Git and Atom: GitHub


GitHub is a popular platform to share code, store software solutions, and host documentation.

Project owners control access to GitHub repositories. You may log in and create your projects and repositories, and share them with others.

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Would you prefer not to use the Atom Text Editor? We also have documentation for Git in the command line.

It is assumed that users of this guide understand basic Git/version control principles. To learn more about Git basics, visit this page.


This section covers the setup procedures for Atom and Git.

Atom Text Editor Setup

While there are many text editors to choose from, Atom is recommended due to its ability to be customized and integrated with GitHub/Git.

Install Atom:

Atom has several packages which enhance the user experience and some of them you'll need for the workflow. The packages can be installed by entering the Settings screen and choosing Install. There are thousands of packages, so try some out and have fun.

  • Necessary Packages:

    • git-plus (integrates Git)

    • git-checkout (allows checking out remote branches within Atom)

  • Optional but Recommended Packages:

    • linter (aids in code validation, will also need linter package for each language)

    • minimap (displays thumbnail version of document along with your location within it)

    • todo-show (provides visuals for TODO and FIXME tags)

  • Navigate to the GitHub repository in your web browser. For this example, we'll use the user-documentation repository. Copy the SSH address to your machine's clipboard.

  • (Optional) Consider adding your SSH key to your GitHub profile so you are not prompted for credentials after every commit. To add your public SSH key to GitHub:

    • Click on your user image in the top-right of the GitHub window.

    • Select Settings.

    • On the left, click SSH and GPG keys, then New SSH key.

    • Paste your public SSH key in the box, provide a title, and save by clicking Add SSH key.

  • Now, back inside Atom, open the Command Palette. On Mac, press shift+command+p. In Windows/Linux, press control+shift+p.

  • Type git clone and press enter.

  • Paste the SSH address in the resulting window. You may also modify the location of the local folder.

  • Wait for the repository to clone.

  • Now you can see the files have populated into the folder you specified. These files represent a local copy, to which you will make changes.

Git Setup

  • First, use the command line to see if Git is installed. (Windows users may check their list of currently installed programs.)

    git --version
    • To install or update Git using your package manager:

      • CentOS, RedHat:

        sudo yum install git
        sudo yum update git
      • Debian, Ubuntu:

        sudo apt-get install git
        sudo apt-get update git
      • MacOS, use Homebrew:

        /usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"
        brew install git
        brew upgrade git
      • Windows: download Git for Windows and install it.

  • Set up Git with your access credentials to GitHub with the following commands:

    git config --global "your_username"
    git config --global "[email protected]"
    • You can review the information that you entered during set-up: git config --global --list


Working from Branches

At this point, you likely either want to create a new branch and add your contributions there or checkout a different branch you or someone else has already created. Each of these option is shown next. Unless you have reason otherwise you should choose one of these, rather than attempting to work from the master branch.

Create a New Branch

  1. Create a Git branch by clicking on the master button on the bottom-right of the Atom window. Name the branch something descriptive.

Checkout an Existing Branch

We need the name of the remote branch we wish to work on

  1. The GitHub project page displays a droplist with the name of available branches.

  2. Open the Atom command palette and search for git checkout checkout (requires Git checkout plugin having been installed).

    You may also open the checkout dialog directly using the hotkeys ctrl+alt+shift+c (or ctrl+opt+shift+c on Mac).

    • The checkout dialog is a list of branches to checkout or switch to. Using the arrow keys, highlight the custom entry and hit enter. Now type in the name of the remote branch name. You may find this in GitHub.

    • A notice will display if the checkout was successful. You may then switch between branches using the branch selector in the bottom-right toolbar.

📝 Note: If checking out a remote branch within Atom using the 'git checkout' plugin, ensure you read the directions carefully. Do not click on the 'custom' branch, use the arrow keys and press Enter, then supply the name of the remote branch you wish to checkout. Lastly, if you make a mistake while typing in the branch name, you will end up creating a new branch with the typo. Be sure to type the branch name correctly.

Command Line Branching

Rather than using the checkout dialogs in Atom, you may also list and checkout remote branches using the Git command line tools.

List remote branches:

$ git branch -r
origin/HEAD -> origin/master

Checkout a remote branch from the command line. git checkout --track origin/wendi-5 after which you may select the branch within Atom.


Once you clone a repository, it opens automatically in Atom. However, if you need to open the repository again, click on FileAdd Project Folder and select your repository. Select files from the directory tree on the right of the Atom screen. Make your edits and save your changes.

GitHub GUI Editing

You do not have to use Atom for editing. You can click the edit button in GitHub, edit directly from the webpage, and preview before committing. Note that only repository owners can edit this way - otherwise, you can create a branch and edit your branch.


  • You can open the Git window by pressing ^+(. Here you view unstaged and staged changes.

    • Unstaged means the files are not ready to be committed.

    • Staged means the files are ready to be committed.

  • Stage all of the files that you'd like to commit to the branch. This is accomplished by selecting the + symbol next to each file. Alternatively, on the top-right of the Git window, there is a Stage All button.


  • Commit your changes either within the Git window or by entering git commit in Atom's command palette. Enter a commit message that helps you and others understand what changes were made. Then click Commit.


  • Push changes to GitHub by typing git push in the command palette, or using Atom's up/down Git arrows located on the bottom-right of the window.

📝 Note: If you get an error after typing git push that says "No upstream branch" open your terminal and navigate to the local copy of the repository. Then type git push --set-upstream origin name_of_branch. From then on you should be able to use the command palette to type git push or use the up/down arrows on the bottom-right of the window.


At this time, GitHub does not natively support submissions for merge requests via the command line.

You can create a merge request using the GitHub GUI.

  • When viewing the repository on the GitHub website, click the button New pull request.

  • Select the "base" branch. This will be master. Then select the "compare" branch: add-readme.

  • Now click Create pull request.