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Setting Up a React Project from GitHub

This guide explains the details of setting up a React project from a GitHub repository using different methods.

Oct 20, 2020 • 8 Minute Read


GitHub is the most widely used hosting service provider for projects and files to manage data changes effectively. Apart from repository hosting, GitHub also offers many other services like gists, CI/CD integration, package publication, GitHub APIs, GitHub Pages, sponsors, and much more. The create-react-app tool automatically adds a .gitignore file that contains the names or patterns to ignore files/directories while pushing the code to the GitHub server. git and GitHub are widely used to develop software in a collaborative environment. This guide explains the details of setting up a React project from a GitHub repository using different methods.

Basic Terms and Command of Git

There is some important terminology related to git files and commands that are required to understand how git works:

  • git is a tool to manage the history of a project using git commands. The history details are stored in a hidden directory named .git.
  • repository is a conventional name of a git project hosted on the GitHub server.
  • .gitignore files contain the names (or patterns) of the files or directories that will neither be tracked nor uploaded to a GitHub repository by git.
  • remote is the command used to add SSH or HTTPS URL links of a GitHub repository.
  • origin is just a conventional name for a GitHub repository URL.
  • staged can be visualized as a bucket of files or directories whose changes are ready to be stored. The add command is used to stage changes.
  • commit is used to store the state of all the staged files with an optional message.
  • pull is used to copy the code from a remote branch in the current project.
  • push is used to move the committed changes to a remote repository.


Install the following tools to set up a GitHub project:


  • Putty is a tool for windows to generate SSH keys. Download and install the Putty tool as per your Windows OS type (32 or 64).

Cloning is the process of creating a local copy of a remote repository. A GitHub repository can be cloned using an SSH or HTML link. SSH is a protocol to securely communicate with a server using a handshake mechanism and public-key cryptography technique. A secure connection allows you to execute git instructions from the command line (terminal) without confirming GitHub credentials for every push/pull operation.

Follow the below steps to create an SSH public/private key pair and add the public key to the GitHub account:

1. Add GitHub account details

git maintains a global and local (per project) configuration file that is used to store required details like email, user-name, editing software, etc. Update the value of your GitHub account user name and email in the git configuration file:

      git config --global "Your name here"
git config --global "[email protected]"

2. Generate SSH keys

SSH keys can be generated using git bash or the Putty tool to generate keys. Follow the below steps to generate SSH keys on Mac or Linux:

If an SSH key already exists then you can use the existing key.

  • Generate SSH Keys using ssh-keygen:
      ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "[email protected]"

Press enter for every input to generate the key.

A passphrase can be used to provide an extra layer of security to SSH keys. If a passphrase if used then git will prompt to enter the passphrase before using the SSH key, although passphrase can be saved in ssh-agent like key-chain access to automatically provide the value of the passphrase.

  • Copy the generated SSH key:
      # Mac
pbcopy < ~/.ssh/

On Linux, get the content of the SSH key using the cat command:

      cat < ~/.ssh/

For Windows, the key can be generated using git bash (or putty), so open the git bash console and type:

      ssh-keygen -t rsa

Now copy the content of your_home_directory/.ssh/ file.

3. Add SSH to GitHub account

4. Clone Project

Use the git clone command to clone the project in the current directory, using an SSH link:

      git clone [email protected]:/UserName/RepoName.git

An SSH link of a GitHub repository can be only be retrieved via a logged-in GitHub account.

execute the clone command:

      git clone

Clone a Repository Using GitHub CLI

The GitHub CLI brings capabilities of GitHub web UI to the command line to perform operations like creating a pull request, track issues, fork a repository, etc. Use the auth command to authenticate the account and clone the project using the clone command:

      gh auth login
gh repo clone UserName/RepoName
  • The auth command can take a --web flag to authenticate using a browser. It can also accept authentication token using a --with-token flag.
      gh auth login --with-token < myGitHubToken.txt
  • The clone a command allows to omit the current user name and can work with the repository name associated with the logged-in user account:
      gh repo clone RepoName

Alternative Options to Set Up a Repository

There are two other official ways to set up a GitHub repository:

  1. Use the download option to get a compressed file of a codebase and uncompress it.
  2. Install the GitHub Desktop tool and choose the Open with GitHub Desktop option on a repository.

Run a Cloned React Project

The node_modules directory is not a part of a cloned repository and should be downloaded using the npm install command to download all the direct and transitive dependencies mentioned in the package.json file:

      # make sure that you are in the root directory of the project, use" pwd" or "cd" for windows
cd RepoName
npm install

It will take some time to download all the dependencies into a node_modules directory, and after the download completion, run the project:

      npm start


  • A node_modules directory can take up more than 200MB, so it should not be a part of a repository.
  • If node_modules is already a part of a repository then it can be removed using git rm -r --cached node_modules command, though make sure to commit and push the changes to the remote server first.


A GitHub repository can be cloned using git and gh tools. Use an SSH key to auto-authenticate. There are many free software available to manage git projects. Try out the GitHub CLI tools to bring all the features of the GitHub UI to terminal. Happy coding!