DEV Community


Posted on

Introduction to version control

Version control, also known as source control, is the practice of tracking and managing changes to software code. Version control systems are software tools that help software teams manage changes to source code over time. As development environments have accelerated, version control systems help software team work faster and smarter. They are especially useful for Development and operations teams since they help them to reduce development time and increase successful deployments.
Version control software keeps track of every modification to the code in a special kind of database. If a mistake is made, developers can turn back the clock and compare earlier versions of the code to help fix the mistake while minimizing disruption to all team members.
For almost all software projects, the source code is like the crown jewels - a precious asset whose value must be protected. For most software teams, the source code is a repository of the invaluable knowledge and understanding about the problem domain that the developers have collected and refined through careful effort. Version control protects source code from both catastrophe and the casual degradation of human error and unintended consequences.
Software developers working in teams are continually writing new source code and changing existing source code. The code for a project, app or software component is typically organized in a folder structure or "file tree". One developer on the team may be working on a new feature while another developer fixes an unrelated bug by changing code, each developer may make their changes in several parts of the file tree.
Version control helps teams solve these kinds of problems, tracking every individual change by each contributor and helping prevent concurrent work from conflicting. Changes made in one part of the software can be incompatible with those made by another developer working at the same time. This problem should be discovered and solved in an orderly manner without blocking the work of the rest of the team. Further, in all software development, any change can introduce new bugs on its own and new software can't be trusted until it's tested. So testing and development proceed together until a new version is ready.
Good version control software supports a developer's preferred workflow without imposing one particular way of working. Ideally it also works on any platform, rather than dictate what operating system or tool chain developers must use. Great version control systems facilitate a smooth and continuous flow of changes to the code rather than the frustrating and clumsy mechanism of file locking - giving the green light to one developer at the expense of blocking the progress of others.
Software teams that do not use any form of version control often run into problems like not knowing which changes that have been made are available to users or the creation of incompatible changes between two unrelated pieces of work that must then be painstakingly untangled and reworked. If you're a developer who has never used version control you may have added versions to your files, perhaps with suffixes like "final" or "latest" and then had to later deal with a new final version. Perhaps you've commented out code blocks because you want to disable certain functionality without deleting the code, fearing that there may be a use for it later. Version control is a way out of these problems.
Version control software is an essential part of the every-day of the modern software team's professional practices. Individual software developers who are accustomed to working with a capable version control system in their teams typically recognize the incredible value version control also gives them even on small solo projects. Once accustomed to the powerful benefits of version control systems, many developers wouldn't consider working without it even for non-software projects.


  1. A complete long-term change history of every file. This means every change made by many individuals over the years. Changes include the creation and deletion of files as well as edits to their contents. Different VCS tools differ on how well they handle renaming and moving of files. This history should also include the author, date and written notes on the purpose of each change. Having the complete history enables going back to previous versions to help in root cause analysis for bugs and it is crucial when needing to fix problems in older versions of software. If the software is being actively worked on, almost everything can be considered an "older version" of the software
  2. Branching and merging. Having team members’ work concurrently is a no-brainer, but even individuals working on their own can benefit from the ability to work on independent streams of changes. Creating a "branch" in VCS tools keeps multiple streams of work independent from each other while also providing the facility to merge that work back together, enabling developers to verify that the changes on each branch do not conflict. Many software teams adopt a practice of branching for each feature or perhaps branching for each release, or both. There are many different workflows that teams can choose from when they decide how to make use of branching and merging facilities in VCS
  3. Traceability. Being able to trace each change made to the software and connect it to project management and bug tracking software such as Jira, and being able to annotate each change with a message describing the purpose and intent of the change can help not only with root cause analysis and other forensics. Having the annotated history of the code at your fingertips when you are reading the code, trying to understand what it is doing and why it is so designed can enable developers to make correct and harmonious changes that are in accord with the intended long-term design of the system. This can be especially important for working effectively with legacy code and is crucial in enabling developers to estimate future work with any accuracy. Types of Version Control Systems:

Local Version Control Systems
Centralized Version Control Systems
Distributed Version Control Systems
Local Version Control Systems: It is one of the simplest forms and has a database that kept all the changes to files under revision control. RCS is one of the most common VCS tools. It keeps patch sets (differences between files) in a special format on disk. By adding up all the patches it can then re-create what any file looked like at any point in time.

Centralized Version Control Systems: Centralized version control systems contain just one repository and each user gets their own working copy. You need to commit to reflecting your changes in the repository. It is possible for others to see your changes by updating.

Two things are required to make your changes visible to others which are:

You commit
They update
The benefit of CVCS (Centralized Version Control Systems) makes collaboration amongst developers along with providing an insight to a certain extent on what everyone else is doing on the project. It allows administrators to fine-grained control over who can do what.

It has some downsides as well which led to the development of DVS. The most obvious is the single point of failure that the centralized repository represents if it goes down during that period collaboration and saving versioned changes is not possible. What if the hard disk of the central database becomes corrupted, and proper backups haven’t been kept? You lose absolutely everything.

Distributed Version Control Systems: Distributed version control systems contain multiple repositories. Each user has their own repository and working copy. Just committing your changes will not give others access to your changes. This is because commit will reflect those changes in your local repository and you need to push them in order to make them visible on the central repository. Similarly, When you update, you do not get other’s changes unless you have first pulled those changes into your repository.

To make your changes visible to others, 4 things are required:

You commit
You push
They pull
They update
The most popular distributed version control systems are Git, Mercurial. They help us overcome the problem of single point of failure.


Purposeof Version Control:

Multiple people can work simultaneously on a single project. Everyone works on and edits their own copy of the files and it is up to them when they wish to share the changes made by them with the rest of the team.
It also enables one person to use multiple computers to work on a project, so it is valuable even if you are working by yourself.
It integrates the work that is done simultaneously by different members of the team. In some rare case, when conflicting edits are made by two people to the same line of a file, then human assistance is requested by the version control system in deciding what should be done.
Version control provides access to the historical versions of a project. This is insurance against computer crashes or data loss. If any mistake is made, you can easily roll back to a previous version. It is also possible to undo specific edits that too without losing the work done in the meanwhile. It can be easily known when, why, and by whom any part of a file was edited.

Discussion (0)