Does this seem familiar: “report.doc”, “report_2.doc”, “report_final_2_for_real.doc”? If so, congratulations! You’ve been using version control! But there has to be a better way, right?

This week, we revisited git, learning how to using version control in a slightly more sustainable manner.


  • What is version control/git?
  • Why is version control important?
  • Basic git usage
  • Working with others

What is version control?

Version Control System (VCS)

  • Version control systems record changes to a file/set of files over time
    • Not just software! This talk is under git
    • Allows you revert files back to a previous state, compare changes over time, see who last modified something, etc.

Local VCS

  • Naive versioning: separate file/folder for each version
  • Slightly better: local database of changes

Why is version control important?

  • Tracking versions
    • Roll back to previous versions
    • See history of project/file/line
    • Find out when bugs were introduced
    • Maintain/compare different versions
  • Coordination between developers
    • Easier to work on separate features
    • Easier to merge distinct changes from separate developers
    • Easier to resolve conflicts on same features
    • Tracking who made what changes

If it’s not under version control, it doesn’t exist!

Centralised vs Distributed VCS

  • Centralised VCSs: CVS, Subversion
    • Have a single server than contains all the versioned files
    • Can see what other people are working on
    • Easier to administer a centralised VCS than local databases on each client
    • If server goes down, can lose access to project history, etc.
    • If central database is lost, everything not backed-up is lost
  • Distributed VCSs: git, mercurial
    • Clients don’t just checkout latest snapshot of files, repository is fully mirrored
    • If server goes down, any client repo can be copied back to server to restore it
    • Multiple remote repos work pretty well

How does git work?

The Three States

  • Important to understand correctly
  • Three main states that files can be in:
    1. Committed: data stored in repo
    2. Modified: file is changed but not committed
    3. Staged: modified file marked to go into next commit


Basic commands

Get started

# Initialise a bare repo
$ git init
# Add a new file
$ git add newfile
$ git commit -m "Initial commit"
# Make some changes
$ git status
$ git diff newfile
$ git add newfile
$ git commit -m "Add extra text"


  • Branching is the “killer feature” of git
  • Very lightweight, easy to make new branch and throw away if not needed
  • Need to know how commits are stored

How does git store commits?


A branch is just a pointer to a particular commit

  • HEAD is a special pointer to the current branch


A new branch is just a new pointer

  • Changing the branch just means changing what HEAD points to


A new branch is just a new pointer

  • Changing the branch just means changing what HEAD points to


Branches can diverge

  • New commits can be made to separate branches independently


More basic commands

Next steps

# Make a new branch
$ git branch branchname
# Switch to branch
$ git checkout branchname
# View history
$ git log
$ git log --oneline --graph --all
# Merge branches
$ git merge branchname

Working with others

Sharing repos

  • Various third party websites to host repos:
    • GitHub
    • GitLab
    • Bitbucket
  • University have command line-only service
  • Shared network drive
# Get someone else's repo
$ git clone
$ git remote add reponame /path/to/reponame
# Update your repo from a remote
$ git pull remotename branchname
# Update a remote from your repo
$ git push remotename branchname
# Get help
$ git help add
$ git add --help

Centralised workflow

  • Central “one true” repo
  • Single master branch
  • Useful for individual developers or small teams

Feature branch workflow

  • Central “one true” repo
  • New features developed in separate branches
  • Create “pull request” to request changes be merged into master branch

Forking workflow

  • Each developer has their own fork of the repo
  • Otherwise same as Feature branch workflow
  • Developers push to their own forks, then submit pull requests from there

Gitflow workflow

  • Central “one true” repo
  • New features developed in separate branches
  • Strict model for how branches are laid out
    • master branch
    • feature branches
    • development branch
    • “next version” branch
  • Only the “next version” branch can be merged into master
  • Features get merged into development branch
  • “Next version” gets branched off development branch and features are frozen


  • Git book:
  • Atlassian tutorial:
  • Codecademy:


Some material from Pro Git, Second Edition written by Scott Chacon and Ben Straub and published by Apress. Available here:

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Licence.