For example, I want to download PCL 3d_rec_framework.

This is the git repository of PCL: https://github.com/PointCloudLibrary/pcl.git

How can I download this directory?


I tried this, but it didn't work:

sam@sam:~/code/pcl_standalone$ git clone https://github.com/PointCloudLibrary/pcl/tree/master/apps/3d_rec_framework
Cloning into '3d_rec_framework'...
error: The requested URL returned error: 403 while accessing https://github.com/PointCloudLibrary/pcl/tree/master/apps/3d_rec_framework/info/refs
fatal: HTTP request failed

I don't want to download git of PCL and remove all other directories that I don't want.

How do I download just a single directory?


8 Answers 8


dobey's answer is no longer the case since git v1.7. You can now checkout certain folders from a repository. The full instructions are found here.

git init <repo>
cd <repo>
git remote add -f origin <url>

git config core.sparseCheckout true

echo "some/dir/" >> .git/info/sparse-checkout
echo "another/sub/tree" >> .git/info/sparse-checkout

This tells git which directories you want to checkout. Then you can pull just those directories

git pull origin master
  • 3
    This implies all Ubuntu versions have 1.7 available. You should check that to be the case and comment on your answer here as to which individual versions will actually work. PowerShell is also not Ubuntu and therefore should not be included, in my opinion.
    – Thomas Ward
    Jul 6, 2015 at 22:07
  • 2
    @ThomasW. All currently supported versions of Ubuntu do include at least git 1.7, and most are 2.x now.
    – dobey
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:38
  • 6
    Still this will clone the whole repository and then do that sparse checkout.
    – Clerenz
    Jun 7, 2018 at 12:46
  • 1
    @dobey, Seriously you removed useful information that people finding this question with Google might very much be looking for?! If I was forced to use powershell I would definitely like to see the pipe details, they are not obvious! echo "some/dir/" | Out-File -Encoding ascii .git/info/sparse-checkout echo "another/sub/tree/" | Out-File -Append -Encoding ascii .git/info/sparse-checkout Dec 19, 2018 at 7:53
  • I am so glad that it worked, but how do I include .gitignore file? I tried echo '.gitignore' >> .git/info/sparse-checkout and echo './.gitignore' >> .git/info/sparse-checkout, neither worked. Thanks!
    – zyy
    Feb 19, 2020 at 4:27

git clone --filter from git 2.19 now works on GitHub (tested 2021-01-14, git 2.30.0)

This option was added together with an update to the remote protocol, and it truly prevents objects from being downloaded from the server.

E.g., to clone only objects required for d1 of this minimal test repository: https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone I can do:

git clone \
  --depth 1  \
  --filter=blob:none  \
  --sparse \
  https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone \
cd test-git-partial-clone
git sparse-checkout init --cone
git sparse-checkout set d1

Here's a less minimal and more realistic version at https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone-big-small

git clone \
  --depth 1  \
  --filter=blob:none  \
  --sparse \
  https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone-big-small \
cd test-git-partial-clone
git sparse-checkout init --cone
git sparse-checkout set small

That repository contains:

  • a big directory with 10 10MB files
  • a small directory with 1000 files of size one byte

All contents are pseudo-random and therefore incompressible.

Clone times on my 36.4 Mbps internet:

  • full: 24s
  • partial: "instantaneous"

The sparse-checkout part is also needed unfortunately. You can also only download certain files with the much more understandable:

git clone \
  --depth 1  \
  --filter=blob:none  \
  --no-checkout \
  https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone \
cd test-git-partial-clone
git checkout master -- di

but that method for some reason downloads files one by one very slowly, making it unusable unless you have very few files in the directory.

Analysis of the objects in the minimal repository

The clone command obtains only:

  • a single commit object with the tip of the master branch
  • all 4 tree objects of the repository:
    • toplevel directory of commit
    • the the three directories d1, d2, master

Then, the git sparse-checkout set command fetches only the missing blobs (files) from the server:

  • d1/a
  • d1/b

Even better, later on GitHub will likely start supporting:

  --filter=blob:none \
  --filter=tree:0 \

where --filter=tree:0 from Git 2.20 will prevent the unnecessary clone fetch of all tree objects, and allow it to be deferred to checkout. But on my 2020-09-18 test that fails with:

fatal: invalid filter-spec 'combine:blob:none+tree:0'

presumably because the --filter=combine: composite filter (added in Git 2.24, implied by multiple --filter) is not yet implemented.

I observed which objects were fetched with:

git verify-pack -v .git/objects/pack/*.pack

as mentioned at: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/7348698/git-how-to-list-all-objects-in-the-database/18793029#18793029 It does not give me a super clear indication of what each object is exactly, but it does say the type of each object (commit, tree, blob), and since there are so few objects in that minimal repo, I can unambiguously deduce what each object is.

git rev-list --objects --all did produce clearer output with paths for tree/blobs, but it unfortunately fetches some objects when I run it, which makes it hard to determine what was fetched when, let me know if anyone has a better command.

TODO find GitHub announcement that saying when they started supporting it. https://github.blog/2020-01-17-bring-your-monorepo-down-to-size-with-sparse-checkout/ from 2020-01-17 already mentions --filter blob:none.

git sparse-checkout

I think this command is meant to manage a settings file that says "I only care about these subtrees" so that future commands will only affect those subtrees. But it is a bit hard to be sure because the current documentation is a bit... sparse ;-)

It does not, by itself, prevent the fetching of blobs.

If this understanding is correct, then this would be a good complement to git clone --filter described above, as it would prevent unintentional fetching of more objects if you intend to do git operations in the partial cloned repo.

When I tried on Git 2.25.1:

git clone \
  --depth 1 \
  --filter=blob:none \
  --no-checkout \
  https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone \
cd test-git-partial-clone
git sparse-checkout init

it didn't work because the init actually fetched all objects.

However, in Git 2.28 it didn't fetch the objects as desired. But then if I do:

git sparse-checkout set d1

d1 is not fetched and checked out, even though this explicitly says it should: https://github.blog/2020-01-17-bring-your-monorepo-down-to-size-with-sparse-checkout/#sparse-checkout-and-partial-clones With disclaimer:

Keep an eye out for the partial clone feature to become generally available[1].

[1]: GitHub is still evaluating this feature internally while it’s enabled on a select few repositories (including the example used in this post). As the feature stabilizes and matures, we’ll keep you updated with its progress.

So yeah, it's just too hard to be certain at the moment, thanks in part to the joys of GitHub being closed source. But let's keep an eye on it.

Command breakdown

The server should be configured with:

git config --local uploadpack.allowfilter 1
git config --local uploadpack.allowanysha1inwant 1

Command breakdown:

The format of --filter is documented on man git-rev-list.

Docs on Git tree:

Test it out locally

The following script reproducibly generates the https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-git-partial-clone repository locally, does a local clone, and observes what was cloned:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
set -eu

list-objects() (
  git rev-list --all --objects
  echo "master commit SHA: $(git log -1 --format="%H")"
  echo "mybranch commit SHA: $(git log -1 --format="%H")"
  git ls-tree master
  git ls-tree mybranch | grep mybranch
  git ls-tree master~ | grep root

# Reproducibility.
export GIT_AUTHOR_NAME='a'
export GIT_COMMITTER_DATE='2000-01-01T00:00:00+0000'
export GIT_AUTHOR_DATE='2000-01-01T00:00:00+0000'

rm -rf server_repo local_repo
mkdir server_repo
cd server_repo

# Create repo.
git init --quiet
git config --local uploadpack.allowfilter 1
git config --local uploadpack.allowanysha1inwant 1

# First commit.
# Directories present in all branches.
mkdir d1 d2
printf 'd1/a' > ./d1/a
printf 'd1/b' > ./d1/b
printf 'd2/a' > ./d2/a
printf 'd2/b' > ./d2/b
# Present only in root.
mkdir 'root'
printf 'root' > ./root/root
git add .
git commit -m 'root' --quiet

# Second commit only on master.
git rm --quiet -r ./root
mkdir 'master'
printf 'master' > ./master/master
git add .
git commit -m 'master commit' --quiet

# Second commit only on mybranch.
git checkout -b mybranch --quiet master~
git rm --quiet -r ./root
mkdir 'mybranch'
printf 'mybranch' > ./mybranch/mybranch
git add .
git commit -m 'mybranch commit' --quiet

echo "# List and identify all objects"

# Restore master.
git checkout --quiet master
cd ..

# Clone. Don't checkout for now, only .git/ dir.
git clone --depth 1 --quiet --no-checkout --filter=blob:none "file://$(pwd)/server_repo" local_repo
cd local_repo

# List missing objects from master.
echo "# Missing objects after --no-checkout"
git rev-list --all --quiet --objects --missing=print

echo "# Git checkout fails without internet"
mv ../server_repo ../server_repo.off
! git checkout master

echo "# Git checkout fetches the missing directory from internet"
mv ../server_repo.off ../server_repo
git checkout master -- d1/

echo "# Missing objects after checking out d1"
git rev-list --all --quiet --objects --missing=print

GitHub upstream.

Output in Git v2.19.0:

# List and identify all objects
b64bf435a3e54c5208a1b70b7bcb0fc627463a75 d1
308150e8fddde043f3dbbb8573abb6af1df96e63 d1/a
f70a17f51b7b30fec48a32e4f19ac15e261fd1a4 d1/b
84de03c312dc741d0f2a66df7b2f168d823e122a d2
0975df9b39e23c15f63db194df7f45c76528bccb d2/a
41484c13520fcbb6e7243a26fdb1fc9405c08520 d2/b
7d5230379e4652f1b1da7ed1e78e0b8253e03ba3 master
8b25206ff90e9432f6f1a8600f87a7bd695a24af master/master
19f7a4ca4a038aff89d803f017f76d2b66063043 mybranch
1b671b190e293aa091239b8b5e8c149411d00523 mybranch/mybranch
a0234da53ec608b54813b4271fbf00ba5318b99f root
93ca1422a8da0a9effc465eccbcb17e23015542d root/root
master commit SHA: fc5e97944480982cfc180a6d6634699921ee63ec
mybranch commit SHA: fc5e97944480982cfc180a6d6634699921ee63ec
040000 tree b64bf435a3e54c5208a1b70b7bcb0fc627463a75    d1
040000 tree 84de03c312dc741d0f2a66df7b2f168d823e122a    d2
040000 tree 7d5230379e4652f1b1da7ed1e78e0b8253e03ba3    master
040000 tree 19f7a4ca4a038aff89d803f017f76d2b66063043    mybranch
040000 tree a0234da53ec608b54813b4271fbf00ba5318b99f    root

# Missing objects after --no-checkout

# Git checkout fails without internet
fatal: '/home/ciro/bak/git/test-git-web-interface/other-test-repos/partial-clone.tmp/server_repo' does not appear to be a git repository
fatal: Could not read from remote repository.

Please make sure you have the correct access rights
and the repository exists.

# Git checkout fetches the missing directory from internet
remote: Enumerating objects: 1, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (1/1), done.
remote: Total 1 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
Receiving objects: 100% (1/1), 45 bytes | 45.00 KiB/s, done.
remote: Enumerating objects: 1, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (1/1), done.
remote: Total 1 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
Receiving objects: 100% (1/1), 45 bytes | 45.00 KiB/s, done.

# Missing objects after checking out d1

Conclusions: all blobs from outside of d1/ are missing. E.g. 0975df9b39e23c15f63db194df7f45c76528bccb, which is d2/b is not there after checking out d1/a.

Note that root/root and mybranch/mybranch are also missing, but --depth 1 hides that from the list of missing files. If you remove --depth 1, then they show on the list of missing files.

I have a dream

This feature could revolutionize Git.

Imagine having all the code base of your enterprise in a single repo without ugly third-party tools like repo.

Imagine storing huge blobs directly in the repo without any ugly third party extensions.

Imagine if GitHub would allow per file / directory metadata like stars and permissions, so you can store all your personal stuff under a single repo.

Imagine if submodules were treated exactly like regular directories: just request a tree SHA, and a DNS-like mechanism resolves your request, first looking on your local ~/.git, then first to closer servers (your enterprise's mirror / cache) and ending up on GitHub.


First, do:

git clone --depth 1 [repo root] [name of destination directory]


cd [name of destination directory]

...And lastly:

git filter-branch --prune-empty --subdirectory-filter [path to sub-dir] HEAD

It's that easy. Git will rewrite the repo so that only the desired sub-dir is included. This works even if the sub-dir is several layers deep. Just name the destination directory the name of the sub-dir. Then in the "git filter-branch" command put the relative path to the sub-dir. Oh, the --depth 1 tells git to only download the top of the head (essentially removing the history).

  • This allows you to download a single sub directory, but the question pertains to multiple directories.. is that possible this way? I have to say I don't see how this works, looking at the documentation.
    – Joeppie
    Jan 11, 2018 at 10:25
  • 1
    Is there an easy way to refresh that directory from time to time?
    – Clerenz
    Jun 7, 2018 at 13:11

You cannot. With git, you clone the entire repository, and the full history of the repository.

There are some workaround solutions to be able to get a single file out of a git archive, listed on a Stack Exchange answer for the same question, but you will still have to download the entire repository to get that single file or directory you want.

  • 7
    Simply not true: askubuntu.com/a/729798/384425 Feb 4, 2016 at 23:31
  • 6
    @CelticParser So you claim my answer is not true, and then proceed to point at an answer which requires downloading every file from a git repository, to get a single file?
    – dobey
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:34
  • 2
    or askubuntu.com/a/645276/384425 Feb 4, 2016 at 23:41
  • > "I don't want to download git of PCL and remove all other directories that I don't want." That is open-ended. I read it as @sam does not want to manually remove the directories. Feb 4, 2016 at 23:44

For GitHub repos, you can clone any sub-directories of any GitHub repository (at any reference) using https://github.com/HR/github-clone


If the url of the repository is this


and from there you want the folder images which you see through this url


Then do

# Install subversion to use svn
!apt-get install subversion

# Get what you want by adding "/trunk" to the repo url and the folder you want
#!svn checkout REPO_URL/trunk/DIRECTORY
!svn checkout https://github.com/blah/blah2.git/trunk/images

This works inside Google Colab


Concise, modern (2020+) answer

Yes, it can be done with git 2.19+, several years old already.

Sparse clone:

git clone --no-checkout --depth 1 --sparse --filter=blob:none \
cd $REPO

# git config ... # as needed

Sparse checkout:

git sparse-checkout init --cone
git sparse-checkout add relevant/dir/  # trailing / said important
cat .git/info/sparse-checkout          # to verify

git checkout $BRANCH  # should take only a moment

git status
    On branch $BRANCH
    Your branch is up to date with 'origin/$BRANCH'.

    You are in a sparse checkout with '2%' of tracked files present.

    nothing to commit, working tree clean

CHANGE tree/master/ to trunk/


svn export https://github.com/REPONAME/examples/trunk/lite/examples/

Like for your

svn export https://github.com/PointCloudLibrary/pcl/trunk/apps

To Install svn UBUNTU:https://linuxtechlab.com/simple-guide-to-install-svn-on-ubuntu/

Windows: https://tortoisesvn.net/downloads.html

enter image description here

  • please add comments before doing a downvote. And have you tried this before downvoting? I myself was searching for this after I got the solution after reading hell lot everywhere and failed attempts I got this solution so I posted it here. Jul 28, 2020 at 10:44
  • This is a git question, not svn. Sometimes they can work together, but should not be required as a solution. This answer should be deleted. Oct 4, 2021 at 17:52
  • I have cloned a git sub directory only using svn Oct 6, 2021 at 19:23
  • atleast it is better to have this answer instead of saying not possible in other answers Oct 6, 2021 at 19:23
  • also do check some ans above contain svn as an answer but not appropriate or good enough to follow up Oct 6, 2021 at 19:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.