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I'm Tav, a 29yr old from London. I enjoy working on large-scale social, economic and technological systems.

4 Features To Make GitHub An Awesome Platform

I love GitHub. They make it fun and easy to get involved with open source projects!

By recognising coding as a social endeavour, they've possibly even changed the very nature of open source development.

But as great as they are, there's not much of a “GitHub ecosystem”. In comparison to say Twitter apps, the number of GitHub apps are few and far between.

Wouldn't it be great if we could build our own apps like wikis on top of GitHub repositories?

Perhaps someone would create a peer-to-peer publishing platform or perhaps a web app which stores plain text data in public repos instead of in opaque databases?

I believe GitHub has the potential to become a truly awesome platform. They already have a decent API — imagine what would be possible if it supported the following features:

  • API to Update The Repository via HTTP

    Back in 2008, I managed to get my girlfriend to use GitHub. The poor girl heroically struggled through with Git on the command line before eventually giving up after a few months.

    The fact is, most people are more comfortable using web apps than with command line tools. It'd be awesome to let them benefit from Git without having to expose them to the command line.

    It'd also be nice for developers if GitHub exposed functionality to modify files in a repository over HTTP instead of having to resort to libraries like grit and dulwich. This would make it much easier to develop web apps leveraging Git.

    GitHub already has support for editing files from the web browser by POST-ing to /:user/:repo/tree-save/:branch/:path — it'd be cool if they could just expose this via an API:


    This should take 6 parameters and return the new commit ID:

    parents    =>   The IDs of the parent commits [optional]
    data => The updated content for the specified path
    mode => The new mode for the blob [defaults to 100644]
    message => The commit message
    committer => The committer [defaults to the authenticated user]
    author => The commit author [defaults to the committer]

    There should be a complementary API for deleting files:


    And, most importantly, an API for creating new files with the same parameters as /tree/save:


    It would be nice to have a utility API call for renaming files too:


    Which would only have to specify 5 parameters:

    parent     =>   The ID of the parent commit [optional]
    new_path => The new path for the blob at :path
    message => The commit message
    committer => The committer [defaults to the authenticated user]
    author => The commit author [defaults to the committer]

    All the above API calls should result in the :branch ref being updated to point to the new commit ID and create a new ref where the branch didn't previously exist.

  • API to Access Compare Views

    GitHub has wicked support for doing code reviews via what they call compare views. This feature allows one to see the commits, diffs and comments between any 2 refs. You have to see it in action to realise how awesome this is:

    Unfortunately, this feature is not exposed via the API in any way. It would be very cool to be able to access it:


    That should return the commits, diffs and comments for the commit range. That is, everything necessary to recreate the GitHub compare view.

  • API to Manage Service Hooks

    GitHub already supports extension via post-receive hooks. This allows you to register URLs as web hooks for any repository. GitHub will POST to these URLs with JSON data whenever someone does a git push to the repository.

    It makes it very easy to do things in response to changes to your repositories. I've already found it very useful for everything from triggering build slaves to notifying IRC channels via — which in turn even triggers regeneration of this blog!

    Unfortunately it's a real pain to get users to edit their service hooks. It'd be great if applications could do this on a user's behalf. The API could be extended to list all service hooks:


    It should be very easy to add and remove hooks:


    Which would take a single POST-ed parameter:

    url   =>   The post-receive URL

    This tiny feature would make it a lot more attractive for application developers as it would make building apps integrated with GitHub very easy!!

  • A Way to Pay for API Use

    GitHub currently specifies API limits of 60 requests per minute. This works out as a generous 86,400 requests/day per user. But as an application developer I'd rather not be limited. In fact, seeing as GitHub already has my billing details, I'd be quite happy to pay something like $20 per million requests — which should more than cover the bandwidth costs.

    I'm quite confident that interesting applications could be built using the API which would lead to productivity increases which would more than make up for the cost. To facilitate this, billing would need to be enabled and the authentication extended with:

    api_key     =>   The API key for the developer
    signature => The signature for the API request

    The signature would be derived by HMAC-ing the request parameters with a shared api_secret_key corresponding to the api_key. This would be used to bypass limits and bill for the API requests whereas the existing login and token parameters would be used for the authentication.

Given GitHub's impressive infrastructure and talent, it should be relatively easy for them to add these 4 small features. But like any group of hackers, they need to be convinced that it'd be worthwhile adding these features.

Perhaps you could ask them for these features? Perhaps you could leave a comment with what kind of awesome apps you would create with these features in place? Or perhaps just follow me on GitHub:

In any case, let me know what you think. Thanks!