The Git Article I Hoped not to Write

As I explained in my introductory article, Git is a core technology I am exploring. I had halfway expected, and hoped, I would have nothing to say on this topic. Of course hope is a plan doomed to failure, and in this case the go-to-hell-plan is to write an article.

Cutting to the Chase

The only resources you need for Git are

The Git Reference

Pro Git

The rest of this article is another data point in the seemingly endless Git literature all over the web. Continue at your own peril.

A little Background

Back in the dark ages of mainframe batch programming source control was via delta decks and their text file descendants. This apparently evolved into CVS, the first modern source control I was exposed to. I was PM of one quarter of a 40 member project, which in turn was part of a larger 300 person project. The 40 person team hired a contractor to set-up and administer CVS for the team (he eventually had other duties as well). In this role I never got any closer than that to CVS, since I wasn’t writing code. I wasn’t sure how to interpret having a full time person who did mostly source control. The project was doing several very inefficient things I had no control over.

SourceSafe is a ticking time-bomb if you don’t take serious back-up precautions. Nuff said. The first source control system I had the responsibility to set up from scratch was TFS. Ultimately all source control includes manual policies and procedures. The trick is understanding enough about a new source control system from reading the documentation and playing with it to develop your own complete system. (Back in the day there was less how-to literature available on this.) It’s been a long time now, and I’ve lost touch with whatever changes Microsoft has made, but we were happy with TFS. It fit in well with the team’s rapid-fire development style of constantly changing anything and everything, but corporate, in its wisdom, decreed all development teams must get on the company’s Subversion “Enterprise-class centralized version control for the masses” system. So another iteration of figuring out how this really works and how to fit it with our work style. For as long as I was with that team we were never happy with Subversion.

Back on my own again I’m once more learning a new version control system, this time with no one to bounce ideas off or ask questions, even embarrassed myself posting a stupid question yesterday (sorry Phil and Github!). Phil Haack graciously responed. I had read the Git Pro book over a year ago, but without putting Git into practice it all just leaked out of my mind.

At the critical level of functionality, Git is just another (though arguably superior) choice in managing the merging and auditing of source. It still takes gatekeeping policies and procedures to manage pull requests.

Why is Every GUI a Two-edged Sword Compared to the Command Line?

Coincident with my starting to use Git, Github came out with a Windows interface. Now this was both good and bad. The good was I didn’t even glance at the Git reference or Git Pro book to develop and publish my first open source project. The bad was I didn’t even glance at the Git reference or Git Pro book. Using the GUI worked well as long as I was developing in the master branch. My confusion started when I wanted to create a branch. Like all good GUIs, it just works. Unlike all good GUIs there is no help feature to clue you into what is going on. So having forgotten all I read about Git over a year ago, I created a branch and started looking for how to hook-up the branch to its workspace. Doh! It’s all the same workspace with Git.

…off to the command line, which involves learning what’s really going on; and set up a sandbox Git project, because I have a deep aversion to doing anything with production source code when I am not 100% sure of the consequences.

Here’s what I learned in a very short time:

The Windows interface saves some drudgery in setting up a repo. You can initialize a repo with the command line

>Git init

(which I did in my sandbox), but the Windows interface sets up helpful parameters in .gitignore and .gitattributes files specifically for Visual Studio development. I’m happy not to have to dive too deep into the ins and outs of these files just yet.

The situation with commits and branches is more nuanced. So for now I’ll switch to the command line because that’s the only way I’ll learn the full range of useful things I can do with Git. I was thinking about installing a Visual Studio Git extension, and Git Source Control Provider appears to be the only option, but I think I will put that off for now.

In the mean time,

>Git status

is my friend.

And Finally, the Punch Line


That’s the tag line on the site, and now I understand. You can use Git for simple source control, like any other SCM. And if I had been a little braver (or foolhardy) about using an undocumented GUI feature, I might still be there. Now, however, I see my way forward learning Git. It’s actually personal productivity software. Once you acquire a certain level of adeptness you can do things you would not have considered doing, either because it was too tedious or impossible. Things like exerting more control over the commit story your branch tells, or more frequent branching to allow experimentation that otherwise risks the integrity of another branch, or multiple versions, or things I haven’t thought of.

To update your local repository with work posted to the remote

>Git fetch origin

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