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Git basics

Git Tutorial – Understanding Git basics

The demand for software and mobile applications is higher than ever. Therefore, the need for reflection on version control and Git basics becomes evident. At present, the world has around 26.4 million software developers as compared to 23 million developers in 2018. Furthermore, the number of software developers all over the world would most probably reach around 27.7 million by 2023.

Furthermore, one of the notable trends in the present software development industry is the focus on software quality. Therefore, the demand for version control systems such as git tends to increase constantly.

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The following discussion would provide a clear impression of Git fundamental concepts and help you learn the basics of Git. Most important of all, you can find information regarding the important terms in Git. 

Version control system

Before starting our reflection on the fundamentals of Git, let us find out what is version control system. Why should we find out the definition of the version control system? Because Git is a version control system, and the definition can uncover a lot about the basic functionalities of Git. In simple words, the version control system is an instrument for tracking the history of a collection of files.

Further elaboration on this definition can inform about the importance of Git in modern software and application development. Version control systems (VCS) come with the support for creating different versions of a collection of files. Every version involves a snapshot of files at a particular point in time.

In addition, the version control system also provides the option for switching between different versions of the collection of files. The storage for these versions is known as a repository, which is one of the prominent topics in Git basics. The primary application of version control systems is evident in the tracking of changes in text files such as source code for programming language.

Another important concern to better understand what is version control system is the capability of version control systems to track changes in HTML or configuration files also. So generally, version control systems can be used for tracking changes in other types of files rather than just for source code for a programming language. Now, the next point of attention for us in this guide on Git fundamental concepts would be the types of version control systems. 

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Types of version control systems

The two types of popular version control systems are centralized and distributed version control systems. Localized version control systems are known for storing local copies of the files that are subject to track. The localized version control systems follow a very simple approach similar to the creation of a manual copy of concerned files.

In the centralized version control systems, you could find a server software component that stores and manages different file versions. The developer could copy a specific version from the central server to their individual computer. Localized and centralized version control systems are known for a single point of failure. In the case of centralized version control systems, the server machine serves as the point of failure.

In the case of localized version control systems, the individual computer serves as the point of failure. Both these systems don’t offer the flexibility for working in parallel alongside other features. So, due to these setbacks, we have to focus on the importance of Git basics, that help in leveraging the power of distributed version control systems. 

The distributed version control systems involve each user having a total local copy of a repository on individual computers. Any Git tutorial would inform that users could copy an existing repository with the process known as cloning. The resulting repository after copying is known as a clone. Each clone contains the complete history regarding the collection of files.

In addition, every clone has a similar functionality as the original repository. Each repository could exchange versions of file collections with other repositories through transportation of the changes. Generally, this process happens through a repository that runs on a server that remains online, always unlike the local machine of the developer.

Generally, a central server is present for storing a repository. However, every cloned repository contains a complete copy of a concerned repository. So, the selection of copies for the central server repository depends completely on the previously established convention.

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What is Git?

With the clarity on distributed version control systems, let us move towards the first step in Git basics. The definition of Git and its origins serve as important mandatory topics in every tutorial regarding Git fundamentals. Git is presently the most renowned implementation of distributed version control systems, known as an ideal option for small teams.

Git finds large-scale recognition in web and mobile application development projects. Every Git tutorial would inform that the origins of Git come from Linux kernel development in the year 2005. Interestingly, the creator of Git is Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux OS kernel. Presently, Git finds applications in a wide range of renowned opensource projects such as for Android developer teams.

In addition, many commercial organizations also implement Git for version control. You should also note that the core of Git was scripted originally in the C programming language. However, the re-implementation of Git in other languages such as Java, Python, and Ruby has become evident in recent times. 

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Git repositories

The next important topic in Git basics refers directly to the Git repository. The repository is an instrument for containing the history of a collection of files which start from a specific directory. As pointed out already in this discussion, the process of copying an existing repository in Git is known as cloning.

Once you clone a repository, you can obtain the complete repository with its history on your local machine. In addition, Git provides support for creating new repositories. Deleting the folder than contains the repository is sufficient to delete the repository on Git. Cloning a repository in Git automatically implies that Git takes a default assumption.

The default assumption implies that you intend to work in the concerned repository as a user. Any Git tutorial for beginners would also inform the support of Git for creating repositories that target usage on a server. Let us expand the scope of this discussion on repositories in Git basics by reflecting on the types of repositories in Git.

The bare repositories in Git are ideal for use on a server to share changes made by different developers. In the case of bare repositories, the user does not have permission for modifying local files and the creation of new versions for the repository on the basis of the modifications. Non-bare repositories in Git are specifically ideal for targeting the user.

Non-bare repositories provide permission for creating new changes through the modification of files. Users could be able to create new versions in the repository with non-bare repositories. If the user does not provide any parameter specifications at the time of clone operation, non-bare repositories are the default alternative. When a non-bare repository is on local storage, it is known as a local repository. 

Other important terms in Git

After the reflection on the types of repositories in Git in this Git tutorial for beginners, let us move ahead. The next agenda on our discussion would be the other terms associated with Git and the ones that relate specifically to the working of Git repositories. The first entry in the Git terminology is the working tree.

Every local repository provides one collection of files originating from a specific version of the repository at the minimum. Such a collection of files is known as the working tree. The working tree associates with a checkout of one repository version with the required changes implemented by the user. The user could change the files in the working tree through modification of existing files as well as the creation and removal of files.

A working tree is one of the important elements in the Git repository and could have different states. The different states include untracked, staged, tracked, and dirty or modified files. After the implementation of changes in the working tree, the user could add the changes in the repository or revert changes. 

Addition to a repository

The next important concern in Git basics refers to the addition to a repository on Git through staging and committing. After the modification of the working tree, you should perform the following steps to maintain changes in the local repository. First of all, you can add the highlight changes to the index or the staging area through the command “git add.” The second step would be the committing of staged changes into the repository on Git through the command “git commit.”

Since you are here to learn git, you should know that the “git add” command helps in storing a snapshot of concerned files in the staging area. The command helped in the incremental modification of files, their staging, and their modification and repeated staging until obtaining satisfactory results. After the addition of selected files to the index or staging area, you need to focus on “commit” the files.

Commit is necessary for the permanent addition of specific files to the repository on Git. Committing helps in the creation of a new persistent snapshot of the index or staging area in the repository. The persistent snapshots are also known as commit or commit objects and are immutable in nature. The staging area maintains a record of the snapshots of the files until committing the staged changes. 

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Synchronization with remote repositories

Another important concern when you learn Git is the synchronization with other repositories such as remote repositories. Git provides permission to users for synchronization of the local repository with remote repositories. Users having the required authorization could send a new version in the local repository to remote repositories through the push operation.

This is one of the important git basics that you should learn. Users could also integrate the changes from other repositories in the local repository through fetch and pull operation. The next important point of concern in Git basics should be the concept of branches. The support for branching in Git helps in working on different versions of a collection of files. A particular branch could permit the user to switch between different versions for working on different changes independently.

For example, a user could create a branch and make changes in a particular branch for developing any new feature. As a result, there is no impact on the state of the concerned file in other branches. You need to understand in Git basics that the branches in Git are local with respect to the repository. It is not mandatory that the branch created in the local repository should have a corresponding branch in a remote repository.

Local branches are similar at par with the remote-tracking branches and other local branches. Remote-tracking branches help by serving as proxies for the state of a particular branch in another remote repository. Git also provides support for the combination of changes from diverse branches. Developers could use Git commands for combining changes from different branches at a later point of time. 

Crucial terminologies related to Git

With a basic outline of the important terms related to Git and concepts regarding repositories on Git, let us move towards other important elements in the core Git terminology. The reflection on these aspects of Git-related terminology could provide a strong foundation for beginners to advance their understanding of Git. Please note that we shall also turn back to branches and repositories in these terminologies. 

The branch is a pointer to a commit and relates with a specific name. The selection of a branch in Git terminology is known as ‘checkout’ of a branch. If the user is working in a specific branch, then the creation of a new commit takes the pointer to a newly created commit. Every commit is aware of their predecessors, and the retrieval of successors is possible through traversal of the commit-graph. The commit-graph starts from other references or branches and symbolic references or explicit commit objects. Therefore, this section of Git basics shows that a branch defines its own order of descendants in the overall version graph. 

The “Commit” term is also another crucial element in Git basics. Upon committing changes into a repository, a new “commit object” finds existence in the repository on Git. The “commit object” provides a unique identifier for the new revision of the repository content. 

The next important addition to crucial terminology among Git basics refers to HEAD. HEAD, in the case of Git, means the symbolic reference that generally points to the presently checked-out branch. In certain cases, HEAD directly points to a commit object, that is also known as a detached HEAD mode.

In the detached HEAD mode, the creation of a commit will not result in the displacement of any branch. Upon switching branches, the HEAD pointer points towards the branch pointer that subsequently points towards a commit. Upon checking out of a particular commit, the HEAD points directly to the concerned commit. 

Repository, as we all know, is a collection of the history of different versions of a particular file. In general, the term “repository” directly implies a non-bare repository, while in the case of the bare repository, explicit mention is necessary. 

The staging area of the index is also one of the important terminologies in Git basics. It is the place for storing changes in the working tree before the commit process. The staging area includes a snapshot of changes in the working tree (such as changed or new files) related to the creation of the next commit. It then stores the mode with details about an executable bit and file type.  

Another important addition to basic terminology on Git is ‘Tag.’ Tag implies a commit that provides a distinct identity of a version of the repository on Git. The tag provides a named pointer where you can always revert back to with higher ease. The prominent benefit of tags is that they make it easy to revert to any point in a repository on Git.

The advantages of tags are primarily evident in the marking of a repository for a particular reason, such as with a release. You should also note that branches and tags, both are named pointers. However, the notable difference between the two is that branches are able to move upon the creation of a new commit. However, tags are always pointing to the same commit. In addition, tags could also have a message and timestamp associated with them. 

The final addition to the important terminology on Git is URL. The URL in the case of Git is ideal for determining the location of the repository. Git helps in distinguishing between ‘fetchurl’ for obtaining new data from other repositories and ‘pushurl’ for pushing data to other repositories. 

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The above-mentioned information gives a bird’s eye view of the Git basics. However, you need to swoop down and land right in the center of it all for learning more about git. Terminologies and basic working of repositories could help you obtain confidence in learning Git. The next course of action for you would be to learn about details of commit objects and commit references. Furthermore, you should dive deeper into Git tooling and Git configuration, followed by details about remote repositories. In addition, you should also explore the methods for using branches and tags in Git alongside other features and tools.

Want to learn the basics of Git, it’s core features, and basic workflow to manage the source code of your projects. Get started with Git fundamentals online course! 

About Dharmalingam N

Dharmalingam.N holds a master degree in Business Administration and writes on a wide range of topics ranging from technology to business analysis. He has a background in Relationship Management. Some of the topics he has written about and that have been published include; project management, business analysis and customer engagement.
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