In this post you will learn the differences between GitHub and DropBox / Google Drive. By the end you will:

  • Learn how GitHub differs from DropBox / Google Drive
  • Know why you should choose one over the other
  • Learn some basic tips for creating a good repo


  • Have read through my series on the basics of bash or have a general understanding of how to move around edit files in bash

Why Can’t I Just Use DropBox? Why do I Need Git/GitHub?

At this point, you might be wondering, “ok, if GitHub just adds cloud storage to git’s version control abilities why can’t I just use DropBox or Google Drive. What does the git/GitHub combo add that I couldn’t just get from these resources?

This is kinda like asking why doesn’t a surgeon use a knife instead of a scalpel. Sure a knife can do a lot of the job, but they are designed for different things. DropBox/Drive are general purpose storage tools (like a knife) while git is specifically designed for writing code. That being said, let’s highlight specific examples/reasons for both.

Reasons for Git

One of the most relatable example is, when you want to change code (and you are using DropBox/Drive) what do you do. My bet, is that you comment out the old code and create the new code (that way if something breaks you can always go back). But what if something doesn’t break right away. What if it takes a while to realize that this caused a problem. Are you just going to leave the old commented version in there for ever? If you do, then you won’t have very maintainable code because the amount of comments are quickly going to explode. In contrast, with git, you just save the version as a commit make the changes, and if ANYTHING goes wrong, undo that commit or rewind back to before the issue occured. You have peace of mind because you know you have every change that has ever happened to a file.

Additionally, while you do get some history for a file on DropBox/Drive, neither provides any information about what is different between the different versions. So you would need to remember what changes you personally made on April 23, 2022 at 4:00 PM compared the April 23, 2022 at 4:15 PM. There is obviously, no chance that you remember what was different. In contrast, with git you have all the information stored with a message for every commit made, and with a single command, you know exactly what files and lines were specifically changed.

Reasons for GitHub

DropBox/Drive have some mechanisms for multiple people editing a single file, but they don’t work on all file types. But the bigger issue is even if they did work for code files, having your code updated while you are trying to test things would be a horrible system. Instead with GitHub, you can work on changes without them affecting anyone else, and only once your changes work, then you can send them for everyone to review. When it comes to coding, this system is simply better.

GitHub is also extremely valuable for reproducible research. Unlike with DropBox/Drive, you can quickly and easily find code for a project just by going to GitHub. While you are there, you of course get all the benefits of git, so you know when things changed and for what reasons. Additionally, since anyone can easily find a project’s code, you don’t have that awkward dance of finding the corresponding author’s new email (because likely moved institutions) and asking for them to give you access (which can take forever for them to respond). In contrast, with GitHub you can simply go to their GitHub page and download the code. It doesn’t matter if they changed universities or if they you can’t reach them by email, it is all there. And if there are every any changes that can always git pull them down.

To be clear, I am not saying you should never use DropBox/Drive, they have their use cases (you might even use DropBox/Drive in conjunction with GitHub). I’m simply noting that, when it comes to code, git/GitHub were designed to handle this issues and are, by far, the clear best choice.

Git Repo Tips

Before I end the series, I want to leave you with one final tip. When I make a git repo, of course you will need a file to let people know what is inside the repo and how to use it properly. You typically want to include a general description of the project followed by a list of step you need to properly run the project. This might include creating virtual environments, downloading dependencies, etc. It might also contain relevent links, say to a website the code creates or the associated manuscript. On GitHub, markdown files are shown by default, so this will serve as the greeting to people visiting your repo.

In addition to the, I always make a file as well. In the file, I include all the development decisions. For example, why did I choose to work with this framework or that one? Why did I choose XX trials instead of another amount, etc. I also includes a bunch of links, so I can justify things in the future. Finally, I also will include a to do list, through development, so I have a list easily veiwable. I highly reccomend, you add both markdown files as well.

Series Recap

First of all, give yourself a pat on the back, you just learned how to use GitHub to collaborate with others and remotely store your coding projects. Combine that with the skills you learned in the previous post and you have a great foundation. Going through this series you learned the basics of git and GitHub. Now, you can effectively use git and GitHub to create reproducible science or start your journey as a software engineer. Also before you go, below is some extra practice to improve your skills and some advanced GitHub topics.

Advanced Topics in GitHub

We covered a lot in the series. Thankfully, this was the most important things you need for git and GitHub. However, there are a few advanced topics that I do think are useful to know, even though you might not use them a bunch:

  • Branch: A branch is a separate section of your code. This allows you try things out without affecting the main branch. You commonly with have a main branch, that always works, a dev branch for testing things and several feature branches each working on a specific feature. They are designed so as you are developing one new feature it does not mess up the main software tool.
  • Fork: A fork is when another person takes your existing project’s code and adds their own spin or flavor on top and then stores it on their own repo. However, unlike a clone, any git pushed changes that are made to the fork will not affect the origial project.
  • Pull Request: This is a mechanism to allow either other team members or other developers to update your code and merge it with the main branch even though they may not be associated with the project. They are requesting that you pull the changes they made into your repo. Not very common in Scientific programming but will definitely come up if you explore general software engineering.

Looking for more on the git/GitHub, you can check out this video from fireshipio. Also feel free to check out this cheatsheet.