I’ve written software for a number of years and I’ve used a lot of different version control systems. From the old VMS ;12 days to today, where I primarily use git.
For the last nine years, I’ve used SVN with its quirky Apache DAV setup and the stupid uid/gid issues of running svn on a development server where that Apache was also used for testing. Ok, so, that was a poor architecture choice on my part.
With Pyramid, I started to run into small issues that I knew I could fix and my early tickets consisted of
output pasted into the ticket, or, telling the team what to fix. While dealing with Pyramid, I found a bug, broke down and decided to submit bug fixes the right way.
I forked it, I cloned it, I made my changes, I did my git add . and git commit, followed by my git push, then, from the web interface, created a Pull request. I do intend to figure out how to do the fork and pull without having to resort to the web interface. I don’t remember how long it took for the fix to be imported, but, it wasn’t long. It was a very minor change to make some templates XHTML compliant, but, the project lead merely had to merge my fix (if they agreed) and it was done. They didn’t have to remake the changes on their copy of the source.
Git isn’t that hard
With that newfound appreciation, I submitted a fix to Pyramid OpenID which took roughly a month to get incorporated. It was a small fix, but again, very little effort required to merge the changes in.
I’ve used GitHub, Bitbucket, code.google.com (for SVN and Git) and recently set up Gitosis with Gitweb for some private repositories. After a few months of working with git, I exported all of my local SVN repositories and imported them into git. Over the next few days, I would find a few stray projects that were quick weekend hacks that I never used VCS for, and decided to import them as well.
While I have had a mystery issue with a commit that appears from out of nowhere on GitHub that no one seems to be able to fix, overall, my experience with git has been fairly positive. Once I merge the other branch, the mystery commit should disappear, but, it is annoying having to specify the branch on every push request so that git push doesn’t submit changes to master and my branch. If I forget, I have a git command I put in a bash script that allows me to revert back to the version before that change.
Why use Version Control Software as the sole developer?
First and foremost, it is a simple, almost realtime backup (to your last commit) of your codebase. You can go back in time and look at the changes to see what changed. You can commit chunks of code as ‘save points’ so you can look back and see what has gone on. GitHub seems to be the preferred repo for Open Source projects, though, if you have five or fewer team members and need a private repo, BitBucket might fill that need since they charge per team member rather than by number of projects. With fewer than five team members, BitBucket’s private repository hosting is free. Or, if you feel like setting up Gitosis+Gitweb, you can host your own private repo on a machine where you have a shell account.
Deploying code from git is easy as well. git pull, restart apache, done. It isn’t difficult to set up multiple branches so that you have a production, staging and development branch. This allows you to fix bugs on staging and production, then push to production while having longer term additions handled on your development branch.
What about multiple users?
This is where git, or any version control software, really becomes powerful. Multiple people can work on the same codebase, changes can be merged, branches and tags can be used to do tests without affecting production code and then later merged.
How do I set up Gitosis?
I used the guide from here and had Gitosis running after 15 minutes. I tried Gitolite prior to this, but, preferred Gitosis. After a few days, I decided it was time to set up Gitweb which was fairly straightforward. If you get a 404 when viewing your gitweb root, make sure there is no trailing / on your $projectroot.
What benefit is there?
If you’re doing any development, use version control. It doesn’t matter which one, just use one. If you have multiple people on your team, absolutely use version control. It ends the ‘what did you change?’ phase of software development when something breaks. With git or any other VCS, you gain accountability. You can see who made which changes and track the evolution of a problem. Maybe you want to test a new feature and keep it separate from production – use branches or tags. Once that branch is declared complete, you can merge it with production. Even if there are modifications made to the master, you can merge those in along the way so that you’re not maintaining two codebases that require a large merge later on. Conflict resolution is a little cumbersome, but, it is much easier to keep a development branch in sync with staging/production bugfixes than it is to do a huge merge at the end of a large project. Save yourself some time when working on a new branch and merge master in frequently.
What do I use?
Mostly public projects? GitHub, BitBucket, Code.google.com, SourceForge (really, they are coming back and their offerings do include git)
A few small private projects and some public projects? BitBucket is free if you have fewer than five team members. GitHub seems somewhat costly for a small organization to have private repos. Gitosis can be run on a single account on a small VPS.
Mostly private projects? Gitosis. It took 15 minutes to get it set up and working and import the first project. It took a few days before I installed GitWeb which isn’t needed, but, is a handy tool at times to look through the commit logs.
Do I have to use git?
No, you can use svn, mercurial or git or any other version control software. You’ll find that the open source world seems to have embraced git and GitHub appears to be the most popular hosting for open source projects.
If you’re managing an open source project, the number of people familiar with git is increasing every day.
What am I missing?
The only thing I miss is the updated release or version number. I’ve not found a way to update a listed ‘release’ number that can be incorporated in file headers. That way, if I look at a production system, I can easily see what codebase it is using. I’d like to put that version number in a template. With SVN, I could set an svn-property and use $Revision$. While I’ve been manually updating the build id in a template, it would be nice to have that hook without a git add/git commit/update/git add/git commit.
For a few projects we’re using Sphinx for documentation, and, having those docs autobuild and push to the document hosting would be nice. I believe this can be done with git hooks, but, I haven’t really investigated it too much.
Version control of files that should be hidden. .gitignore doesn’t track files, but, if I want to have files tracked, but not published, I haven’t found a way to do that. I have a document push script that I don’t want to be public, but, I would like it if I could do a git pull and not have to find an old repo with a copy of that script each time. I know you can set up masking on scripts which would allow me to hide the hostname or other private parts of files – allowing me to post actual production.ini or development.ini to the repo. I find that important because documentation is usually clipped from a production file, but, when new changes are made, sometimes modifications to those files are forgotten and one needs to dig around to see what changed.
All in all, git works very well. Any version control software is a benefit. Use it.