DEV Community

Rocky Kev
Rocky Kev

Posted on

Github is replacing the word master to avoid slavery references. Deal with it.

First, Github is making some changes.

GitHub is working on replacing the term "master" on its service with a neutral term like "main" to avoid any unnecessary references to slavery, its CEO said on Friday.via zdnet

What the internet is saying

There's some interesting conversations I was having in with my dev friends on Slack. Much is shrugging.

But the vocal parts of the internet?

Twitter is typical Twitter - lots of opinions in 240 characters.

Reddit commenters are pretty negative (as usual to anything).

Heck, within that Zdnet post are some really awful comments.

My personal opinion?

There's no slave model in Git. I personally think it's a stretch to connect the word Master with the whole Master/Slave concept in tech.

Opinions are like butts

Everyone has opinions. You're allowed to have opinions. You also have a butt.


Please avoid putting it in people's faces who don't want it.

I started to really think this through - is changing the word master to main important to me?


It doesn't affect me in the slightest.

So my opinion is kinda moot. It doesn't matter. It's a waste of energy to think about. And of all the hills to die on, this is not one of them.

But let's go through the excuses because why not?

Excuses you'll hear why it's a bad idea

Excuse 1: It's just language policing

As a developer, why are you so invested?

You can name anything with anything.

sayHello & i are the same.

const sayHello = 'Hello, there';
const i = 'Hello, there';
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Now, i doesn't make sense as a variable name at all. There's no meaning what i represents and it's a terrible practice.

While changing master to main doesn't have any implications.

Excuse 2: It's a slippery slope

As a developer, programming is a slippery slope!

Languages change over time. Tedtalk video That's how languages work. Go ahead - travel back in time with your English speaking skills. You definitely won't be able to speak the same English to another english speaker in the 1200s.

When Python removes the master/slave terminology, Python didn't break. Life moves on.

Excuse 3: It makes the internet/tech nerds mad

So? Remember the opinions == butts part? This guy from 2015 thinks React is bad

People get mad and butthurt about everything.

Excuse 4: Why change it now? It was fine how it was!

This screams 'We've Always Done It This Way', which is one of the most dangerous phrases in business.

'We've Always Done It This Way' is a fundamentally broken concept. If it wasn't, we'd still be using Netscape and writing pure HTML/CSS.

Excuse 5: There's nothing innovative about changing it to main

Finally you're getting it! It's a nothing burger.

But at the end of the day, the change is the change and life moves on.

But if you still have very strong opinions and feel like you're fighting against some weird 1984-cult language, I invite you to relax and take a break from the internet, and when you're ready, put your opinions here.

Top comments (70)

dianaramirez16 profile image
Diana Ramirez • Edited

everyone's negative reactions to this are so revealing.

if it truly wasn't a big deal to you what the word means, then you wouldn't be opposed to the change.

if you are opposed to the change, there isn't any logical reason to be. you're upset because now you've been forced to associate this word with its historically racist meaning, something that all developers of color have been forced to see from the beginning of their careers in tech.

to add to the point that the writer of this article is trying to get across to everyone: if you care to die on this hill, you definitely deserve to.

stevetaylor profile image
Steve Taylor • Edited

I’m opposed to the change for the following reasons:

  1. As stated by the author, Git doesn’t make use of the master/slave metaphor.
  2. A lot of systems integrate with Git and treat master as the default branch, by default. A mass change of master to something else will fragment the ecosystem.

By themselves, these reasons aren’t enough. If master in Git was based on a slavery metaphor, then I’d have no issue making an effort to update my repos. But it isn’t, so why bother breaking and fragmenting an ecosystem over it?

Some other things that could be offensive:

  • Thighmaster
  • Masterfoods
  • Master a musical instrument
  • Master of Arts Degree in African-American Studies

As for those complaining that it’s political correctness gone too far, they should grow up. Sometimes you have to tweak your language to live peacefully with the people around you. I just don’t see this is as one of those cases.

fluffynuts profile image
Davyd McColl • Edited

Exactly -- I have over 200 repos. I'm not about to go update them all.

Changing the default branch from master breaks a bunch of tools, most especially the ones which bridge git with other vcs systems (hg, perforce, svn, etc).

Does anyone have a problem with a "master copy of a record"? Does this mean that "becoming a master of your craft" is oppressive?

git's source implies the "master record" analogy for the master branch; in addition, there are two places where I could find the word "slave", both tests:

  1. a test where the author was clearly reaching for two other branch names which are copies of the original -- this could be easily rectified with a minor commit
  2. perl scripts which refer to pseudo-terminal slaves; and I guess those are gonna get it too.

I brought this up at work, in an open environment. The PoC that I work with don't object to the term. All recognise the giant PITA this is going to become, via knock-on effect.

Meanwhile, whilst we churn with such trivialities, the people who actually killed PoC when their mandate was to protect and serve, go about their business -- most still in the same positions of power. GitHub continues to service ICE. Futile gesture much?

On the other hand, I don't want anyone to feel oppressed or sad at work. If this really means so much to so many, fine, let's change it. I've only seen a handful of people originally upset about it tho and much instigation after the fact :/

What's also really interesting, imo, is that the most vocal people about this have been !PoC (that I've seen). See above: "Futile gesture much?"

And again, I say: I could be well wrong -- I can't possibly know how all people feel -- so if this really means that much, cool, let's do it. Until someone decides that main isn't offensive for some other reason.

Thread Thread
amandaiaria profile image
Amanda Iaria

I would think if they were good at what they do you wouldn't have to worry about that.

Thread Thread
fluffynuts profile image
Davyd McColl

I assume you're referring to the tools?

If so, here's some more info:

Git can be used to bridge to other VCS backends. In other words, I can run git locally and get it to sync up to an SVN server. On SVN, the convention is that trunk is the "main" branch, where on git, that's always been master. In both cases. there's no trivial way to "ask" what the "main" branch is -- GitHub's setting, for example, pertains to how others raise pull requests against your repo, not how git sees things.

This may sound silly (why bridge?), so I'll recount when I had to use git as a bridge:

I was doing work for a client who used TFS as their VCS. And not the "git-backed" TFS you may have heard of these days -- the older engine, which, like SVN, requires you to be able to connect to the server to commit. Which I couldn't always do. So in that case, I have two options: accumulate changes into one massive commit when I can finally connect and have (a) terrible history and (b) make it much harder to move incrementally forward (and, by extension, incrementally back, eg when experimenting on a new feature).

So, in this case, I would use the git-tfs bridge to run git locally (so I can use all of the distributed features and have small commits), and push to the TFS remote when I was able to connect (eg when I was on-site).

When tools which facilitate this kind of behavior break, that's bad for a lot of people involved.

Add to the conversation the fact that the author responsible for naming master as such has said that he intended it in the sense of master copy (as I've been suggesting the intent appeared to be from the source) and we have a massive movement to rename something which will take time and effort, has knock-on effects and doesn't even address what it sets out to, let alone the really big problems that are out there.

I still maintain: let's change the name if it makes a lot of people unhappy, but let's be honest about its origins and the fact that it's non-trivial to do so and will break systems which rely on established conventions.

Thread Thread
amandaiaria profile image
Amanda Iaria

Interesting. Thanks for telling me this. I've known a few people who've had to use both git and plastic (I have zero experience with plastic) for their work. Where git is either going to github/bitbucket or staying on their machine and plastic going to the server. It was a bit convoluted on their part but they had to for their sanity or policy (mostly for sanity).

reinhart1010 profile image
Reinhart Previano K. • Edited

The same reasons could also apply to the USB specification, which instead uses master-slave references since 1996 (USB 1.0 release). Forcing the USB-IF (USB Implementers Forum) to rename "master" and "slave" respectively for that specific reason will start a new level of debate, not just whether the rename is necessary, but also whether the entire USB specification should be cancelled as it promotes "slavery" to the devices.

So yes, enforcing political correctness to the technology today can break everything because of a change that is made for the sake of change (without considering interoperability).

sanidz profile image

Its just bollocks

people are offended with everything, and changing one term will not change anything.

fight for racial justice and equality should be fought on totaly different levels with laws, rules, courts and with knowledge.

murkrage profile image
Mike Ekkel

People have been hurt by the terms we use for a lot of things for far longer than you've been aware of. That's the core issue here; there are people out there that have felt this for their entire lives.

Changing one term might not change anything, but being in software development you are probably aware that incremental improvements to a system accumulate in a large scale change of the system.

jethrojm profile image
Jethro Moller (He/Him)

I love this 🙏❤️ Very well put.

fossheim profile image

if it truly wasn't a big deal to you what the word means, then you wouldn't be opposed to the change.


murkrage profile image
Mike Ekkel

This is the only comment here that matters. Well put.

jafuentest profile image
Juan A. Fuentest Torcat

This reminds me of the discussions about the LGBT+ colored response to git push on Bitbucket las year. At first I was like WTF is going on, what did I break!?

Then I googled it and was like "Ah... Ok... Cool", I spent no more than one minute on that search, plus like 10 minutes reading the reactions and a few more minutes talking about it with colleagues and laughing at the people that felt offended by it and that was it. No harm was done, we didn't have to update any of our tools, integrations or anything, and we spent time discussing the issues of the LGBT+ community and how close minded some people are about it. So objective fulfilled, nicely done Atlassian.

Few weeks ago I update my apps (I don't have auto-updates enabled) and see Reddit pushed an update just to change the icon to black, and I called my wife to show her the update message and we talked about it. Well done Reddit.

Now Github does this thing and I just feel it's like a cheap imitation of these. But whatever, I spent five minutes writing this, and that's it, moving on to the things that matter. If you, like me were privileged to be born in a family with the means to put you through a good college then go out there and help those who didn't get that advantage. That's how we build a better world.

dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu

Pretty cheap indeed.

assertnotnull profile image
Patrice Gauthier

There's more to it.
It means thinking there's a problem when there's none and then enforcing this "solution" on everyone else.

Also this comment on a similar matter:

aykutcan profile image
Aykut CAN

You want change names ? Go change it.

But calling people "butthurt" or "buttblabla" is not valid argument. Go get your shitty arguments together.

"While changing master to main doesn't have any implications."
That is the most moronic argument i hear about this thing. On top of that this beautiful variable naming example. OH GOD.

What about thousands of books and millions of documents & tutorials ?
It wıll affect thousands (if not millions) pipelines that working with git.

ludamillion profile image
Luke Inglis

I think the somewhat amusing thing here is that at most of the companies I've worked at we've used some form of GtiFlow (ugh) so master is really more of an archive than the main branch. In daily use the developemnt branch is actually the main branch. Naming things is hard. Now I'm going to go invalidate some caches...

blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder • Edited

In principle no reasonable person should be opposed to Git making this change if it genuinely makes the profession more welcoming... but I am still somewhat suspicious of the motivation. Of course the current #BLM protests have raised awareness; but 'master/slave' has been an issue for years and was acted on some time ago by those organisations who cared to listen (e.g. Drupal, Python). So "why now?" is a pertinent question.

I know that "who is asking for this change?" is a loaded question; but when black developers are going so far as to express discomfort over it - and being lectured by whites on the justification - things start looking a lot less clear.

Edit: a relevant comment from another thread

Edit: an amazing video that provides some context to the current protests.

arvigeus profile image
Nikolay Stoynov

What about all the online tutorials / books that use the “outdated” names? What about existing scripts?
There is a reason development is such a headache right now: backward compatibility. Anyone remembers #smooshgate? This is not an opinion: this is a breaking change. Unless there is a strong reason or evidence the current master branch name is hurting, such sudden change is reckless. Sure, push for it. But go gradually. Heck, we still transpile code for IE 11, and it’s considered a dead browser. Why is that hurry now?

P.S.: Next we should discuss how executable files promote killing.

evankapantais profile image
Evan Kapantais

I understand the change from master to main is going to throw people off merely because of how used to master we are regarding version control. While the word master doesn't have any intrinsic meaning when it comes to versioning (since there is no slave to it per se), there are concepts where it does make some sense.

Professionally I work in pro audio - I am a sound designer for video games, to be exact - and the master/slave relationship actually does make sense as a concept there, since you can have an audio workstation (i.e. Logic Pro, Pro Tools etc.) dictate the general settings of the project to a slave workstation that just inherits the master's timeline tracking, I/O settings, timecode and so on. While I don't think the reference to actual slavery is even remotely significant as to justify a change in wording, should a better or equivalently descriptive word-duo appear I would be all for it.

jafuentest profile image
Juan A. Fuentest Torcat

I can't really believe a CEO of a big company thinks this contributes in any way to the fight against racism, it's just publicity, they just want to be in the news as a company that's doing something against racism.

Why not set up coding schools for black kids and teenagers, so that they can access better jobs, better salaries and live better lifes. And I say blacks because it's not just about african-americans there's racism and inequality all around the world.

How many racial inequality problems will be solved by this? I think none

dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu

Exactly! Or solve their other social injustice issues.

mskog profile image
Magnus Skog

If changing the name of the default from master to main will make software development a bit more welcome to non-white developers then I'm all for it. A very small price to pay in my opinion.

"People" have been opposed to ANY change in this matter really. I remember when we tried to be more welcoming by not allowing sexism and harassment of female developers for example. That was also met with huge pushback by the use of "slippery slope" arguments and "no politics in my software development". Code of conducts were not necessary apparently even though they CLEARLY were.

I can see the argument for the slippery slope and "what if we go too far in the other direction". Even if that would be so I would still want to go there and then we can have discussions about scaling it back if necessary. Let's fix things together first!

giltorch profile image

I'm black, born of black and a proud haitian (which is the 1st black country) and to me this change is useless. What about we make true changes instead. This is a joke. And at the end of the day, selfish.

dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu

A very small price to pay in my opinion.

To quality the price as "small", you need to actually think of the downsides and also of the benefits. The latter aren't clear at all. On the contrary.

crisarji profile image

Not a fan of this change, I would need to hear/read that that Git master branch feature creator was a racist and that's the reason why he/she created it that way, I mean, it is a reference name, and a whole bunch of tools, thrid-party or custom, use the master branch as the default, this will be a little messy.

Anyway, if we are talking about intentions, let's do it, why is Git changing the master branch till now, 2020, and not 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10 years ago?.

I see 2 bullets:

  1. Do people believe there was a hidden intention 15 years ago when created?
  2. Do people don't believe there is a hidden intention in doing the change 15 years later?

Really?, Git did not was born racist and slave full, are people who turned it racist and slave full today.

nick profile image
Nick Rameau

I was originally furious about this, because this change doesn't bring any value to anyone. And even if master in Git was based on a slavery metaphor, I would be okay with it... Just as I'm okay with 3rd party packages that use the words whitelist and blacklist.

I don't get offended at this level and if anyone does, well, I respect that.

Welp, it's only Github, we can switch to something else (Gitlab) if they make it hard to bear.

kalinovych profile image

Mastercard left the chat.

ds profile image
Draško Sarić

Name is a name. If someone would feel safer if master branch is changed to main, so be it. I am also not sure though that renaming default git branch would stop racism towards black community, but I don't live there, so I am not the one to asked for opinion about that. I am just hoping that this change would not affect current projects on GitHub.

slackerzz profile image

What about master boot record? Should we update the BIOS too?

As long as I'm free to name a branch as I want honestly I don't care

kneza23 profile image
Tomislav Knežević • Edited

Let me ask you this - if it isn't a big deal, then why is it changing?

Why would anyone change something so unimportant according to you. I mean it is just a counter argument to your's, that we should not care about this or have a strong opinion.

But the thing is, we should care - because they care. And it is nothing altruistic about it (if they really think that, then it is just silly) because in reality it is just a PR move ;)

Some comments may only be visible to logged-in visitors. Sign in to view all comments.