Git and Us

Let’s pretend you’re writing a big paper that’s due at the end of the week. Things are going pretty well, but suddenly you realize that maybe if you rework your argument a little bit and rearrange some text, your argument will be a lot stronger. But you’re not 100% sure it’ll work – there’s a chance you’ll shuffle a bunch of stuff around and it won’t read right, and you’ll regret you ever changed anything at all. What do you do? You make a snapshot of your paper, and save it elsewhere. So you might go to “Save As”, and create “BigPaperBackup” and then try out your changes on “BigPaper”. If things don’t go well, you can always switch back to BigPaperBackup.

But what if your paper also has some images in it, and they’re going to change in your new paper? Suddenly we’ve got to track two different things, so we can’t just rename the file. That’s ok, we can just create a folder, and save a snapshot of the paper and images in there. So now we have a “Paper-Backup” folder, and a “Paper-Working” folder, and we’ll just make all the changes in the Working folder. If things don’t go well, we can always switch back.

But what if our paper is actually a group paper, and there’s a bunch of people working on it? And what if we want to keep regular snapshots of what the paper looked like, so we can go back and see why we made each change? And what if I’m not actually talking about a simple paper, I’m actually talking about the Lane Drupal Migration, with has 8078 different files in it, all of which we need a history for?

The answer is a type of computer program called a Version Control System, and the little story I told up there is just a variant of the well known Git Parable. Git is the version control system we’re using here at Lane, but there’s actually a bunch out there, including Mercurial, which has an awesome tutorial and is a little friendlier for Windows users.

There’s another tool out there called Gource, which lets you take the commit log for your project and turn it into a video showing the changes you’ve made. Although you might not be able to see the effects of each of these changes (many are just fixes for little bugs that crop up in testing), here’s a video showing every change that’s happened over the last seven months: