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These are (draft) general guidelines for Biopython development using git. We’re still working on the finer details etc.

This document is meant as an outline of the way Biopython is developed. It should include all essential technical information as well as typical procedures and usage scenarios. It should be helpful for core developers, potential code contributors, testers and everybody interested in Biopython code.

This version is an unofficial draft and is subject to change.


If you just want to grab the latest (not yet officially released) Biopython from our repository, see our source code page. This page is about actually using git for tracking changes.

If you have found a problem with Biopython, and think you know how to fix it, then we suggest following the simple route of filing a bug and describe your fix. Ideally, you would upload a patch file showing the differences between the latest version of Biopython (from our repository) and your modified version. Working with the command line tools diff and patch is a very useful skill to have, and is almost a precursor to working with a version control system.

You shouldn’t go to the trouble of creating your own git fork unless you are intending to make more than a simple one off contribution.


This section describes technical introduction into git usage including required software and integration with Github. If you want to start contributing to Biopython, you definitely need to install git and learn how to obtain a branch of Biopython. If you want to share your changes easily with others, you should also sign up for a Github account and read the corresponding section of the manual. Finally, if you are engaged in one of the collaborations on experimental Biopython modules, you should look also into code review and branch merging.

Installing Git

You will need to install Git on your computer. Git is available for all major operating systems. Please use the appropriate installation method as described below.


Git is now packaged in all major Linux distributions, you should find it in your package manager.


You can install Git from the git-core package. e.g.,

sudo apt-get install git-core

You’ll probably also want to install the following packages: gitk, git-gui, and git-doc


git is also packaged in rpm-based linux distributions.

yum install gitk

should do the trick for you in any recent fedora/mandriva or derivatives

Mac OS X

Download the .dmg disk image from http://code.google.com/p/git-osx-installer/


Download the official installers from Windows installers

Testing your git installation

If your installation succeeded, you should be able to run

git --help

in a console window to obtain information on git usage. If this fails, you should refer to git documentation for troubleshooting.

Creating a GitHub account (Optional)

Once you have Git installed on your machine, you can obtain the code and start developing. Since the code is hosted at GitHub, however, you may wish to take advantage of the site’s offered features by signing up for a GitHub account. While a GitHub account is completely optional and not required for obtaining the Biopython code or participating in development, a GitHub account will enable all other Biopython developers to track (and review) your changes to the code base, and will help you track other developers’ contributions. This fosters a social, collaborative environment for the Biopython community.

If you don’t already have a GitHub account, you can create one here. Once you have created your account, upload an SSH public key by clicking on ‘SSH and GPG keys’ after logging in. For more information on generating and uploading an SSH public key, see this GitHub guide.

Working with the source code

In order to start working with the Biopython source code, you need to obtain a local clone of our git repository. In git, this means you will in fact obtain a complete clone of our git repository along with the full version history. Thanks to compression, this is not much bigger than a single copy of the tree, but you need to accept a small overhead in terms of disk space.

There are, roughly speaking, two ways of getting the source code tree onto your machine: by simply “cloning” the repository, or by “forking” the repository on GitHub. They’re not that different, in fact both will result in a directory on your machine containing a full copy of the repository. However, if you have a GitHub account, you can make your repository a public branch of the project. If you do so, other people will be able to easily review your code, make their own branches from it or merge it back to the trunk.

Using branches on Github is the preferred way to work on new features for Biopython, so it’s useful to learn it and use it even if you think your changes are not for immediate inclusion into the main trunk of Biopython. But even if you decide not to use github, you can always change this later (using the .git/config file in your branch.) For simplicity, we describe these two possibilities separately.

Cloning Biopython directly

Getting a copy of the repository (called “cloning” in Git terminology) without GitHub account is very simple:

git clone https://github.com/biopython/biopython.git
cd biopython

This command creates a local copy of the entire Biopython repository on your machine (your own personal copy of the official repository with its complete history). You can now make local changes and commit them to this local copy (although we advise you to use named branches for this, and keep the master branch in sync with the official Biopython code).

If you want other people to see your changes, however, you must publish your repository to a public server yourself (e.g. on GitHub).

Forking Biopython with your GitHub account

If you are logged in to GitHub, you can go to the Biopython repository page:


and click on a button named ‘Fork’. This will create a fork (basically a copy) of the official Biopython repository, publicly viewable on GitHub, but listed under your personal account. It should be visible under a URL that looks like this:


Since your new Biopython repository is publicly visible, it’s considered good practice to change the description and homepage fields to something meaningful (i.e. different from the ones copied from the official repository).

If you haven’t done so already, setup an SSH key and upload it to github for authentication.

Now, assuming that you have git installed on your computer, execute the following commands locally on your machine. This “url” is given on the GitHub page for your repository (if you are logged in):

git clone git@github.com:yourusername/biopython.git
cd biopython

Where yourusername, not surprisingly, stands for your GitHub username. You have just created a local copy of the Biopython repository on your machine.

You may want to also link your branch with the official distribution (see below on how to keep your copy in sync):

git remote add upstream https://github.com/biopython/biopython.git

To add additional contributors to your repository on GitHub (i.e. people you want to be able to commit to it), select ‘edit’ and then add them to the ‘Repository Collaborators’ section. You will need to know their username on GitHub.

If you haven’t already done so, tell git your name and the email address you are using on GitHub (so that your commits get matched up to your GitHub account). For example,

git config --global user.name "David Jones"
git config --global user.email "d.jones@example.com"

Setting up a coding-style checker

Biopython tries to follow the coding conventions laid out in PEP8 and PEP257.

Before starting to work on the code, we ask you to install some tools for automated checks. This includes a git pre-commit hook so that each of your commits (see below) will automatically be checked for violations of Biopython’s agreed coding style. Commits with violations will be blocked. Thus you ensure that a later submission to Biopython (a pull request, see below) will not be stopped by our automatic online style-checks.

pip install pre-commit
pre-commit install  # in biopython directory

See the CONTRIBUTING.rst file for more.

Making changes locally

Now you can make changes to your local repository - you can do this offline, and you can commit your changes as often as you like. In fact, you should commit as often as possible, because smaller commits are much better to manage and document.

First of all, create a new branch to make some changes in, and switch to it:

git branch demo-branch
git checkout demo-branch

To check which branch you are on, use:

git branch

Let us assume you’ve made changes to the file Bio/x.py. Try this:

git status

So commit this change you first need to explicitly add this file to your change-set:

git add Bio/x.py

and now you commit:

git commit -m "added feature Y in Bio.x"

Your commits in Git are local, i.e. they affect only your working branch on your computer, and not the whole Biopython tree or even your fork on GitHub. You don’t need an internet connection to commit, so you can do it very often.

Pushing changes to Github

If you are using Github, and you are working on a clone of your own branch, you can very easily make your changes available for others.

Once you think your changes are stable and should be reviewed by others, you can push your changes back to the GitHub server:

git push origin demo-branch

This will not work if you have cloned directly from the official Biopython branch, since only the core developers will have write access to the main repository.

Merging upstream changes

We recommend that you don’t actually make any changes to the master branch in your local repository (or your fork on github). Instead, use named branches to do any of your own work. The advantage of this approach it is the trivial to pull the upstream master (i.e. the official Biopython branch) to your repository.

Assuming you have issued this command (you only need to do this once):

git remote add upstream https://github.com/biopython/biopython.git

Then all you need to do is:

git checkout master
git pull upstream master

Provided you never commit any change to your local master branch, this should always be a simple fast forward merge without any conflicts. You can then deal with merging the upstream changes from your local master branch into your local branches (and you can do that offline).

If you have your repository hosted online (e.g. at github), then push the updated master branch there:

git push origin master

Submitting changes for inclusion in Biopython

If you think you changes are worth including in the main Biopython distribution, then file an (enhancement) bug on our bug tracker, and include a link to your updated branch (i.e. your branch on GitHub, or another public Git server). You could also attach a patch to the bug. If the changes are accepted, one of the Biopython developers will have to check this code into our main repository.

On GitHub itself, you can inform keepers of the main branch of your changes by sending a ‘pull request’ from the main page of your branch. Once the file has been committed to the main branch, you may want to delete your now redundant bug fix branch on GitHub. Branches can be deleted by selecting ‘edit’ and then ‘delete repository’ from the bottom of the edit page.

If other things have happened since you began your work, it may require merging when applied to the official repository’s master branch. In this case we might ask you to help by rebasing your work:

git fetch upstream
git checkout demo-branch
git rebase upstream/master

Hopefully the only changes between your branch and the official repository’s master branch are trivial and git will handle everything automatically. If not, you would have to deal with the clashes manually. If this works, you can update the pull request by replacing the existing (pre-rebase) branch:

git push origin demo-branch --force

If however the rebase does not go smoothly, give up with the following command (and hopefully the Biopython developers can sort out the rebase or merge for you):

git rebase --abort

Evaluating changes

Since git is a fully distributed version control system, anyone can integrate changes from other people, assuming that they are using branches derived from a common root. This is especially useful for people working on new features who want to accept contributions from other people.

This section is going to be of particular interest for the Biopython core developers, or anyone accepting changes on a branch.

For example, suppose Eric has some interesting changes on his public repository:


You must tell git about this by creating a reference to this remote repository:

git remote add eric https://github.com/etal/biopython.git

Now we can fetch all of Eric’s public repository with one line:

git fetch eric
remote: Counting objects: 138, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (105/105), done.
remote: Total 105 (delta 77), reused 0 (delta 0)
Receiving objects: 100% (105/105), 27.53 KiB, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (77/77), completed with 24 local objects.
From https://github.com/etal/biopython
 * [new branch]      bug2754    -> eric/bug2754
 * [new branch]      master     -> eric/master
 * [new branch]      pdbtidy    -> eric/pdbtidy
 * [new branch]      phyloxml   -> eric/phyloxml

Now we can run a diff between any of our own branches and any of Eric’s branches. You can list your own branches with:

git branch
* master

Remember the asterisk shows which branch is currently checked out.

To list the remote branches you have setup:

git branch -r

For example, to show the difference between your master branch and Eric’s master branch:

git diff master eric/master

If you are both keeping your master branch in sync with the upstream Biopython repository, then his master branch won’t be very interesting. Instead, try:

git diff master eric/pdbtidy

You might now want to merge in (some) of Eric’s changes to a new branch on your local repository. To make a copy of the branch (e.g. pdbtidy) in your local repository, type:

git checkout --track eric/pdbtidy

If Eric is adding more commits to his remote branch and you want to update your local copy, just do:

git checkout pdbtidy  # if you are not already in branch pdbtidy
git pull

If you later want to remove the reference to this particular branch:

git branch -r -d eric/pdbtidy
Deleted remote branch eric/pdbtidy (79b5974)

Or, to delete the references to all of Eric’s branches:

git remote rm eric
git branch -r

Alternatively, from within GitHub you can use the fork-queue to cherry pick commits from other people’s forked branches. See this GitHub blog post for details. While this defaults to applying the changes to your current branch, you would typically do this using a new integration branch, then fetch it to your local machine to test everything, before merging it to your main branch.

Committing changes to main branch

This section is intended for Biopython developers, who are allowed to commit changes to the Biopython main “official” branch. It describes the typical activities, such as merging contributed code changes both from git branches and patch files.


Currently, the main Biopython branch is hosted on github. In order to make changes to the main branch you need a GitHub account and you need to be added as a collaborator to the Biopython account. This needs to be done only once. If you have a GitHub account, but you are not yet a collaborator and you think you should be (for example, you had a cvs account on open-bio server): ask Peter to be added (this is meant for regular contributors, so in case you have only a single change to make, please consider submitting your changes through one of developers).

Once you are a collaborator, you can pull Biopython official branch using the private url. If you want to make a new repository (linked to the main branch), you can just clone it:

git clone git@github.com:biopython/biopython.git

It creates a new directory “biopython” with a local copy of the official branch. It also sets the “origin” to the GitHub copy This is the recommended way (at least for the beginning) as it minimizes the risk of accidentally pushing changes to the official GitHub branch.

Alternatively, if you already have a working git repo (containing your branch and your own changes), you can add a link to the official branch with the git “remote command”… but we’ll not cover that here.

In the following sections, we assume you have followed the recommended scenario and you have the following entries in your .git/config file:

[remote "origin"]
       url = git@github.com:biopython/biopython.git

[branch "master"]
       remote = origin

Committing a patch

If you are committing from a patch, it’s also quite easy. First make sure you are up to date with official branch:

git checkout master
git pull origin

Then do your changes, i.e. apply the patch:

patch -r someones_cool_feature.diff

If you see that there were some files added to the tree, please add them to git:

git add Bio/Tests/some_new_file

Then make a commit (after adding files):

git commit -a -m "committed a patch from a kind contributor adding feature X"

After your changes are committed, you can push to github:

git push origin

Committing from someone’s git branch

Assume you want to merge changes someone has committed to a git repository which was at some point cloned from the official Biopython branch. He needs to make his repository available to you (read-only) by giving you a URL. Typically this will be on GitHub (but it may be any public git url). Let us assume that the url is (which happens to be my clone of Biopython):


First, you need to get the code from this repository:

git remote add Bartek https://github.com/barwil/biopython.git
git fetch Bartek

Then you can see what branches are there:

git branch -r

Let’s say you want to merge changes from test-branch. You need to make sure you are up to date with the official branch:

git checkout master
git pull origin

And then you can do the actual merge:

git pull Bartek test-branch

And (assuming you are OK with the results of git diff and git status), you can push to the public repository on GitHub (please don’t try that with this exemplary data):

git push origin

After you’re done, you can remove the reference to the remote repo:

git remote rm Bartek

Tagging the official branch

If you want to put tag on the current Biopython official branch (this is usually done to mark a new release), you need to follow these steps:

First make sure you are up to date with official branch:

git checkout master
git pull origin

Then add the actual tag:

git tag new_release

And push it to github:

git push --tags origin master

Additional Resources

There are a lot of different nice guides to using Git on the web: