Version control, alternatively referred to as source control, is the exercise of tracking and managing changes to software code. A version control system is a software tool that aids software teams in managing changes to source code over time. These tools help software teams to work faster and smarter, especially for DevOps as they aid in reducing development time and increasing successful deployments.
Every modification and change to the code is kept track of by version control software in database — if a mistake is made by a team member, a developer can revert back to an earlier version prior to the commit that included this mistake. This is very helpful in minimizing development disruption for all team members.
For a majority of software projects, the source code is highly important and should be protected. Version control protects source code from both major mistakes and smaller human errors that result in unintended outcome.
Software development teams are continually writing new and making alterations to existing source code. This code is typically structured within a “file tree” — team members can work on different parts of this tree in unrelated and related files.
Tracking of these individual changes by version control helps to prevent concurrent work from conflicting. One developers changes may be incompatible with those made by another working at the same time, and with the help of version control this can be remedied by reverted to a previous version of the code.
Software teams that do not employ a form of version control very often have issues with not knowing which changes are available in production (i.e. to the user) versus which are still only accessible in development, as well as issues with incompatible changes between code contribution and being unable to easily revert back to a working version of the code.
One of the most popular version control systems (VCS) at present is Git. Git is free and open source, like many of the popular VCS systems of today. The primary benefits of Git (and other VCS tools) are:
- Branching and merging — allows team members to work at the same time, however is also helpful for individual project work as well. This allows you to work on an independent ‘channel’ when making changes to your code. You do so by creating a ‘branch,’ which separates the work you do on this branch from the rest of your work/code, with the ability to later merge these changes into the main branch once you have determined you want to keep the changes. This allows developers to determine whether changes on a branch will have any conflicts with the rest of the code before committing their changes to be saved to the main structure and impact the work of other developers.
- Complete change history of every file — Every change made by an individual is saved, including deletion and creation of files and edits to file contents. Having this makes it easy to go back to a previous version when trying to determine the root cause of a bug.
- Traceability — the ability to trace each alteration made to the code and being able to submit a message with each commit (save) of your code describing what you changed and the purpose is very helpful in tracking down and remedying bugs. This annotated history is invaluable in deciphering the journey of a projects development.