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Nick Taylor for OpenSauced

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Boost productivity with the GitHub CLI

The GitHub CLI is an indispensable tool as a project maintainer or contributor on GitHub. It can boost your productivity when getting things done.

Someone's head exploding like the exploding head emoji

The day my brain exploded was when I discovered (spoilers) that you could create a pull request using the GitHub CLI.

Let's get started!

Install the GitHub CLI

Head on over to the installation docs to get the GitHub CLI set up. There are installers for Linux, Windows, and macOS.

Log In to GitHub via the GitHub CLI

You're up and running but if you try to run any commands, you're going to be prompted to log in, so let's do that first.

Trying to execute a GitHub CLI command when not logged in results in the following message, To get started with GitHub CLI, please run: gh auth login<br>
Alternatively, populate the GH_TOKEN environment variable with a GitHub API authentication token.

To log in to GitHub via the GitHub CLI, run gh auth login.

GitHub CLI gh auth login command running

You'll be given two options for logging in. GitHub.com or GitHub Enterprise Server. In most cases, unless your company uses GitHub Enterprise Server, you'll select the default, GitHub.com.

Next, you'll be asked which protocol to log in with. The default is HTTPS, but I recommend SSH. To learn more about configuring GitHub with SSH, see Connecting to GitHub with SSH.

Login via SSH

The GitHub CLI prompting with the following, What is your preferred protocol for Git operations? Use arrows to move, type to filter HTTPS or SSH

Next, it will ask you to publish your public key to GitHub. This is safe to do and you can proceed.

GitHub CLI prompting to upload your public SSH key

It will prompt for a title for the key. Using the default value of "GitHub CLI" is fine.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a title for the SSH public key

Login via HTTPS

If you choose HTTPS, you'll be asked to authenticate Git with your GitHub credentials.

The GitHub CLI prompting to log in with your GitHub credentials

Press ENTER to continue.

Finishing Login Process

Next, you'll be prompted to log in via the browser or a token. To be honest, I've never used a token at this step. I always log in via the browser. If you have a token, go for it.

The GitHub CLI prompting to log in to GitHub via a browser or a token

You'll be given a code in the CLI that you need to copy (changed to some code in my screenshot) and then press ENTER to log in via the browser.

The GitHub CLI outputting a code you need to copy to finish the login process

Paste or type in the code and press the Continue button.

GitHub.com device activation screen

Next, you'll be asked to Authorize GitHub. Click the Authorize GitHub button.

The authorize GitHub CLI screen on github.com

At this point, depending on how you have the security of your account set up, you may be asked to log in via the GitHub mobile app.

Multifactor confirm access screen using GitHub mobile

Log in via the GitHub mobile app or other multifactor authentication methods you have set up.

At this point, you should be all set up.

GitHub.com confirmation screen that the device was connected successfully

And if you go back to the command line, you should see something similar to this.

GitHub CLI confirming that you are logged in

Useful Commands

Let's walk through a couple of commands I use every day, and then we'll check out some other useful ones that I use less frequently.

Reviewing a Pull Request

As a maintainer of a project, you will definitely be reviewing PRs (for external contributors or team members). Before we had the GitHub CLI, I always had to Google how to get someone's PR on my local machine with Git. I forgot all the time, so, at one point, I made a Git alias for it. The command looks like this, git fetch origin pull/pr_number/head:name_of_branch. So if I was going to review pull request 1234, the command would look something like this, git fetch origin pull/1234/head:pr-1234. You can call the branch whatever you want. I used to name it pr- with the number of the PR.

None of that is necessary these days. With the GitHub CLI, all you need to do is cd into the project directory in your terminal and then run gh co pr-number, e.g. gh co 2062

Here it is in action for a recent pull request I reviewed for the OpenSauced app repository.

Running the GitHub CLI checkout command, gh co 2062, to check out pull request 2062 from a repository

Creating a Pull Request

Before the GitHub CLI, I used to push my branch to GitHub, and then I would go to the repository's page on GitHub.com and create a pull request from there.

A repository's main page on github.com with a call to action to create a pull request from a branch pushed to github.com

Although that works, when I discovered that the GitHub CLI could do this, I was blown away. All you need to do is run gh pr create from the command line, assuming you're currently on the branch of the repo you want to associate with the pull request. You can provide additional arguments, e.g. gh pr create --draft or the shorter version gh pr create -d, but typically, when I'm creating a PR, I go through the steps in the CLI and continue the final step in the browser. It's a preference, so do what works best for you.

Here's me creating a new test PR.

Running the GitHub CLI create pull request command, gh pr create, to create a new pull request for a repository

Creating or Pushing a New Repository to GitHub

In the past, I always used to create a new repository from GitHub.com.

User menu on GitHub.com open with the menu item New Repository highlighted

I'm sure there is a way to create a repository on GitHub from the command line, but I never bothered to learn it, and now I don't really need to thanks to the GitHub CLI.

Create a Repository from Scratch

To create a repository from scratch, run gh repo create from the command line.

The GitHub CLI prompting user what to do with Create a new repository from scratch selected

Select Create a new repository on GitHub from scratch and press the ENTER key.

Next, you'll be prompted to name the repository, e.g. test.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a name for the repository

Next, choose the repository owner. If you're a part of one or more GitHub organizations, they will appear in the list. For our example, I will go with my own account, nickytonline as the repository owner.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a repository owner

Add a description for the repository, e.g. test or leave it blank. It's not required.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a description

Next, set the visibility of the repository. It can be public (default), private, or internal.

The GitHub CLI prompting for the visibility of the repository

Since this is a test repository, I'm going to set it to private.

The GitHub CLI running with privacy selected for the visibility

Next, you'll be asked to create a README file. Type y and press the ENTER key.

The GitHub CLI prompting to create a README

You'll be prompted to add a gitignore file. Type y and press the ENTER key.

The GitHub CLI prompting for to create a gitignore file

Next, choose the language that will best reflect the contents of the gitignore file. I do a lot of JavaScript, Node.js and TypeScript, so I'm going to choose Node.

Node selected as the language for the gitignore template

You'll be asked to add a license. Type y and press the ENTER key.

The GitHub CLI prompting to create a license

Choose the license that makes the most sense for the project you're creating. For the purposes of this blog post, I'll choose the MIT license.

MIT License selected in the GitHub CLI

A quick check will ask if you want to create the repository on GitHub. Type y and press the ENTER key to proceed.

The GitHub CLI summarizing all the selections made, prompting the user to create the repository on GitHub

Next, you'll be asked if you want to clone the repository locally.

The GitHub CLI asking the user if they want to clone the repository

Type y and press the ENTER key to proceed.

The new repository is on GitHub.com now and has been cloned on your machine.

Push an Existing Local Repository to GitHub

To push an existing local repository to GitHub, run gh repo create from the command line.

The GitHub CLI, with the Push an existing local repository to GitHub option selected

You'll be prompted for the path to the local repository. It defaults to ., the current directory. If, for some reason, you ran the command outside your local git repository folder, specify the folder to your repository.

The GitHub CLI prompting to enter the path to a local repository

Next, you'll be asked to name the repository. By default, it will use the name of the folder the local repository resides in, e.g. test. Change it if it makes sense to.

The GitHub CLI, prompting a user to enter a repository name

Next up, you're prompted to select a repository owner. By default, it's your user, e.g. nickytonlin, but you can select any organizations you're a part of as well.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a repository owner

Next, you'll be asked to add a description. You can add one or leave it blank. It's up to you.

The GitHub CLI prompting for a description for the repository

Next, you'll be asked to set the visibility of the repository. It can be public (default), private, or internal.

The GitHub CLI prompting to select the visibility of the repository

Next, you'll be asked if you want to set a remote. Press enter to say yes (the default)

The GitHub CLI prompting to add a remote for the repository

You'll be asked what the new remote should be called. Press the ENTER to accept the default name of origin. The GitHub CLI notifies you that the remote has been added, e.g. git@github.com:nickytonline/test.git

The GitHub CLI prompting to name the remote

And finally, you'll be asked if you want to push the commits from the current branch to the origin remote. Press the ENTER key to push the commits, and you're done!

The GitHub CLI pushing the current branch to the origin remote on GitHub

Conclusion

For myself, the GitHub CLI has become a game changer in my day-to-day workflow. I literally use it every day, well, work days. 😎

From creating a new repository, to pulling down a pull request (PR) to creating a PR and more, the GitHub CLI has become indispensable to me.

There is a whole other set of commands available in the GitHub CLI that I encourage you to check out and that, to be honest, even I should explore further.

I realize not everyone is comfortable with the command line, but I think that if you give the GitHub CLI a chance, you may grow to love it. As always, though, use the tools that make you the most productive.

And with that, stay saucy friends!

Top comments (14)

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0vortex profile image
TED Vortex (Teodor Eugen Duțulescu)

Very well written article! I would add 2 things tho:

  • having the gh cli installed and an isolated login (regardless if https or ssh) can simplify the process of contributing to open source projects or switching between work and hobby by a lot, making it in my opinion a default requirement for doing open source easily
  • the CLI really shines at the GitHub functionality that is not available (easily) in the git command line itself, like gh issue/pr/gist, you touched on them less than the repo create function (which is still faster from the UI?), IMHO they deserve more love (or an entire article for each? :D)
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nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor • Edited

Thanks for reading and the feedback Ted!

For the first point I thought it was kind of implied (but maybe I can be more explicit about it), but to your second point, there’s lots I still haven’t touched in terms of commands in the GitHub CLI. Maybe another article. 😎

For creating PRs, for me at least it’s pretty quick, but I also use it to automate creating PRs for certain things, like pulling in my content to my website. See

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fmerian profile image
flo merian

great write-up, @nickytonline, and perfect timing as GitHub just released a new extension, bringing Copilot to the CLI. you can ask it to do things like explain how a command works or suggest a command for a task you want to perform.

it's currently in public beta, and it's open source!

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sebastianccc profile image
Sebastian Christopher • Edited

It's called Warp 😉

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fmerian profile image
flo merian

also true! 😄

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nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor

Stephen Colbert saying Awesome Sauce

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ladykerr profile image
Kedasha

Such a great write up! Thanks for sharing! Now you an go a step further with Gh Copilot in the CLI 🚀learn how to use it!

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nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor

Jack Nicholson nodding yes

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Clayton Kehoe

Thanks for this - looks like I need to integrate the CLI into my workflow

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nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor

Captain America saluting

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Nick Taylor
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ladykerr profile image
Kedasha

💃🏼

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Alex Patterson

I liked using SSH until I had three accounts, now it seems painful.

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CHEF WILL

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