Coding Developer in front of a laptop with Git related stickers.

GitHub Private Repositories: Free After All

2019 starts off with some great news. GitHub, one of the most popular online hosting services for version control systems – in particular Git – allows users to create unlimited private repositories. Before this recent change, free accounts on the site could only create limited amounts of public repositories. Private repositories required a monthly subscription. Given GitHub’s market share, chances are that many developers will use the service to securely store their private projects on a remote server without exposing them to the public now.

After GitHub’s acquisition by Microsoft in June 2018, many developers were unsure about the site’s future. Some users felt the need to move to other hosting sites and GitLab, one of the main competitors, claimed via Twitter to have had a peak of up to ten times the regular imported projects in the time frame during the acquisition. Many developers, especially those in competition with Microsoft, stated their concerns that GitHub’s core principle were at risk.

GitHubs Pricing for Individuals
GitHubs Pricing for Individuals. Free Accounts now come with unlimited private repositories.

What does this mean for you?

All repositories can now be configured to be private without paying the $7 monthly fee. However, enterprise plans still exist and the amount of collaborators per repository is still limited to three at a time. To overcome this limitation a Pro- or Enterprise Subscription is still required.

While not explicitly stated on their pricing page, the hosting site also enforces a size quota. If your projects exceed to maximum space of 1GB you will receive a friendly reminder to remove large assets and unused files.

One thing to keep in mind however is that free does not mean freedom. The “free” plan of GitHub implies a freedom of charge. They will not ask you to pay money in any shape or form. But most free things still come at a cost. GitHub is a closed system and should be treated as one. You should be aware of possible implications of handing over valuable source code and other intellectual properties and not assume that a “private” repository is visible to your eyes only. With that in mind, you might want to check out some of the free software I have showcased on this blog earlier.

What are the alternatives?

Git is not only running on GitHub. If you happen to be the only developer on a project the local repository might be sufficient, given that you create backups on a regular basis. 

Since Git is open source, it is also possible to self-host your very own remote server. This however requires you to buy and maintain required hardware. Gogs.io is a lightweight, open source and cross platform software which allows you to run a Git instances. In fact, it is so lightweight that Gogs instances can run on a cheap Raspberry Pis or NAS.

If you are looking for a GitHub-like hosting service, this list might give you some pointers

  • GitLab has been the biggest competitor for GitHub in the past. Coming with all the benefits like CI pipes, public and private repositories, tools for auditing and much more. Their $4 plan comes with huge improvements like merge approvals, making it attractive for small and not-so-small teams alike.
  • BitBucket my personal favorite and go-to Git provider of the past. Unlimited repositories of each type, fair pricing and lots of features included in the free plan have convinced me time and time again.
  • SourceForge is a mature and stable open source community. While being used primary as VCS host, it comes with lots of additional and unique features. These include free statistics, automated browser and platform recognition, linking issues to tickets, forums, blogs, mailing lists and much more. SourceForge is also unique, as it understands itself to be an open community.

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