If you don’t already know, git is a version control system. It’s a tool that people use to track changes made to files over time. Imagine it like a time machine for your files, where you can go back and see what the files looked like at any point in the past. It’s chiefly used for software projects, but it can be used for anything that is comprised of files and benefits from collaborative work.

Here’s a simple analogy: Think of git as a very advanced “track changes” feature, like the one you might find in a word processor, but, instead of just tracking changes to one document, git can track changes to entire projects, which can include many different files and directories.

Once you have your own VPS or other Internet-available server, you can start hosting your own git repositories. The goal of this tutorial is for you to go from

git clone


git clone

so you can cultivate your own homegrown, grass-fed code, rather than relying on a centralised proprietary service like GitHub.

Installing git

You most likely already have it installed on your server, but if not, run:

We don't need any additional software, git itself ships with everything needed to host a remote repository!

Creating a git user

To prevent exploiting your system, services should usually be run under another user that can only affect the relevant parts of the server. Let’s create a user for git.

useradd -m git -d /var/git -s /bin/bash

The git user’s home directory will be /var/git and we also set the default user shell as bash instead of sh for ease when on the command line.

Become the git user and create the directory

If you're logged in to your server as root and have git installed, you can become the git user by executing

su -l git

The -l option should put us in git’s home directory, but you can cd /var/git otherwise.

Create the repo

Now you can create the bare repository with

git init --bare my-repo.git

By convention, bare repository names end with “.git”. A bare repository is just one without the file index, i.e. the familiar browseable file structure. Repeat the above command for any other repositories you want to host.

Syncing local repositories

Set up SSH login for the git user

Git uses SSH to connect to a server, and we will definitely want to use an SSH key pair that we authorized. This is not only most secure, but also easiest since we don’t need to put in our password whenever we pull or push.

There is a brief article on setting up SSH keys. We need to do exactly that, but for the git user, instead of the default root user. Note that if you want to upload your SSH key directly to the git user as in that tutorial, remember to run passwd git to give the git user a password so you can log in.

If you’ve already set up password-less SSH log-ins for root (and disabled SSH password authentication), you can run the following commands as root, which will copy over your authorized key to the git user as well.

mkdir /var/git/.ssh	# Create the required directory.
cp ~/.ssh/authorized_keys /var/git/.ssh/	# Copy over the authorized key.
chown git:git -R /var/git/.ssh	# Make the created directory and contents to be owned by the git user.

Syncing a new repository with your server

Now that we’ve set that up, we can push a repository we have on our computer to that newly created bare repo. First, on our local computer, we run a command like this:

git remote add origin

Note some of the things you will change:

  •, obviously is a stand-in for your domain name.
  • my-repo.git is the name of the repository, but it is also the relative location of it. Since it is in the git user’s home directory, we don’t need anything else, but if you decide to put a git repository elsewhere—like in /var/www/git/stuff.git, you can provide that absolute file location instead.
  • origin is a unique name for your remote repository. Since “origin” is probably already used if you are using Github or another service, you’ll want to change this to whatever you want. Could be myserver or vps or own, as long as it is unique.

Once you run that command successfully to add a new remote repository, and also assuming you change origin to let’s say the more unique personal, you can push your local git server as expected:

git push personal master

That’s all a git server is! Very simple.

If you want a minimalist front-end to a git server, follow our guide on cgit. If you want a large and user-friendly Github-like site for your git projects, follow our guide on Gitea!


  • Martin Chrzanowski – website, donate
  • Edits and fixes by Luke.
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