add them to your local repository, which we can do using the
git add command.
git add .
Next, we want to record the changes that we made to the repository using the
git commit command with the
-m flag and a short message in quotes.
git commit -m "A short description of the changes made."
If you want to include a more detailed commit message, we will run the
git commit command that opens the default text editor.
If you would like to configure your default text editor, do so using the
git config command.
git config --global core.editor "nano"
git config --global core.editor "vim"
Depending on the default text editor you're using, running the
git commit command should display a document ready for you to edit.
Once you have saved and exited the commit message text file, you can verify what git will be committing with the following command:
Pushing the changes to GitHub
We first need to identify the remote's name.
At this point, you can use the
git push command to push the changes to the current branch of your forked repository:
git push origin [BRANCH NAME]
You can now navigate the forked repository on your GitHub account and toggle to the branch you just pushed to see the changes you have made in-browser.
At this point, it is possible to make a pull request to the original repository, but if you have not already done so, you’ll want to make sure that your local repository is up-to-date with the upstream repository.
Updating the Local Repository
It is important to keep your local repository up-to-date with the project to avoid a pull request that will cause conflicts. You need to sync changes to keep your local copy of the codebase updated.
Configure a Remote for the Fork
Remote repositories make it possible for you to collaborate with other developers on a Git project. Each remote repository is a version of the project hosted on the Internet. Each remote repository should be accessible to you as read-only or read-write, depending on your user privileges.
To sync changes, make a fork from the original repository you want to contribute to, and configure a remote that references the upstream repository. You should set up the remote to the upstream repository only once.
We first check which remote servers you have configured. Running the
git remote command will list whatever remote repository you have already specified, so if you cloned your repository as we did above, you at least see the origin repository, which is the default name given by Git for the cloned directory.
From the directory of the repository in our terminal window, let’s use the
git remote command along with the
-v flag to display the URLs that Git has stored along with the relevant remote short names (as in “origin”):
git remote -v
Since we cloned a repository, our output should look similar to this:
Output origin https://github.com/your-username/demo.git (fetch) origin https://github.com/your-username/demo.git (push)
Next, we’ll specify a new remote upstream repository for us to sync with the fork. That will be the original repository that we forked. We’ll do this with the
git remote add command.
git remote add upstream https://github.com/original-owner-username/original-repository.git
We can verify that our remote pointer to the upstream repository was properly added by using the
git remote -v command again from the repository directory:
Output origin https://github.com/your-username/forked-repository.git (fetch) origin https://github.com/your-username/forked-repository.git (push) upstream https://github.com/original-owner-username/original-repository.git (fetch) upstream https://github.com/original-owner-username/original-repository.git (push)
Now you can refer to
upstream on the command line instead of writing the entire URL, and you are ready to sync your fork with the original repository.
Sync the Fork
To sync our fork, from the directory of our local repository in a terminal window, we’ll use the
git fetch command to fetch the branches along with their respective commits from the upstream repository. Since we used the shortname “upstream” to refer to the upstream repository, we’ll pass that to the command:
git fetch upstream
Now, commits to the master branch will be stored in a local branch called upstream/master.
Let’s switch to the local master branch of our repository:
git checkout master
We’ll now merge any changes made in the original repository’s master branch that we will access through our local upstream/master branch with our local master branch:
git merge upstream/master
The output here will vary, but it will begin with
Updating if changes have been made, or
Already up-to-date. if no changes have been made since you forked the repository.
Your fork’s master branch is now in sync with the upstream repository, and any local changes you made were not lost.
Create Pull Request
At this point, you are ready to make a pull request to the original repository.
You should navigate to your forked repository and press the “New pull request” button on your left-hand side of the page.
You can modify the branch on the next screen.
GitHub will alert you that you can merge the two branches because there is no competing code. You should add a title, comment, and press the “Create pull request” button.
At this point, the maintainers of the original repository will decide whether or not to accept your pull request. They may ask for you to edit or revise your code before merging the pull request.
Congratulations, you have successfully sent a pull request to an open-source software repository.
You now have all of the tools you need to start integrating pull requests into your existing workflow.
If you are interested in learning more about Git and collaborating on open source, you can read DigitalOcean's tutorial series entitled An Introduction to Open Source.