How to get started with GitHub Desktop for a seamless Git workflow

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If you need to work with GitHub, but don’t have time to get up to speed with the git command line, Jack Wallen believes the GitHub Desktop app is the perfect tool for the job.

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Git is hands down, the most widely-used version control system on the planet. With Git, you can contribute to and collaborate on projects of any type and size. But if you’re new to the world of Git, you might find using the command line a bit inefficient. You might have come from a very GUI-centric platform, where everything was point-and-click. Or you simply don’t have time to learn the ins and outs of the Git command line tools. 

SEE: The best programming languages to learn–and the worst (TechRepublic Premium)

If that sounds like you, then GitHub Desktop might be the ideal solution to have you up and running with a seamless Git workflow in no time.

GitHub Desktop is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows and makes it easy to:

  • Attribute commits
  • Checkout branches
  • View all open pull requests
  • Create or clone repositories
  • Upload local repositories

GitHub Desktop features a simple workflow that anyone can follow, a very simple (and helpful) onboarding wizard, syntax highlighting when viewing diffs for several languages, extensive editor features and shell integrations, expanded image diff support, and much more. The one thing GitHub Desktop cannot do (within the app itself) is open pull requests. When you go to open a pull request, it will open your default browser to the pull request action in your GitHub repository.

So, if you’re looking for a way to start your GitHub journey, this is the tool you need.

Let’s get GitHub Desktop installed and connect it with your GitHub account.

What you’ll need

I’ll be demonstrating the installation with Pop!_OS Linux, but the app can be installed on just about any Debian-based, RHEL-based, or SUSE-based Linux distribution. It can also be easily installed on macOS or Windows. To install on Linux, you’ll need an account with sudo privileges. You’ll also need either a GitHub or a GitHub Enterprise account.

How to install GitHub Desktop

I’m going to demonstrate installing GitHub Desktop on Pop!_OS Linux. Installing the tool on macOS and Windows is as simple as downloading and running the installer for either Windows or macOS. For Linux, it requires a few extra steps. Here they are for Debian and Ubuntu-based distributions.

First, add the necessary GPG key with the command:

wget -qO - https://packagecloud.io/shiftkey/desktop/gpgkey | sudo tee /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/shiftkey-desktop.asc > /dev/null

Next, create a new repository entry with the command:

sudo sh -c 'echo "deb [arch=amd64] https://packagecloud.io/shiftkey/desktop/any/ any main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/packagecloud-shiftkey-desktop.list'

Update apt with:

sudo apt-get update

Finally, install GitHub desktop with:

sudo apt install github-desktop -y

For RHEL-based distributions (such as Fedora, AlmaLinux, and Rocky Linux), the steps are:

Install the GPG key:

sudo rpm --import https://packagecloud.io/shiftkey/desktop/gpgkey

Add the necessary repository information:

sudo sh -c 'echo -e "[shiftkey]nname=GitHub Desktopnbaseurl=https://packagecloud.io/shiftkey/desktop/el/7/$basearchnenabled=1ngpgcheck=0nrepo_gpgcheck=1ngpgkey=https://packagecloud.io/shiftkey/desktop/gpgkey" > /etc/yum.repos.d/shiftkey-desktop.repo'

Install GitHub Desktop with one of the following commands (depending on the package manager you use):

sudo yum install github-desktop -y
sudo dnf install github-desktop -y

How to get started with GitHub Desktop

Upon successful installation, launch GitHub Desktop. The first window (Figure A) required you either sign into GitHub or GitHub Enterprise.

Figure A

githubdesktopa.jpg

Your first task is to sign in with your GitHub account.

Clicking either button will redirect you to your web browser. Make sure you’re signed in to your GitHub account and then, when prompted, authorize the desktop app for use (Figure B).

Figure B

githubdesktopb.jpg

Authorizing GitHub Desktop for use with your GitHub account.

You will then be prompted to confirm access to the account. Once you’ve taken care of that, you will then need to allow the github.com site to open x-github-desktop-dev-auth link (Linux only). For this, all you should have to do is click Choose Application and then click Open Link (Figure C).

Figure C

githubdesktopf.jpg

Make sure to click the check box for Always use this application to open x-github-desktop-dev-auth link.

 Once you’ve taken care of that, you should find yourself back at the GitHub Desktop application (Figure D). 

Figure D

githubdesktopg.jpg

GitHub Desktop is installed and ready for configuration.

Walk through the wizard until you land on the GitHub “let’s get started” window (Figure E), where you’ll find a very well-designed introductory tutorial. 

Figure E

githubdesktoph.jpg

The GitHub Let’s Get Started window makes it very easy for you to get up to speed with the tool.

Click Create a tutorial repository and the app will open to the main window (Figure F). Follow the blue arrow prompts that walk you through installing a text editor (which probably won’t be needed, as you should already have one), creating a new branch, editing a file, making a commit, publishing to GitHub, and opening a pull request. After you’ve stepped through that onboarding, you will be ready to start working with GitHub, via a very well-designed and user-friendly GUI.

Figure F

githubdesktopi.jpg

The GitHub Desktop repository tutorial is a great place to start for new users.

And that’s how you get started with the GitHub Desktop application. For anyone who needs to work with GitHub, but doesn’t want to deal with the git command line, this is the tool you need. GitHub Desktop makes working with GitHub easy enough for any user of any skill level.

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