What is Version Control?

During a project, developers may continually add to or modify the project’s codebase. Version Control attempts to protect the source code from intentional or unintentional loss.

For many years, the open-source community has provided software developers with great tools to manage and organise their source code.  In particular, the community contributes tools that allow you to safely keep copies and versions of your code and avoid the risk of losing your work due to a corrupted hard drive, accidentally overwriting or deleting your work or just leaving your laptop and all its contents in the back of a taxi.

Version Control software tools help individuals and teams manage changes to their source code over time. These tools keep track of every modification to the code in a specific kind of database. If a mistake is made, developers can go back in time and compare earlier versions of the code to help fix the mistake while allowing other team members to continue working.

Why is Version Control important? 

Why do we need it? If you’re working on a small project alone, then Version Control may not be needed. However, the days when someone designs and develops a professional project on their own are all but gone. You can manage changes by yourself without too much difficulty. However, when others become involved – things can get complex pretty quickly. 

This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a clean separation of responsibilities. At first, you might think that when you’re finished with your part of a project, you’ll send it off to your colleague to finish. But this is not practical for a number of reasons. Much of the time you’ll find yourself working on projects – and even files – concurrently with others. Version Control allows; 

  • A team to work synchronously. 
  • A team cope with the confusion that arises from multiple people editing the same files. 

Git Version Control

The most widely used Version Control system today is Git.  Git was created by Linus Torvalds (who also happens to be the creator of Linux). When using Git, you and your colleagues can each work on separate visions of a project and Git will save two distinct copies. 

Later, you can merge your changes together without losing any of your precious work. If you later realise you made a mistake in your code, you can revert to an earlier version at any time. Git keeps a “snapshot” of every change ever made. 

How does Version Control work?

When working on software projects, the source code is the most valuable asset available to the team. And it must be protected from accidental or deliberate corruption. The code embodies all the refined knowledge, learning and effort in understanding the problem domain undertaken by all the project stakeholders. 

A team of developers can be assigned individual coding tasks which may or may not be directly related. 

One team member might be tasked with adding a new piece of functionality, another might be fixing a bug somewhere else in the system and in some cases, both developers might need to make edits to the same file in order to enable these modifications. 

The source code is generally organised in folders (which is really a tree structure) with each folder representing a distinct piece of the project.  So changes to the source code can result in many changes along in the tree structure.

A good Version Control system tries to ensure that not only does the work undertaken by one developer not conflict with the work done by other team members, it also enables a developer to revert any changes they make by going back to a specific point on the tree and undoing any new work done since then. 

Version Control allows developers to take snapshots of the code at a given point and make a copy that they can safely work on without conflicting with anyone else’s work. 

These copies are called branches. And as soon as a new line of code is added to the branch, the branch diverges from the main codebase code. Once the developer is finished adding changes, that branched can be merged back into the main codebase (often called the master or the trunk).

The Version Control tracks every change by each project contributor.

Version Control benefits

If you develop without using good source control, usually it’s not a case of if you lose your work but when you lose it.  And that’s just too risky. Here are some benefits of Version Control.

  • Faster progress
    By having Version Control in place not only is your code more protected but it allows all involved to progress more quickly. 
  • Allows teams to scale up
    Versions Control has the value of allowing your team to easily scale up the number of developers working on a  project
  • Track all changes
    A full history of all changes to a file over its lifetime. This includes all changes by all individuals who have made edits under the control the Version Control system.

What to expect with good a Version Control offering

A good Version Control system’s history should include; 

  • edit timestamps 
  • the authors of the changes 
  • comments about why the changes were made 

This information is essential when attempting to fix problems at a later date.

You should also have the ability to; 

  • copy (branch) your code from the main codebase to allow you to make your changes. 
  • merge your changes back into the main codebase. 

Maintenance

Most teams maintain a development branch of the codebase that team members can safely check out and merge back their changes and make sure that they haven’t accidentally broken anything as a result of their merged work. 

Once the changes have been integrated and tested fully, the team will merge the development codebase onto a production or master copy of the code. This copy is the one that the product end-users interact with. 

Version Control Tips 

  • Never merge broken code back into any codebase.  
  • Make small changes and merge often. 
  • The smaller the chunk of code merged, the easier it is to fix any bugs the changes might have introduced.

Being able to trace all changes to a file is essential. When making a modification, being able to navigate the history of changes helps you understand the evolution of a file. Also, the history can help a developer make estimations as to what time and resources are needed to either fix a bug or add a new piece of functionality.

Learn to Code

Before getting to grips with Version Control, it makes sense to learn how to code. If you want to see if you can code, try our free 5 Day Coding Challenge. Register now through the link below. 

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