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Want a private GitHub repository? It comes with a catch

Want a private GitHub repo? You can now create one with a basic account, but the feature set is somewhat limited.

Until now, the most compelling reason to opt into the GitHub Pro paid product was because it enabled you to create a private repository. Developers could use GitHub's free offering -- with a comprehensive suite of tools, including branch protection rules, pull requests and project metrics -- but every line of committed code was publicly accessible. Now, that's all going to change.

As of Jan. 7, 2019, a developer can create a private GitHub repository in the free tier. Any software developers who want to try something new, experiment with a new language or start a project they don't want their current employer to know about will no longer have the associated source code be part of the public domain.

Both GitLab and Atlassian's Bitbucket offerings -- two of GitHub's largest competitors -- provide this freemium feature to their free-tier users. In some respects, GitHub is simply catching up with the competition.

What a private GitHub repository means

The ability to create a private GitHub repository for free is not a drastic change, but it is a welcome one.

As with any change, one tends to worry about the law of unintended consequences. With GitHub, the public and open nature of the repositories made it a household name. The ability to find code written by fellow developers who previously solved your problem is one of GitHub's biggest contributions to the programming community. Let's hope the option to create private repositories won't truncate the amount of code developers share openly and publicly with each other.

Private GitHub repository
The ability to create a private GitHub repository now exists for the free tier.

Free private GitHub repositories have some restrictions placed upon them. One is that no more than three contributors can work on a private GitHub repository. That's fine for individual development or for someone who works on a small project where input from a few peers is required. But for private GitHub repos with more than three contributors, you'll need to open your wallet and pay the monthly fee for the GitHub Pro offering.

Maximum GitHub contributors
Free private GitHub repos are limited to three contributors.

Other features pruned from free public GitHub repositories include the ability to apply branch protection rules, the integration of GitHub Pages and the ability to create a project wiki. To enable these features, a project either needs to be made public or a user needs to upgrade to a GitHub Pro account.

Learn to master distributed version control with Git

New to Git and distributed version control? Here are some Git and GitHub tutorials designed to help you master the popular source code versioning tool:

GitHub Pro pricing

Currently, GitHub Pro costs $7 a month on an individual basis. This option allows for more than three contributors, and it includes built-in code review tools that notify fellow contributors when there's a pull request.

Additionally, there are two other GitHub paid offerings: GitHub Team and GitHub Enterprise. These subscriptions come with extended features and are available for $9 and $21 per month, respectively.

Pruned private repo features
Public repo features are not available for free private GitHub repositories.

In the competitive world of source code management services, GitHub has eliminated one of the primary reasons that developers historically made Bitbucket or GitLab their first choice for a source code hosting service. The ability to create a private GitHub repository for free is not a drastic change, but it is a welcome one.

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