github-backup is a simple tool you run in a git repository you cloned from GitHub. It backs up everything GitHub publishes about the repository, including branches, tags, other forks, issues, comments, wikis, milestones, pull requests, watchers, and stars.


Several distributions include packages of github-backup, for example on Debian and Debian derived distributions it can easily be installed with sudo apt-get install github-backup.

To build it from source, first install Haskell's stack tool. For example, on a Debian system:

sudo apt-get install haskell-stack

Then to build and install github-backup:

git clone
cd github-backup
stack install

There is also a Makefile, which uses cabal to build, and installs a man page, bash completion file, etc. This is recommended for use when making packages of github-backup.


Run github-backup with no parameters, inside a git repository cloned from GitHub to back up that repository.

Or, if you have a GitHub account, run github-backup username to clone and back up your account's repositories, as well as the repositories you're watching and have starred.

Why backup GitHub repositories

There are a couple of reasons to want to back this stuff up:

  • In case something happens to GitHub. (Some may argue that this has already happened.) More generally because keeping your data in the cloud and relying on the cloud to back it up is foolish.

  • In case someone takes down a repository that you were interested in. If you run github-backup with your username, it will back up all the repositories you have watched and starred.

  • So you can keep working on your repository while on a plane, or on a remote beach or mountaintop. Just like Linus intended.

What to expect

Each time you run github-backup, it will find any new forks on GitHub. It will add remotes to your repository for the forks, using names like github_torvalds_subsurface. It will fetch from every fork.

It downloads metadata from each fork. This is stored into a branch named "github". Each fork gets a directory in there, like torvalds_subsurface. Inside the directory there will be some files, like torvalds_subsurface/watchers. There may be further directories, like for comments: torvalds_subsurface/comments/1.

You can follow the commits to the github branch to see what information changed on GitHub over time.

The format of the files in the github branch is currently Haskell serialized data types. This is plain text, and readable, if you squint.


github-backup is repository-focused. It does not try to back up other information from GitHub. In particular, social network stuff, like users who are following you, is not backed up.

github-backup does not log into GitHub, so it cannot backup private repositories.

Notes added to commits and lines of code don't get backed up yet. There is only recently API support for this.

The labels that can be added to issues and milestones are not backed up. Neither are the hooks. They could be, but don't seem important enough for the extra work involved. Yell if you need them.

github-backup re-downloads all issues, comments, and so on each time it's run. This may be slow if your repo has a lot of them, or even if it just has a lot of forks.

Bear in mind that this uses the GitHub API; don't run it every 5 minutes. GitHub rate limits the API to some small number of requests per hour when used without authentication. To avoid this limit, you can set the environment variable GITHUB_OAUTH_TOKEN to a token obtained from and it will log in when making (most) API requests.

Anyway, github-backup does do an incremental backup, picking up where it left off, so will complete the backup eventually even if it's rate limited.


github-backup was written by Joey Hess

It is made possible thanks to: