Why pick Git?

[ link: why-pick-git | tags: git | updated: Thu, 02 Jul 2009 15:37:00 ]

Someone on the Git LinkedIn group asked "why pick Git?". I started writing a response on LinkedIn but quickly realized I had more to say on the topic than I'd care to leave behind closed doors of LinkedIn.

If you already use Git, none of the stuff I talk about below will surprise you. But if this sparks your interest see my Git talk.

Why distributed?

Git is distributed which brings a lot to the table. Particularly, I see four major wins with distributed revision control (like Git) over centralized revision control (like svn):

  • non-intrusive micro-commits

    Being distributed means that everyone in the team can now work on a feature or bug in complete isolation, if they so chose, until their part is ready to share. That's the non intrusive part.

    In addition users are now free to commit any amount of work, even if it's not finished. This means that developers can try things out and then back them out if they didn't work out without sharing those experiments.

  • detached operation

    In a distributed revision control system, each developer has all the repository meta data. This means that they can continue to work on a train, or a plane, or with a broken VPN connection. They only need to be connected when they want to sync up with the other developers or to share their changes.

  • no single point of failure

    While most projects will elect a single repository to be the main integration point, that is only a social distinction not a technical one.

    Developers can share commits between one another without talking to the server. If the server is not around for some reason, those developers can continue to be productive.

  • backups are trivial

    Everyone participating in the development is now maintaining a backup.

Why not centralized?

It's worth while to dispel the so called benefit of centralized development. I often hear concerns that distributed makes it easy for developers to horde their work. This is particularly scary in the corporate setting. Years of interaction with other developers have taught me that the revision control tool does not solve this phenomenon of hoarding, and I believe that centralized development can actually make it worse.

Before revision control systems became distributed people that liked to hoard their work (or just didn't or couldn't work on a public branch) would develop in their working copies for weeks, polishing their changes, and then finally committing their work. Because they were not (all) careless individuals, they would often keep multiple complete copies of their work as they progressed through stages; these snapshots ware essentially revisions of their work. Distributed revision control systems gives these people the ability to commit their work to a private repository.

It is true that some centralized systems can be setup to allow any user to create a branch. However, this usually leads to a very messy branch namespace. Being distributed means that the private branches, that developers create for their own purposes, do not have to pollute the namsepace on the shared server.

Why Git?

There are many distribute revision control systems, why pick Git?

  • massive mind share

    Git has a huge development community. Everyone benefits because of the brilliant people that run the show. And this is just going to improve as more and more projects switch to Git.

    I personally am often astounded to find out that thing I wished Git had, Git actually already had... I just didn't know about them yet.

    Which brings us to ...

  • very complete tool set

    Not only do all the Git commands do a lot for you (like letting you commit parts of files via interactive add or rearange your existing commits), but Git also comes with tools like gitk, rebase, cherry pick, bisect, reflog, and so forth. Some of which have been partially imitated in other revision control systems.

    Again, with new projects converting to Git this will improve as the new comers come with new ideas and requirements.

  • Git has cheap branches

    In Git branching is really cheap. This opens up the field to new types of "workflows" that were previously not possible. It is very common amongst Git users to have multiple threads of development on the go at a time; say for example:

    • one per bug being fixed,
    • one per new feature being developed,
    • several integration branches when importing work from others,
    • one master integration branch,
    • and branches for public releases.

    But there is more...

  • multi-HEAD development

    Once you start working on multiple branches you will find that you will be exchanging work between them often. Having all branches accessible in the same working tree is often quite useful, and since it was a foundation of Git, Git makes it quite easy to use. As a matter of fact you can store completely unrelated branches (like your source code and project web page) in the same repository.

A list like this can never be complete, but hopefully it gives you something to think about when choosing your revision control system.

Bart's Blog

/why-pick-git

About

I am an embedded Linux software developer and consultant operating under Jukie Networks Inc in Ottawa, Canada.

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first post!





Bart Trojanowski
http://www.jukie.net/~bart
bart@jukie.net