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Seven tips for using Git and GitHub well

Today it's hard to meet a developer who doesn't use Git and GitHub in his work. They are in fact two version control tools that fit very well with modern development models.

In particular, they allow you to work in a distributed manner and to freely perform changes, even very targeted ones, to the starting code without being blocked by too rigid mechanisms, at the same time reducing the risk of ruining the lives of colleagues by intervening on their work.

What does GitHub adopt?

Compared to other VCS (Version Control System), however, Git and therefore also GitHub adopt a different model in project management, precisely because they are conceptually distributed systems. This means that the individual developer works on his own local repository and interfaces (but not necessarily) with a central repository that acts as a hub for collaboration.

VCSs, then, usually track changes to a project by examining changes made to its individual files. Git thinks differently and always considers a repository as a sort of small autonomous filesystem to take real snapshots of. A change to a file is therefore seen as a change to an entire repository and is sufficient to generate a complete snapshot, even if for obvious reasons Git does not replicate the files that have not been changed but inserts a pointer to the previous version.

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Seven tips useful when it comes to deal with GitHub

So there is some theory to understand before diving into Git and GitHub.

 Here are seven tips that can help:

Living with clients

There are many ways to use Git. The main one is to use Git in the strict sense, which is the command line interface originally developed by Linus Torvalds himself over ten years ago. This face of Git is on all Linux systems and can be installed on all major operating systems. It is not mandatory to use the CLI, however. Especially if we decide - and it usually happens - to use GitHub, which in summary is a public (and private) repository based on a web interface. You can use this or its native client (Windows or Mac) or still other graphical clients. There are free and paid ones. Another way of living with clients is living with potential clients. You can consider buying GitHub Watchers to make your projects look “sexy”. The Github Watchers make your project look interesting for many people.

Clone freely from GitHub

GitHub is full of projects that can be interesting and it's very useful to clone them. The cloning of a project is in summary the copy of its entire repository (repo, for short) on our client. Cloning allows us to examine the code and documentation in detail and comfortably, to learn a little more in development or more generally to see how a certain problem has been addressed.

The rules of committing

We have created (from scratch or cloned) our local repository and start working. Git is a distributed environment, this means that the changes happen locally and the changes only take effect here. A commit is any change that we have made, even a small one, and that we “ratify” as an accepted part of the project itself. Any changes we test don't exist (in a broad sense) for Git until we commit them. Which has value - it must be reiterated - only for the local repository.

Between push and pull

Ideally, Git supports one or more projects where a distributed developer team carries out its development activities. Each one clones their repository and works on their part, but it almost certainly has to be aligned with what their peers are developing. The first thing to do is therefore to frequently pull the repository, an operation that incorporates the changes made to the main version on the server.

Similarly, we may also have developed perfect code elements and fixed all correctable errors, but until we push the local repository, no one will see the fruit of our work. Note that a commit is not the same as a push: the first operation acts only locally, the second on the server. Not performing pull and push ideally is the most common cause of inconsistencies in developing a distributed team. Git partially helps to avoid these problems but cannot completely eliminate them.

The power of branching

One of the best strengths of Git is that it adapts to the reality of development activities, without being inspired by an ideal model in which all programming activities always go as theoretically they should. First of all, it provides a mechanism - branching - by which a developer can safely dedicate himself to a particular function of a program without blocking the work of others and without rigidity. So much so that you can do it whenever you want, reasonably sure that Git will incorporate parallel development without (particular) problems.

When we want to work on a particular aspect of the code by letting the main part of the project go on, we create a branch of it. From here on we work only on the branch, we complete our goal (for example modify a particular function) and then we merge our code with the main part of the project. If conflicts occur in this incorporation, it's up to us to resolve them (often it's just some commits that got lost along the way).

Fork is not a branch

As an alternative to branching, we often talk about forking a Git repository. In reality, these are two very different concepts that are not, logically, strictly comparable. Forking is not an element of Git (there is no git-fork command, to say) but of GitHub and similar systems: in practice it serves to create a server copy of the starting repository, almost always to carry out the project following a direction different from the current one.

Be good citizens of GitHub

GitHub is a platform, sure, but it's also a real world to explore with thousands of very different projects. As in any community, being an active member is positive and rewarding. For example, you can contribute, to the extent of your abilities, to open source projects. By examining their documentation we can discover ways of being part of even very simple projects, which do not require extreme skills in coding. Being good citizens of GitHub is also about presenting yourself well. Or rather in presenting your projects well, first of all by describing them in a precise and complete way. Keep in mind that very technical users - perhaps other developers - but also with limited development skills can come to the description of your project. However, everyone must understand something and above all what it does and why your creation should be useful.

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