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5 Rules for Cloning a Website That Every Dev Should Know About

08/15/2023
6 minutes

Here’s a phrase you might be familiar with: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” There is some truth to that. We all take inspiration from others. Sometimes the best way to do that is by using another person’s work as a sort of stencil or blueprint to follow. 

For web developers, there is a simple route to borrowing the work of other designers and incorporating it into your own: website cloning. It’s a great way to see how another developer built a particular element or design of a website. It also allows you to use that code as the base to build your own design. 

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But there is an ethical way to clone a site. The last thing you want to do is copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Here are some guidelines to help you ensure that you are cloning a website in a way that draws inspiration from others but doesn’t compromise your own work by stealing the hard work of fellow developers. 

DO: Use a cloned site as a template

There is still a lot of room for innovation in the field of web development, but there are plenty of solved problems, too. Not every site or design needs to reinvent the wheel. In fact, in many cases, the wheel has already been invented and you can just put it right on your vehicle and drive it. That is where cloned sites are most useful.

When you want to mimic or recreate an element of a site that you’ve come across on your own project, a great way to achieve that is through cloning. This allows you to see how the elements function and get a detailed look at the code under the hood. By cloning, you can take that site and use it as the framework for your own project. 

You’ll want to make sure to build out your site so it’s original, but it’s typically acceptable to borrow functionality from other sites when needed. This can be a major time-saver, and since you don’t have to build the same tools and elements from scratch, you can focus on building out the rest of the site with unique content and design. 

DON’T: Leave text, images, or other assets unchanged

Cloning a website to get a specific look or function is a great way to kickstart a design. But one thing you absolutely do not want to copy is the actual content of the site. In many cases, things like text, images, and other visual assets are unique to a site. Copying that content opens you up to potential trouble. 

As you start turning the cloned website into your own project, make sure that you remove any copied text and images that came with it. You’ll want to fill these areas in with your own content in order to ensure that your site is serving its own purpose and not just a straight rip of someone else’s work.

Want to learn more about how websites go from an idea to an actual design? In our free course Introduction to UI and UX Design, you’ll use Figma to create a wireframe for an app and learn about the product design life cycle.

DO: Use a cloned site as a learning experience

Whether you’re a web developer looking to learn how a peer built something that you admire or you’re a total beginner trying to understand what happens under the hood of a website, cloning a site is an additional way to learn. 

With the right tools, such as Google Chrome Developer Tools, you’ll be able to see how every element of a site functions and how the code enables different elements to behave the way they do when users interact with them. Cloning a website can be a useful shortcut for achieving a specific design or function without having to start from scratch, but you still need a basic understanding of web design to make sense of what you’ve cloned. With experience and practice, you won’t necessarily have to clone a site because you’ll understand how it works and how to get the intended function and design.

You can start coding websites from scratch in our web development courses and paths. In the skill path Build a Website with HTML, CSS, and GitHub Pages, you’ll get step-by-step guidance so you can design and launch your own website without a template.

DON’T: Violate copyright

Copyright can be a really tricky issue, especially when it comes to web design. Most work, including code, can be protected by copyright. Typically, it is the burden of the owner of the site or the design to protect their work by registering it. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that when you are cloning a site, you don’t violate a copyright holder’s rights.

However, even if a work like a website’s design does have copyright protection, it’s still possible for you to use parts of code within your own work.

In order to do this, you will either need to ensure that your version of the cloned code is iterated on and “transformative” — a standard that, while vague, grants you protection under fair use. Other work, like user contributions on a service like Stack Overflow, is licensed under Creative Commons, meaning you can use it for free but must provide attribution. There is also code that is so fundamental and basic that it is not considered to be copyrightable, meaning it’s safe for you to clone and use. You can also find open-source code on platforms like SourceForge and GitHub. 

There is an easy way to avoid any trouble when you aren’t sure if your use of code meets the standards that would be needed to avoid copyright infringement: ask for permission. Doing so will ensure that even if a work is protected, you are granted the right to use it.

It takes creativity and critical thinking to bring a beautiful website to life. In our web design courses you can build on your HTML/CSS skills and understand the nuances of navigation design, color theory, and more.

DO: Clone your own work for reference

Built a design that you just keep coming back to? Want to make sure you have a backup on hand in case you lose any work during a migration? Clone your own work. This gives you an always-accessible copy of your site that you can use to test new functions, use as a restore point in case something goes wrong with the live version, or borrow from for future designs. You can always copy yourself.

Cloning a website is just one way to familiarize yourself with web development and design. If you want to get hands-on experience coding a website from start to finish, check out our web development courses and paths. If you’re brand new to coding, you can start with the free courses Learn HTML, Learn CSS, and Learn JavaScript. And if you’re interested in a career in web development, check out the Front-End Engineer career path.

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