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Brian Barbour
Brian Barbour

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When to Branch Your Code (Git)

Version control systems like Git are fundamental tools. They provide a way to track changes to our code, collaborate with others, and, importantly, experiment without fear. Branches have a special role to play. The best way to understand the importance and correct timing of creating a new Git branch is to picture it as a science experiment.

Branches - The Science Experiments in Code

In a lab, scientists run experiments to test hypotheses, trial new approaches, and probe the unknown. They carry out these investigations in a controlled environment where, if things go awry, the whole lab isn't blown to smithereens. Instead, they can adjust their hypothesis, tweak the method, or simply discard the experiment and begin anew.

Git branches provide a safe environment for your codebase. They allow you to work on new features, bug fixes, or entirely experimental code, separate from your stable, primary codebase. Like a lab experiment, a new Git branch is something you can create without fear and abandon if it doesn't pan out as planned.

Merging - Strengthening the Codebase Tree

Just like successful experiments that contribute to scientific knowledge, well-executed Git branches eventually get merged back into the main project. This merging signifies that your 'experiment' was successful, be it a new feature implementation or an innovative solution to a bug. This successful experiment then becomes a part of your codebase, strengthening and enriching it; akin to adding a new, robust branch to a tree.

When Should You Branch?

The golden rule is: branch when you're about to begin work that could potentially disrupt your main codebase, even if the risk is minimal. It's like putting on safety goggles before an experiment. You might not always need them, but you'll be glad you have them when things unexpectedly splatter.

Here are a few common instances when you should create a new branch:

  1. When you're adding a new feature: This new feature is your hypothesis. Test it, refine it, and when it's ready, merge it back in.
  2. When you're fixing a bug: Consider this as a corrective experiment. Make sure the fix works perfectly before integrating it back into your main code.
  3. When you're experimenting: Maybe you're trying out a new programming approach, or perhaps you're testing how a new technology fits into your project. Branch out, and don't be afraid to discard the results if they don't meet your expectations.

Remember, branching is your safety net in the world of code. Make it a habit to branch often, merge successful 'experiments,' and fearlessly winnow those that didn't work out. It's all part of the process of nurturing and growing the tree that is your codebase. So branch wisely and branch often!

Top comments (2)

ananfito profile image
Anthony Nanfito

Thanks for this! I know how to branch with git, but your analogy with scientists 👨‍🔬 conducting lab experiments 🧫 really helps clarify when I would need to branch. In fact, think it’s much better than the general rule I’ve heard previously of “branch early and branch often”.

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Grant Riordan

Good article. The analogy of researchers really helps those less familiar with reasoning for branching understand the usages.