What Is GitHub?

GitHub is an extremely popular Git repository hosting service where more than 73 million software developers come together to store, manage and contribute to their own and others’ code. 

From time to time, we all need advice from our peers or even our superiors. We have grown up asking the guidance of our friends, parents, and teachers. Every challenge can benefit from the second set of eyes scanning over it. One of the most critical developments in the realm of coding is GitHub.

You may not yet be too familiar with GitHub, but you will become very acquainted with this fantastic resource from the very early stages of learning to code. 

What is GitHub used for?

GitHub allows people to store their work, as well as network with like-minded developers. The system facilitates the interaction of these people, who can view, or even access, each other’s work and discuss errors, and of course, potential solutions.

A code that runs from start to finish without error is ideal. That is what GitHub attempts to assist. It provides an environment that encourages the improvement of code. It also provides a system with which coders can keep track of the changes made during the coding process. Sometimes it can be challenging to grasp the labour involved, the number of hours needed to string together those thousands upon thousands, often millions, of lines of code. Even the most basic App requires excellent attention to detail, or it will fail to operate. Sometimes a second set of eyes, or even a helping hand, is needed, be they from a colleague or a stranger. GitHub facilitates those extra pairs of eyes.  

What does GitHub mean?

For its users, GitHub means many things. For some, it’s a code sharing and publishing resource. GitHub is also a networking site where developers can work together. But it is a lot more than this too. 

Having started as a developer’s collaborative platform, GitHub is now the most significant cloud-based storage space of collaborative software projects that exist on the planet. With Twitter, you communicate by sharing tweets. On Facebook, you communicate by sharing cat videos. You communicate by sharing photographs of food on Instagram. And with GitHub, you communicate by sharing code and other artefacts that go into doing a project.

GitHub allows programmers to duplicate code from a project and safely work on it without changing the code within the original project. In other words, you can develop a site with it, but if you make a mistake, or if what your building is just not good enough – it doesn’t make it into the live software until it’s placed into the original source code. This is what developers need for testing. 

GitHub can be divided into Git and the Hub.

Git

Git is an open-source version control system that lets developers manage changes to a software project’s code. Version control is essential as developers work on projects. In addition, it is the system used in managing the changes to documents, computer programs, large websites and other collections of information.

GitHub launched in April 2008, just three years after the release of Git. While Git revolutionized version control, GitHub gave us a staging platform that lets developers build and share prototypes, collaborate on projects, edit and contribute to each others’ code, and give project stakeholders a chance to view in-progress work.

The Hub

The Hub part is not nearly as difficult to grasp. It is a community of like-minded individuals who participate in working on code and solutions together. It is all about the collaborative effort of the community in reviewing, improving, and deriving new ideas from the uploaded code. 

Often, it can be intimidating to introduce yourself to a community of strangers, let alone strangers with technical knowledge that might far surpass your own. GitHub can relieve some of these fears because the attitude most of those using it is to help each other. 

How to use GitHub

Using GitHub is relatively uncomplicated – however, it, of course, helps if you’re a software developer. 

  • Sign Up
    Before using GitHub, you need to sign up for an account. A basic account is free, but there are also paid-for Team and Enterprise versions. 

  • Set Up Git
    Because GitHub runs on Git, you will need to download Git onto your computer. It then needs to be installed and configured. 

  • Create a Repository
    If you want to put a project live on GitHub, you will have to create a repository. This is where your project will live. To create a repository, click on the “+” dropdown menu and follow the instructions.

GitHub offers an intuitive web-based interface that includes issue tracking, wikis, REST APIs, and rich GUI and command-line tools for Windows, Mac, Linux and even mobile devices.  

You can create and build a profile, upload projects to share and connect with other users by “following” their accounts. And while many users store programs and code projects, nothing is preventing you from keeping text documents or other file types in your project folders. 

You can find GitHub’s Quickstart guide here

GitHub Features

GitHub encourages users to create a repository to place their current work for others to either view or indeed edit or correct. On GitHub, you can Star, Watch, and Fork, but what are they?

  • Fork
    Forking lets you make a copy of someone else’s project and start working on it yourself.

  • Watch
    Watching gives you updates when changes are made to a project you’re following.

  • Star
    Starring is GitHub’s version of the “Like” button on Facebook. It’s a voting system that enables developers to vouch for projects they think are excellent.

Features for teams

With teams, you can give your developers as much or as little power as they need — from the ability to create projects on behalf of your organization to read-only access on existing projects. Members can be granted read, read-write, or admin-level access to repositories. Team members have access to features like:

  • Issues
    Issues keep track of what collaborators are doing and let them ask about bugs. These issues can be opened or closed once they’re addressed.

  • Milestones
    Milestones are like motivators. Set these up and give collaborators goals to work toward.

Other features

There are many other features available on GitHub. Among those are:

  • Integrated Issue Tracking
    A flexible issue tracker lets you stay on top of bugs and focus on features. This keeps track of what collaborators are doing and allows them ask about bugs. Issues can be opened or closed once they’re addressed. You can filter by open and closed issues, assignees, milestones and labels.

  • Collaborative Code Review
    Code review is an essential part of the GitHub workflow. GitHub allows all contributors to a project to review and comment on added work.

  • Adding text
    Github relies on the simplicity of Markdown for formatting text (Markdown provides us with a way of writing plain text and easily converting it into HTML). This is great for documenting your project and, in particular, providing people with a summary of what your project does. 

Benefits of GitHub

Apart from benefitting from the features named above, there are other benefits for developers who use this platform. 

  • GitHub Pages
    Github pages allow you to showcase your portfolio of work on elegant websites. These sites are fully html compatible and can be customized as you see fit. You can also apply free and paid themes to get you up and running quickly. A lot of Code Institute use GitHub pages to showcase their front-end projects and embed links to the source code, so others can see what the work looks like and how it was made all in one location. This is a great feature.

  • Syntax Highlighted Code & Rendered Data
    GitHub syntax highlighting currently supports over 200 programming languages. 

  • You can access GitHub on Multiple devices
    Native GitHub applications for Windows and Mac make sharing code simple. You can use them to clone repositories, create branches, browse the history, and commit changes with a friendly interface. The mobile web views let you keep track of your projects on the go.

Conclusion

For years now, GitHub has provided a space for developers to store file changes securely and aid each other in ensuring the file integrity of their code. As such, GitHub can and will continue to be a means of sharing volumes of information with other coders for personal and commercial use.

Challenge yourself

If you are not yet a developer, then areas like GitHub might be new to you. However, if you want to see what it’s like to be a developer, why not try our free 5 Day Coding Challenge? Through this free introductory course, you will learn the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Then, you will build your first web page after just one hour a day over five days. You will also sample what it is like to be a programmer. Register now through the link below.

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