GitHub can improve flow once it’s a lightweight, branch-based workflow that supports teams and projects where deployments are made regularly. This guide explains how and why GitHub Flow works. 5 minute read.
Simply by being a member, you can brush elbows with Google, Facebook, and Calendar. Before GitHub existed, major companies created their knowledge mainly in private. But when you access their GitHub accounts, you’re free to download, study, and build upon anything they add to the network. So what are you waiting for?
Using GitHub To Improve Workflow
As embarrassing as it is to admit, this tutorial came into being because all of the “GitHub for Beginners” articles I read were way over my head. That’s probably because I don’t have a strong programming background, like most GitHub users. As a result, I couldn’t identify with the way most tutorials suggest using Git-Hub, as a showcase for my programming work.
What you might not know is that there are plenty of reasons to use GitHub if you’re not a programmer. According to GitHub’s educational videos, any knowledge worker can benefit, with “knowledge worker” defined as most any profession that makes use of a computer.
How GitHub Cab Improve Workflow
If you’ve given up on understanding how to use GitHub, this article is for you.
One of the main misconceptions about Git-Hub is that it’s a development tool, as much a part of coding as computer languages and compilers. However, Git-Hub itself isn’t much more than a social network like Facebook or Flickr. You build a profile, upload projects to share, and connect with other users by “following” their accounts. And while many users store programs and code projects, nothing prevents you from keeping text documents or other file types in your project folders to show off.
You may already have a dozen other social media accounts, but here’s why you should be on GitHub anyway: it’s got the best Terms of Service agreement out of the bunch. If you check out Section F of the terms, you’ll see that GitHub does everything in its power to ensure that you retain total ownership of any projects you upload to the site:
“We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Service. Therefore, your profile and materials uploaded remain yours.”
What’s more, you can actually use GitHub without knowing ANY code at all. So you don’t really need a tutorial to sign up and click around. But I think that there’s merit to learning things the hard way first, which I mean with plain old coding in Git. After all, GitHub happens to be one of the most effortless graphical interfaces for the Git programming language.
What Is Git?
Thank famed software developer Linus Torvalds for Git, the software that runs at the heart of Git-Hub. (And while you’re at it, go ahead thank him for the Linux operating system, too.) Git is version control software, which means it manages changes to a project without overwriting any part of that project. And it’s not going away anytime soon, particularly since Torvalds and his fellow kernel developers employ Git to help develop the core kernel for Linux.
Why use something like Git? Say you and a coworker are both updating pages on the same website. You make your changes, save them, and upload them back to the website. So far, so good. The problem comes when your coworker is working on the same page as you at the same time. One of you is about to have your work overwritten and erased.
A version control application like Git keeps that from happening. You and your coworker can upload your revisions to the same page, and Git will save two copies. Later, you can merge your changes without losing any work along the way. You can even revert to an earlier version at any time because Git keeps a “snapshot” of every change ever made.
The problem with Git is that it’s so ancient that we have to use the command line—or Terminal if you’re a Mac user—to access it, typing in snippets of code like ‘90s hackers. This can be a difficult proposition for modern computer users. That’s where Git-Hub comes in.
Git Hub makes Git easier to use in two ways. First, if you download the GitHub software to your computer, it provides a visual interface to help you manage your version-controlled projects locally. Second, creating an account on Git-Hub.com brings your version-controlled projects to the Web, and ties in social network feature for good measure.3
You can browse other GitHub users’ projects and even download copies for yourself to alter and learn from. Other users can do the same with your public projects and even spot errors and suggest fixes. Either way, no data is lost because Git saves a “snapshot” of every change.
While it’s possible to use GitHub without learning Git, there’s a big difference between using and understanding. Before I figured out Git, I could use GitHub, but I didn’t really understand why. In this tutorial, we’re going to learn to use Git on the command line.
Words People Use When They Talk About Git: Using GitHub To Improve Workflow
In this tutorial, there are a few words I’m going to use repeatedly, none of which I’d heard before I started learning. So here are the big ones:
Command Line: The computer program we use to input Git commands. On a Mac, it’s called Terminal. On a PC, it’s a non-native program that you download when you download Git for the first time (we’ll do that in the next section). In both cases, you type text-based commands, known as prompts, into the screen, instead of using a mouse.
Repository: A directory or storage space where your projects can live. Sometimes GitHub users shorten this to “repo.” It can be local to a folder on your computer or storage space on GitHub or another online host. You can keep code files, text files, image files, you name it, inside a repository.
Basically, the purpose Git was designed to serve. When you have a Microsoft Word file, you either overwrite every saved file with a new save or save multiple versions. With Git, you don’t have to. Instead, it keeps “snapshots” of every point in time in the project’s history, so you can never lose or overwrite it.
Commit: This is the command that gives Git its power. When you commit, you are taking a “snapshot” of your repository now, giving you a checkpoint to which you can reevaluate or restore your project to any previous state.
Branch: How do multiple people work on a project simultaneously without Git getting them confused? Usually, they “branch off” of the main project with their own versions full of changes they themselves have made. Then, after they’re done, it’s time to “merge” that branch back with the “master,” the project’s main directory.
Since Git was designed with a big project like Linux in mind, there are many Git commands. However, to use the basics of Git, you’ll only need to know a few terms. They all begin the same way, with the word “git.”
git init: Initializes a new Git repository. Until you run this command inside a repository or directory, it’s just a regular folder. Only after you input this does it accept further Git commands.
git config: Short for “configure,” this is most useful when you’re setting up Git for the first time.
git help: Forgot a command? Type this into the command line to bring up the 21 most common git commands. You can also be more specific and type “git help i4nit” or another term to figure out how to use and configure a specific git command.
git status: Check the status of your repository. See which files are inside it, which changes still need to be committed, and which branch of the repository you’re currently working on.
git add: This does not add new files to your repository. Instead, it brings new files to Git’s attention. After you add files, they’re included in Git’s “snapshots” of the repository.
git commit: Git’s most important command. After you make any change, you input this to take a “snapshot” of the repository. Usually, it goes
git commit -m “Message here.”The indicates
-m that the following section of the command should be read as a message.
git branch: Working with multiple collaborators and want to make changes on your own? This command will let you build a new branch, timeline of commits, changes, and file additions that are completely your own. Your title goes after the command. If you wanted a new branch called “cats,” you’d type.
git branch cats
git checkout: Literally allows you to “check out” a repository that you are not currently inside. This is a navigational command that lets you move to the repository you want to check. You can use this command to
git checkout master look at the master branch or to
git checkout cats look at another branch.
git merge: When you’re done working on a branch, you can merge your changes back to the master branch, which is visible to all collaborators.
git merge cats would take all the changes you made to the “cats” branch and add them to the master.
git push: If you’re working on your local computer and want your commits to be visible online on GitHub as well, you “push” the changes up to Git with this command.
git pull: If you’re working on your local computer and want the most up-to-date version of your repository to work with, you “pull” the changes down from GitHub to improve flow with this command.
Setting Up GitHub And Git For The First Time
First, you’ll need to sign up for an account on GitHub.com. It’s as simple as signing up for any other social network. Please keep the email you picked handy; we’ll be referencing it again soon.
You could stop there, and Git would work fine. But if you want to work on your project on your local computer, you need to have Git installed. In fact, Git won’t work on your local computer if you don’t install Git. So install Git for Windows, Mac, or Linux as needed.
Now it’s time to go over to the command line. On Windows, that means starting the Git Bash app you just installed, and on OS X, it’s a regular old Terminal. Next, it’s time to introduce yourself to Git. Type in the following code:
git config --global user.name "Your Name Here"
Of course, you’ll need to replace “Your Name Here” with your own name in quotations. It can be your legal name, your online handle, anything. Git doesn’t care. It just needs to know to whom to credit commits and future projects.
Next, tell it your email and make sure it’s the same email you used when you signed up for a GitHub.com account just a moment ago. Do it like this:
git config --global user.email "firstname.lastname@example.org"
That’s all you need to do to get started using Git on your computer. However, since you set up a GitHub.com account, likely, you don’t just want to manage your project locally and online. Suppose you want, you can also set up Git, so it doesn’t ask you to log in to your GitHub.com account every time you want to talk to it. It isn’t a big deal for this tutorial since we’ll only be talking to it once. The full tutorial to do this, however, is located on GitHub.
Creating Your Online Repository
Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to create a place for your project to life. Both Git and GitHub can improve it, refer to this as a repository, or “repo” for short, a digital directory or storage space where you can access your project, its files, and all the versions of its files that Git saves.
Go back to GitHub.com and click the tiny book icon next to your username. Or, go to the new repository page if all the icons look the same. Give your repository a short, memorable name. Then, go ahead and make it public just for kicks; why hide your attempt to learn GitHub?
Don’t worry about clicking the checkbox next to “Initialize this repository with a README.” A Readme file is usually a text file that explains a bit about the project. But we can make our own Readme file locally for practice.
Click the green “Create Repository” button, and you’re set. You now have an online space for your project to live in.
Creating Your Local Repository
So we just made a space for your project to live online, but that’s not where you’ll be working on it. The bulk of your work is going to be done on your computer. So we need to actually mirror that repository we just made as a local directory.
This—where we do some heavy command line typing—is the part of every Git tutorial that really trips me up, so I’m going to go tediously, intelligence-insultingly slow.
mkdir is short for make directory. It’s not actually a Git command but a general navigational command before visual computer interfaces. It ensures
~/ that we’re building the repository at the top level of your computer’s file structure instead of stuck inside some other directory that would be hard to find later. Actually, if you type into
~/ your browser window, it’ll bring up your local computer’s top-level directory. For me, using Chrome on a Mac displays my Users folder.
Also, notice that I called it MyProject, the very same name I called to improve the GitHub repository that we made earlier. So keep your name consistent, too.
cd stands for change directory, and it’s also a navigational command. We just made a directory, and now we want to switch over to that directory and go inside it. Once we type this command, we are transported inside MyProject.
Now we’re finally using a Git command. For your next line, type:
You know you’re using a Git command because it always begins with.
init stands for “initialize.” Remember how the previous two commands we typed were general command-line terms? When we type this code, it tells the computer to recognize this directory as a local Git repository. If you open up the folder, it won’t look any different because this new Git directory is a hidden file inside the dedicated repository.
However, your computer now realizes this directory is Git-ready, and you can start inputting Git commands. So now you’ve got both an online and a local repo for your project to live inside. In Part 2 of this series, you will learn how to commit local and GitHub repositories and learn about more great GitHub to improve resources.