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Getting Started: Collaborative development with Git

This post is part of the "All you need to know to become a great Drupal developer" blog series.

Git is a version control system, like "track changes" for code. It's fast, powerful, and easy-to-use version control system. But the thing that's really special about Git is the way it empowers people to collaborate.

All the projects on drupal.org are stored in Git, and there are millions of public projects hosted by GitHub.com. Whether you are a developer who wants to contribute to an open source project, a freelancer who needs to know how to maintain a patched module, or a member of a team collaborating on a single code base, Git is a tool worth having in your toolbox.

This blog post walks through some basic Git workflows for collaborative development. If you've heard people talk about "decentralized" or "distributed" version control, but you haven't seen it in action, or you're not sure what's so cool about it, this post is for you. To follow along, you just need to have Git installed on your computer. Some basic experience with version control (Git or other) is helpful, but not required.

Example Scenario

Here's our scenario: Alice starts a project called "rhymes", it's a simple Git repo with a bunch of Alice's favorite nursery rhymes stored in it. Bob uses the project and wants to contribute to it. Specifically, he wants to contribute a few new rhymes, and help improve formatting to make the documents easier to read. Alice will review Bob's changes, accept some of them, then make her own changes to the project. Then Bob needs to sync up his copy of the project with Alice's.

Alice's rhymes project is hosted on GitHub, which conveniently provides beautiful graphical interfaces for exploring and interacting with Git repositories. This makes it easy for Bob and other people to use and contribute to.

The steps below walk through both Alice's and Bob's workflows step-by-step. Follow along on your own computer as Alice or Bob. If you have a partner to do this with, one of you can be Alice and one of you can be Bob, or if you have two GitHub accounts, you can play both roles.

(Git repos on drupal.org are just like Git repos on GitHub. But they don't have the pretty GUI. I'm a visual learner. I think it's easiest to learn Git on GitHub, where the website visualizes what is going on inside a repo. I'm a commandline guy myself, so I don't use the GUI tools much anymore. But whenever my teammates and I get tangled up with merge conflicts, we push our work up to GitHub and examine the visual network graph. This is usally the easiest way to clear things up.)

Step 1: Alice creates a new project and hosts it on GitHub.

(When Alice is done, her project will look like this. If you're following along as Bob, you can "fork" my example of the rhymes repo here: https://github.com/bryanhirsch/rhymes)

First, Alice opens up a terminal and creates a Git repository from the command line:

# Create a folder for your project.
mkdir rhymes
cd rhymes

# To make this directory and empty Git repo do this:
git init

# I usally create and empty README.txt file for the first commit in my project
# history.
touch README.txt
git add README.txt
git commit -m 'First commit.'

# Add some explaination about the project to the README file.
echo 'This repo is a collection of my favorite nursery rhymes.' >> README.txt

# Review uncommitted changes. Then commit them.
git status
git diff
git add README.txt
git commit -m 'Added project overview to README.txt'

Next, Alice downloads some rhymes and stores them in her repo:

# Alice downloads favorite rhymes.
wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/all-around-the-mulberry-... https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/jack-and-jill.txt
wget
https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/old-mother-hubbard.txt
wget
https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/twinkle-twinkle.txt
wget
https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/hokey-pokey.txt
#
The files have been downloaded, but not committed.
# You can see this with git status.
git status

# Alice adds the files one-by-one to make her git history look nice and tidy.
git add all-around-the-mulberry-bush.txt
git status
git commit -m 'Added all-around-the-mulberry-bush.txt.'
git add jack-and-jill.txt
git commit -m 'Added jack-and-jill.txt.'

# Alice gets lazy and decides to just add everything else at once.
git add .
git commit -m 'Added old-mother-hubbard.txt, twinkle-twinkle.txt, hokey-pokey.txt'

# Alice reviews and admires her commit history.
git log
git log --oneline
git log -p

Next, Alice creates a GitHub account here: https://github.com/. Then she creates a new repo named "rhymes". Following the instructions provided by GitHub, she pushes her repo up to GitHub like this (if your following along as Alice, replace my username in the URL with your own):

git remote add origin https://github.com/bryanhirsch/rhymes.git
git
push -u origin master

Step 2: Bob copies Alice's project, then submits some simple changes

Bob discovers Alice's repo on GitHub here. He can copy, or "clone", her project here (screenshot). But if Bob wants to propose changes to Alice through GitHub, he needs to "fork" Alice's project first (because he does not have permission to make changes directly in Alice's repo). Bob forks Alice's project by clicking the fork button here.

Now Bob has his own copy of Alice's project here: here.

Bob adds Hickory Dickory Dock to his copy of rhymes.

# First Bob clones his fork of Alice's rhymes project.
# (If you're following along, replace bhirsch below with your own GitHub username.)
git clone https://github.com/bhirsch/rhymes.git
cd
rhymes

# To keep things simple and tidy, Bob will keep the master branch in sync with Alice's version of the master branch.
# Bob creates a new branch, where he will store his changes.
git checkout -b hickory-dickory

# Add Hickory Dickory Dock to the repo.
wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/hickory-dickory-dock.txt... add hickory-dickory-dock.txt
git commit -m 'Added hickory-dickory-dock.txt.'

# Bob pushes the changes from his local copy of rhymes up to GitHub.
git push origin hickory-dickory

To submit his changes to Alice, Bob creates a pull request (screenshot 1, screenshot 2).

Step 3: Alice reviews and accepts Bob's simple changes

Alice can review Bob's pull request under the Pull Requests tab on her GitHub project (screenshot).

There are two ways for Alice to merge in Bob's changes. The easiest option is to use GitHub's GUI. When changes merge cleanly, like these ones, GitHub offers a bright green button that says, "Merge pull request" (screenshot). After merging, if Alice wants to have see the changes locally on her laptop, whe needs to pull changes from the GitHub copy of her repo down to the local copy on her laptop.

The second option is for Alice to merge Bob's changes manually. This is what Alice will do...

First, Alice tidies up her repo to make it easy to work with multiple remotes. By default GitHub always instructs users to name their own remote on GitHub "origin". But this can get confusing and dangerous quickly. If Alice and Bob both give each other permission to make changes in one another's repos without making pull requests, and Alice has one copy rhymes where "origin" points to her own repo, and another where "origin" points to Bob's, Alice will inevitably push something to Bob's repo one day which she intended to push to her own. Alice could remove her changes to Bob's repo with a "force push". But it's really bad GitHub etiquette to change the history of a published project. And it's also impolite to force push things in other people's repos. To prevent confusion, embarrassment, and headaches, Alice always renames "origin" something else. She names all her remotes after the GitHub user who owns the remote repo, including her own. This way, no matter where she cloned the project from, the remote names are consistent among all her copies of any projet.

# Alice renames origin -> alice.
cd rhymes
git remote rename origin alice

# Add a remote pointing to Bob's copy of the project.
git remote add bob https://github.com/bhirsch/rhymes.git
#
Review remotes.
git remote

# Confirm each remote points to the correct repository.
git remote -v

Next Alice pulls down a copy of Bob's work. She checks out a local copy of his changes to inspect them. Then she merges and pushes her changes up to GitHub.

# Fetch a copy of Bob's work.
git fetch bob

# Review all the branches (both local and remote).
git branch -a

# Check out a local copy of Bob's work and review it.
git checkout -b hickory-dickory bob/hickory-dickory
git diff master hickory-dickory
git log -1 -p

# Checkout master and merge Bobs changes in.
git checkout master
git merge hickory-dickory

# Push changes up to GitHub
git push alice master

# Remove our local copy of the hickory-dickory branch. We don't need it anymore.
git branch -D hickory-dickory

NOTE: After Alice pushes master up to GitHub with Bob's changes merged in, GitHub will automatically close Bob's pull request (screenshot).

Step 4: Bob makes lots of changes

Bob updates his repo, to get it up to date with Alice's

cd rhymes
git remote rename origin bob

# Add a remote pointing to Alice's copy of the project.
git remote add alice https://github.com/bryanhirsch/rhymes.git
#
Review remotes.
git remote

# Confirm each remote points to the correct repository.
git remote -v

# Update master branch.
# (As an alternative to fetch, use `remote update` to update all your remotes.)
git remote update
git checkout master
git merge alice/master

# To confirm you did everything right check the difference between your local copy of master
# and Alice's master branch. There should be no difference.
git diff alice/master

# Push to GitHub
git push bob master

Bob creates a new branch where he will add more stuff.

git checkout -b bobs-changes

Bob adds more rhymes.

wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/jack-be-nimble.txt
git
add jack-be-nimble.txt
git commit -m 'Added jack-be-nimble.txt.'

wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/mother-goose.txt
git
add mother-goose.txt
git commit -m 'Added mother-goose.txt.'

Bob changes README.txt to try and make it more useful. He updates it with this text:

This repo is a collection of Alice's favorite nursery rhymes.
Pull reqests accepted.

git commit -am 'Updated README.txt.'

Bob fixes his typo:

This repo is a collection of Alice's favorite nursery rhymes.
Pull requests accepted.

# Review changes word-by-word. Commit.
git diff --word-diff
git commit -am 'Fixed typo in README.txt.'

Bob changes the wording:

This repo is a collection of nursery rhymes.
Pull requests accepted.

git commit -am 'Updated README.txt.'

Bob changes the wording again:

This repo is a collection of nursery rhymes and children's songs.
Pull requests accepted.

git commit -am 'Updated README.txt.'

Bob adds a few more rhymes.

wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/old-king-cole.txt
git
add old-king-cole.txt
git commit -m 'Added old-king-cole.txt.'

wget https://www.acquia.com/sites/default/files/blog/twinkle-twinkle.txt
git
add twinkle-twinkle.txt
git commit -m 'Added twinkle-twinkle.txt.'

Bob keeps making updates to the README. Now he changes it to:

README
=======
This is a collection of nursery rhymes and children's songs. Contributions are
welcome. Please submit changes as GitHub pull requests.

git commit -am 'Updated README.txt.'

Bob reviews his log. He feels silly about having changed the README so many times.

git log
git log --oneline

Step 5: Bob cleans up his work before submitting

Bob doesn't want to waste Alice's time having her review changes that he himself has already decided to throw away. So, before publishing his project history on GitHub, he does some cleanup.

The commit history in the bobs-changes branch looks like this:

$ git log --oneline
77886c1 Updated README.txt.
fbe874e Added old-king-cole.txt.
6256b8a Updated README.txt.
d1ba481 Updated README.txt.
b7e5732 Fixed typo in README.txt.
642477c Updated README.txt.
9e48a45 Added mother-goose.txt.
8aea9be Added jack-be-nimble.txt.
4b15370 Added hickory-dickory-dock.txt.
4ada881 Added old-mother-hubbard.txt, twinkle-twinkle.txt, hokey-pokey.txt
10e0e68 Added jack-and-jill.txt.
6a69e0f Added all-around-the-mulberry-bush.txt.
d30493a Added project overview to README.txt
710f4bd First commit.

Using Git's interactive rebase command, Bob can rewrite history. Bob will reorder all the updates to README so they appear chronologically. Then he will squash them down to a single commit. Here's how he does it:

# Rewrite history going back as far as commit 4b15370.
git rebase -i 4b15370

An interactive rebase session begins. A text editor opens a screen that looks like this (the stuff commented out at the bottom is a cheat sheet):

pick 8aea9be Added jack-be-nimble.txt.
pick 9e48a45 Added mother-goose.txt.
pick 642477c Updated README.txt.
pick b7e5732 Fixed typo in README.txt.
pick d1ba481 Updated README.txt.
pick 6256b8a Updated README.txt.
pick fbe874e Added old-king-cole.txt.
pick 77886c1 Updated README.txt.

# Rebase 4b15370..77886c1 onto 4b15370
#
# Commands:
#  p, pick = use commit
#  r, reword = use commit, but edit the commit message
#  e, edit = use commit, but stop for amending
#  s, squash = use commit, but meld into previous commit
#  f, fixup = like "squash", but discard this commit's log message
#  x, exec = run command (the rest of the line) using shell
#
# These lines can be re-ordered; they are executed from top to bottom.
#
# If you remove a line here THAT COMMIT WILL BE LOST.
#
# However, if you remove everything, the rebase will be aborted.
#
# Note that empty commits are commented out

First reorder the commits in the order you want them to be rearranged in the project's history:

pick 8aea9be Added jack-be-nimble.txt.
pick 9e48a45 Added mother-goose.txt.
pick fbe874e Added old-king-cole.txt.
pick 642477c Updated README.txt.
pick b7e5732 Fixed typo in README.txt.
pick d1ba481 Updated README.txt.
pick 6256b8a Updated README.txt.
pick 77886c1 Updated README.txt.

Next change "pick" to "squash" where we want to squash commits down to a single commit. (Squashes get squashed "up". In the example below, everything is being squashed into commit 642477c.)

pick 8aea9be Added jack-be-nimble.txt.
pick 9e48a45 Added mother-goose.txt.
pick fbe874e Added old-king-cole.txt.
pick 642477c Updated README.txt.
squash b7e5732 Fixed typo in README.txt.
squash d1ba481 Updated README.txt.
squash 6256b8a Updated README.txt.
squash 77886c1 Updated README.txt.

Save. Close. Git prompts Bob to enter a revised commit message (showing him all his old commit messages, in case he has any important notes in there to save.)

Now when Bob reviews his commit history, it's nice and tidy.

$ git log --oneline
80e8a59 Updated README.txt.
1d57351 Added old-king-cole.txt.
9e48a45 Added mother-goose.txt.
8aea9be Added jack-be-nimble.txt.
4b15370 Added hickory-dickory-dock.txt.
4ada881 Added old-mother-hubbard.txt, twinkle-twinkle.txt, hokey-pokey.txt
10e0e68 Added jack-and-jill.txt.
6a69e0f Added all-around-the-mulberry-bush.txt.
d30493a Added project overview to README.txt
710f4bd First commit.

Now Bob pushes his changes up to GitHub and sends another pull request to Alice.

Summary

This blog post covered the basics of collaboration with Git: Forking projects, sending pull requests, managing multiple remotes, and keeping a log worthy of reading. If you found this useful, spend some time clicking around the GitHub network graph (here), and playing with committing, rebasing, and merging. There's a lot of great stuff here.

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