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backup a github user or organization

Project description

PyPI Python Versions

The package can be used to backup an entire Github organization, repository or user account, including starred repos, issues and wikis in the most appropriate format (clones for wikis, json files for issues).


  • GIT 1.9+

  • Python


Using PIP via PyPI:

pip install github-backup

Using PIP via Github (more likely the latest version):

pip install git+

Install note for python newcomers:

Python scripts are unlikely to be included in your $PATH by default, this means it cannot be run directly in terminal with $ github-backup ..., you can either add python’s install path to your environments $PATH or call the script directly e.g. using $ ~/.local/bin/github-backup.*

Basic Help

Show the CLI help output:

github-backup -h

CLI Help output:

github-backup [-h] [-u USERNAME] [-p PASSWORD] [-t TOKEN_CLASSIC]
              [-f TOKEN_FINE] [--as-app] [-o OUTPUT_DIRECTORY]
              [-l LOG_LEVEL] [-i] [--starred] [--all-starred]
              [--watched] [--followers] [--following] [--all] [--issues]
              [--issue-comments] [--issue-events] [--pulls]
              [--pull-comments] [--pull-commits] [--pull-details]
              [--labels] [--hooks] [--milestones] [--repositories]
              [--bare] [--lfs] [--wikis] [--gists] [--starred-gists]
              [--skip-archived] [--skip-existing] [-L [LANGUAGES ...]]
              [-N NAME_REGEX] [-H GITHUB_HOST] [-O] [-R REPOSITORY]
              [-P] [-F] [--prefer-ssh] [-v]
              [--keychain-name OSX_KEYCHAIN_ITEM_NAME]
              [--keychain-account OSX_KEYCHAIN_ITEM_ACCOUNT]
              [--releases] [--latest-releases NUMBER_OF_LATEST_RELEASES]
              [--skip-prerelease] [--assets]
              [--exclude [REPOSITORY [REPOSITORY ...]]
              [--throttle-limit THROTTLE_LIMIT] [--throttle-pause THROTTLE_PAUSE]

Backup a github account

positional arguments:
  USER                  github username

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -u USERNAME, --username USERNAME
                        username for basic auth
  -p PASSWORD, --password PASSWORD
                        password for basic auth. If a username is given but
                        not a password, the password will be prompted for.
  -f TOKEN_FINE, --token-fine TOKEN_FINE
                        fine-grained personal access token or path to token
                        personal access, OAuth, or JSON Web token, or path to
                        token (file://...)
  --as-app              authenticate as github app instead of as a user.
                        directory at which to backup the repositories
  -l LOG_LEVEL, --log-level LOG_LEVEL
                        log level to use (default: info, possible levels:
                        debug, info, warning, error, critical)
  -i, --incremental     incremental backup
  --starred             include JSON output of starred repositories in backup
  --all-starred         include starred repositories in backup [*]
  --watched             include JSON output of watched repositories in backup
  --followers           include JSON output of followers in backup
  --following           include JSON output of following users in backup
  --all                 include everything in backup (not including [*])
  --issues              include issues in backup
  --issue-comments      include issue comments in backup
  --issue-events        include issue events in backup
  --pulls               include pull requests in backup
  --pull-comments       include pull request review comments in backup
  --pull-commits        include pull request commits in backup
  --pull-details        include more pull request details in backup [*]
  --labels              include labels in backup
  --hooks               include hooks in backup (works only when
  --milestones          include milestones in backup
  --repositories        include repository clone in backup
  --bare                clone bare repositories
  --lfs                 clone LFS repositories (requires Git LFS to be
                        installed, [*]
  --wikis               include wiki clone in backup
  --gists               include gists in backup [*]
  --starred-gists       include starred gists in backup [*]
  --skip-existing       skip project if a backup directory exists
                        only allow these languages
  -N NAME_REGEX, --name-regex NAME_REGEX
                        python regex to match names against
  -H GITHUB_HOST, --github-host GITHUB_HOST
                        GitHub Enterprise hostname
  -O, --organization    whether or not this is an organization user
                        name of repository to limit backup to
  -P, --private         include private repositories [*]
  -F, --fork            include forked repositories [*]
  --prefer-ssh          Clone repositories using SSH instead of HTTPS
  -v, --version         show program's version number and exit
  --keychain-name OSX_KEYCHAIN_ITEM_NAME
                        OSX ONLY: name field of password item in OSX keychain
                        that holds the personal access or OAuth token
  --keychain-account OSX_KEYCHAIN_ITEM_ACCOUNT
                        OSX ONLY: account field of password item in OSX
                        keychain that holds the personal access or OAuth token
  --releases            include release information, not including assets or
  --latest-releases NUMBER_OF_LATEST_RELEASES
                        include certain number of the latest releases;
                        only applies if including releases
  --skip-prerelease     skip prerelease and draft versions; only applies if including releases
  --assets              include assets alongside release information; only
                        applies if including releases
  --exclude [REPOSITORY [REPOSITORY ...]]
                        names of repositories to exclude from backup.
  --throttle-limit THROTTLE_LIMIT
                        start throttling of GitHub API requests after this
                        amount of API requests remain
  --throttle-pause THROTTLE_PAUSE
                        wait this amount of seconds when API request
                        throttling is active (default: 30.0, requires
                        --throttle-limit to be set)

Usage Details


Password-based authentication will fail if you have two-factor authentication enabled, and will be deprecated by 2023 EOY.

--username is used for basic password authentication and separate from the positional argument USER, which specifies the user account you wish to back up.

Classic tokens are slightly less secure as they provide very coarse-grained permissions.

If you need authentication for long-running backups (e.g. for a cron job) it is recommended to use fine-grained personal access token -f TOKEN_FINE.

Fine Tokens

You can “generate new token”, choosing the repository scope by selecting specific repos or all repos. On Github this is under Settings -> Developer Settings -> Personal access tokens -> Fine-grained Tokens

Customise the permissions for your use case, but for a personal account full backup you’ll need to enable the following permissions:

User permissions: Read access to followers, starring, and watching.

Repository permissions: Read access to code, commit statuses, issues, metadata, pages, pull requests, and repository hooks.

Prefer SSH

If cloning repos is enabled with --repositories, --all-starred, --wikis, --gists, --starred-gists using the --prefer-ssh argument will use ssh for cloning the git repos, but all other connections will still use their own protocol, e.g. API requests for issues uses HTTPS.

To clone with SSH, you’ll need SSH authentication setup as usual with Github, e.g. via SSH public and private keys.

Using the Keychain on Mac OSX

Note: On Mac OSX the token can be stored securely in the user’s keychain. To do this:

  1. Open Keychain from “Applications -> Utilities -> Keychain Access”

  2. Add a new password item using “File -> New Password Item”

  3. Enter a name in the “Keychain Item Name” box. You must provide this name to github-backup using the –keychain-name argument.

  4. Enter an account name in the “Account Name” box, enter your Github username as set above. You must provide this name to github-backup using the –keychain-account argument.

  5. Enter your Github personal access token in the “Password” box

Note: When you run github-backup, you will be asked whether you want to allow “security” to use your confidential information stored in your keychain. You have two options:

  1. Allow: In this case you will need to click “Allow” each time you run github-backup

  2. Always Allow: In this case, you will not be asked for permission when you run github-backup in future. This is less secure, but is required if you want to schedule github-backup to run automatically

Github Rate-limit and Throttling

“github-backup” will automatically throttle itself based on feedback from the Github API.

Their API is usually rate-limited to 5000 calls per hour. The API will ask github-backup to pause until a specific time when the limit is reset again (at the start of the next hour). This continues until the backup is complete.

During a large backup, such as --all-starred, and on a fast connection this can result in (~20 min) pauses with bursts of API calls periodically maxing out the API limit. If this is not suitable it has been observed under real-world conditions that overriding the throttle with --throttle-limit 5000 --throttle-pause 0.6 provides a smooth rate across the hour, although a --throttle-pause 0.72 (3600 seconds [1 hour] / 5000 limit) is theoretically safer to prevent large rate-limit pauses.

About Git LFS

When you use the --lfs option, you will need to make sure you have Git LFS installed.

Instructions on how to do this can be found on

Gotchas / Known-issues

All is not everything

The --all argument does not include; cloning private repos (-P, --private), cloning forks (-F, --fork) cloning starred repositories (--all-starred), --pull-details, cloning LFS repositories (--lfs), cloning gists (--starred-gists) or cloning starred gist repos (--starred-gists). See examples for more.

Cloning all starred size

Using the --all-starred argument to clone all starred repositories may use a large amount of storage space, especially if --all or more arguments are used. e.g. commonly starred repos can have tens of thousands of issues, many large assets and the repo itself etc. Consider just storing links to starred repos in JSON format with --starred.

Incremental Backup

Using (-i, --incremental) will only request new data from the API since the last run (successful or not). e.g. only request issues from the API since the last run.

This means any blocking errors on previous runs can cause a large amount of missing data in backups.

Known blocking errors

Some errors will block the backup run by exiting the script. e.g. receiving a 403 Forbidden error from the Github API.

If the incremental argument is used, this will result in the next backup only requesting API data since the last blocked/failed run. Potentially causing unexpected large amounts of missing data.

It’s therefore recommended to only use the incremental argument if the output/result is being actively monitored, or complimented with periodic full non-incremental runs, to avoid unexpected missing data in a regular backup runs.

  1. Starred public repo hooks blocking

    Since the --all argument includes --hooks, if you use --all and --all-starred together to clone a users starred public repositories, the backup will likely error and block the backup continuing.

    This is due to needing the correct permission for --hooks on public repos.

  2. Releases blocking

    A known --releases (required for --assets) error will sometimes block the backup.

    If you’re backing up a lot of repositories with releases e.g. an organisation or --all-starred. You may need to remove --releases (and therefore --assets) to complete a backup. Documented in issue 209.

“bare” is actually “mirror”

Using the bare clone argument (--bare) will actually call git’s clone --mirror command. There’s a subtle difference between bare and mirror clone.

From git docs “Compared to –bare, –mirror not only maps local branches of the source to local branches of the target, it maps all refs (including remote-tracking branches, notes etc.) and sets up a refspec configuration such that all these refs are overwritten by a git remote update in the target repository.”

Starred gists vs starred repo behaviour

The starred normal repo cloning (--all-starred) argument stores starred repos separately to the users own repositories. However, using --starred-gists will store starred gists within the same directory as the users own gists --gists. Also, all gist repo directory names are IDs not the gist’s name.

Skip existing on incomplete backups

The --skip-existing argument will skip a backup if the directory already exists, even if the backup in that directory failed (perhaps due to a blocking error). This may result in unexpected missing data in a regular backup.

Github Backup Examples

Backup all repositories, including private ones using a classic token:

github-backup WhiteHouse --token $ACCESS_TOKEN --organization --output-directory /tmp/white-house --repositories --private

Use a fine-grained access token to backup a single organization repository with everything else (wiki, pull requests, comments, issues etc):

# e.g.
github-backup $ORGANIZATION -P -f $FINE_ACCESS_TOKEN -o . --all -O -R $REPO

Quietly and incrementally backup useful Github user data (public and private repos with SSH) including; all issues, pulls, all public starred repos and gists (omitting “hooks”, “releases” and therefore “assets” to prevent blocking). Great for a cron job.


github-backup -f $FINE_ACCESS_TOKEN --prefer-ssh -o ~/github-backup/ -l error -P -i --all-starred --starred --watched --followers --following --issues --issue-comments --issue-events --pulls --pull-comments --pull-commits --labels --milestones --repositories --wikis --releases --assets --pull-details --gists --starred-gists $GH_USER

Debug an error/block or incomplete backup into a temporary directory. Omit “incremental” to fill a previous incomplete backup.


github-backup -f $FINE_ACCESS_TOKEN -o /tmp/github-backup/ -l debug -P --all-starred --starred --watched --followers --following --issues --issue-comments --issue-events --pulls --pull-comments --pull-commits --labels --milestones --repositories --wikis --releases --assets --pull-details --gists --starred-gists $GH_USER


This project is considered feature complete for the primary maintainer @josegonzalez. If you would like a bugfix or enhancement, pull requests are welcome. Feel free to contact the maintainer for consulting estimates if you’d like to sponsor the work instead.


A huge thanks to all the contibuters!



This project currently contains no unit tests. To run linting:

pip install flake8
flake8 --ignore=E501

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