Sunday, January 4, 2015

Simplest possible Git workflow

I'm working with a group that is getting ready to transition to Git, from a traditional centralized version control system.

Some thing I learned while working to revitalize endangered languages is that the first lesson should get students working in the new system, for real, as soon as possible. Applying that to Git, I want to ask "what's the minimum to get you started using Git in a real way without creating a mess that is difficult to clean up later."

A friend complained to me that every time he asks a Git expert a question about Git, the response starts with, "Well, first you have to understand how Git works". I want to offer a workflow that does not require understanding how Git works.

In Scott Chacon's "Introduction to Git" video, he says if you're comfortable with a version control system that is not Git, you're going to hate Git. How can we get around that?

Can I create a microverse where Git is simple and easy to understand, and yet still comprehensive and self-consistent?

"in a real way" for us means "a team of people with a central 'official' repository, that anyone can push to", so I can't ignore remotes/pulling/pushing for now, but I can ignore pull requests. A single person working alone on a single machine can simplify even further than what I describe here.


I assume that an expert is available to set things up and teach these basics. I advise the expert to avoid talking about any additional details of Git, no matter how juicy.

Whether you choose rebase or merge (linear or non-linear history in master) is up to your expert. If you want to use rebase later, you should use it now, to avoid "creating a mess that is difficult to clean up later", at the cost of expanding "minimum to get you started". Personally, I like rebase.

In our case, everyone sets up their development environments in the same way, and we're using Windows. We push these settings to every machine:

    git.exe config push.default simple
    git.exe config pull.rebase true
    git.exe config core.autocrlf true
    git.exe config core.safecrlf true
    git.exe config rebase.autosquash true
    git.exe config core.editor '"%ProgramFiles%\Windows NT\Accessories\wordpad.exe"'
    git.exe config merge.conflictstyle diff3

and we assert that git config and git config are set.

The expert should create the central repository and instruct everyone on cloning it and help maintain the .gitignore.

Simplest Development Workflow

We can treat Git like an old-fashioned centralized system with a single branch. Let everyone work in master. (Branches are awesome, but understanding them is more than the newbie is ready for.)

You only need these Git commands:

> git pull
When you want to update your machine with the latest from the central repository.

> git add FILENAME
When you create a new file

> git status
> git diff
To see what changes you have pending (ignore the difference between staged and unstaged changes, but watch out for unstaged adds)

> git commit -a
> git pull
> git push
When you like your changes and want to share them with the world

> git reset --hard
> git clean -fd
When you don't like your changes

> git log
To see what has been done

The biggest risk I see here is if there's a merge conflict when you pull before pushing. Stand by to help people through that the first time.

Release Workflow

Release from master. If your team needs time to stabilize master before you can release, make everyone stop what they're doing and focus on completing the release. When you are done, add a tag, then let everyone get back to work.

What's next?

As needs arise, you can build on this model. A dev can start making multiple commits before pushing, or work in a feature branch and merge it, without anyone else needing to learn something new. So you can grow incrementally.

You'll probably want to use branches for releases pretty soon.

At some point, you'll need to have a big conversation about the underlying model of Git, and what rebasing means, etc. Put that off as long as you can, and then go deep.

I find gitk helps people visualize what is happening as things get more interesting.

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