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Git Best Practices, Guidelines, and Resources for Your Software Development Career

Mercy Ugonna Njoku - December 21, 2021


If you’re wanting to learn software development , one of the tools that will be most instrumental to a career in the field is Git. Git promotes collaboration and efficiency between developers working on the same project. With a distributed version control system like Git, your development team can track the history and progress of a project from their computer systems or server in real-time.

This tool allows you to see the timeline of any project, make changes to your source code, review code versions, or create another code repository within the same codebase using a Git branch. Plus, you can do this all without butting heads with others working on the same project. To get the most out of this powerful tool, this guide will share the Git best practices and guidelines that can help propel your development skills.

What Is Git?

Git is an open-source distributed version control system that runs on different operating systems. It is used for creating top software development projects . Git comes with powerful features that allow you to perform programming tasks freely without license permission. It allows you to store, track, and manage the progress of a code. It does this by keeping snapshot records of changes made to a program file or set of document files over time to facilitate the review of code versions.

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As a distributed version control, Git allows each developer to own an original copy of a project in their computer systems without having to connect to a central server. By using Git cloud-based hosting platforms like GitHub, BitBucket, GitLab, AWS CodeCommit, and Microsoft Azure DevOps, you can properly manage and store your Git projects.

15 Concepts You Need to Understand for Git Best Practices

If you want to be considered a team player and collaborate on projects with your work colleagues as a software developer, you need to be able to use Git. Git runs on Linux, Windows, and macOS. It is mostly written in the C programming language, but other minor languages include Shell, Perl, TCL, Python, and C++.

To work with Git you need to understand the following basic concepts.

  1. Development environment. A development environment is the software development workspace that comprises the tools and processes that programmers and developers use for developing, testing, editing, and debugging the source code for a program or software application.
  2. Working directory. A working directory is a hierarchical file system in your computer’s files that contains the commands, functions, processes, and default locations of one version of the Git project files and folders you’re working on.
  3. Staging area. This is a temporary or draft work area where the programmer keeps track of multiple file changes that are not yet saved to the Git repository but may be added to the next commit. A programmer can store program file versions in a working directory, staging area, or repository within the development environment.
  4. Git repository. A Git repository is a storage place that holds files and directories and also traces and saves historical records of the diverse changes made to the Git files associated with a particular project. This is so that the developer can review the different code versions or share them with other developers at any time. It can be a local repository on your operating system or a remote repository.
  5. Git Commands. There are several Git commands used by developers working on a Git project. The most common include fork, clone, commit, add, status, and push.
  6. Git fork. Git fork means creating an independent duplicate copy from an original Git repository so you can format the contents without affecting the codebase.
  7. Git clone. A Git clone is a downloaded duplicate copy of a remote Git repository. Other developers can still make adjustments to the cloned codebase.
  8. Git commit. A Git commit is a process of saving the developments made to a project using a commit message. It is always important to use meaningful commit messages when uploading a commit.
  9. Git add. Git add includes a file version to the commit history. Git push is to transfer the contents or commits from your local repository to your remote repository or a Git branch.
  10. Git status. Git status allows developers to review their repository and staging area. It shows them the file changes made as well as the tracked files and untracked project files.
  11. Branches. A Git branch is a mobile pointer that directs the programmer to the various commits in the repository. This pointer is called a master. The master branch command can be duplicated, deleted, or merged. It identifies the current commit you’re working on.
  12. Git workflow. A Git workflow is a Git branching model used to coordinate Git branches, especially for a large or continuous delivery software project by providing operational suggestions. With this, the programmers and developers can easily blend into the project pattern without disrupting existing progress.
  13. Pull request. A pull request is a workflow feature that allows a developer to send a review message to other contributors of the source code. This is to review the changes made to the project and to include them in the next commit message as part of the Git repository.
  14. Merge. A Git merge command instructs the system to blend the different commit branches into a new separate whole. Git can automatically blend the different commit pointers as long as there are no conflicts.
  15. Conflict. A Git conflict occurs when there are disparities in the content of different branch files. For instance, if edits were made to one Git branch but weren’t reflected by the developer in the other file version, Git will be unable to merge them into a single branch until the conflict has been resolved.

4 Common Challenges That Git Guidelines Can Address

As a new software developer or a programmer yet to be familiar with the Git version control system, you should ensure you follow Git guidelines and best practices to avoid encountering too many issues over the course of your project. Below are some of the issues that can be resolved by following Git guidelines.

Issues with Adding Code Files

If you encounter difficulty in adding new content to your existing Git repository, it could be that there is a problem with the file you’re trying to add. Ensure that you have saved versions of the changes made to the existing file so Git can track the file. If it fits under the exclude rule on Git, it won’t be added. Also if the file you’re trying to add is empty, Git won’t track it. So if you want to add an empty file you should save it as a Git keep so it can be tracked.

Issues with Commit

For small-scale or personal projects, you don’t have to include a commit description outside of stating your commit option as your subject. Git will still obey your command. However, if you’re working with a group of developers on a large project with multiple file changes, a Git best practice would be to include a description. Also, there are rules your subject line must follow to achieve your desired result.

Issues with Merging

For best practices, developers working on a particular project are supposed to work on separate branches to avoid merging conflicts. Otherwise, if two developers are editing or deleting code lines in the same file branch and one of the developers uses the merge command to combine the branches into a single commit, Git will stall the merge commit process until the developer resolves the conflict. Meanwhile, the other teammates are oblivious.

Issues with Rebasing

Just like merging, rebasing can be used to merge separate branches in a repository. However, while merging integrates the contents of the file branches into a current branch and retains the initial branches, rebasing removes the changes or commits in a branch feature and converts it to a master branch. This method might cause errors or bugs to be added to the base branch. To resolve this, you can reverse the rebase or check through the content to fix the errors.

Top 10 Git Best Practices and Guidelines

A smiling woman holding a marker near a whiteboard
With an efficient, distributed source control system like Git, you can easily collaborate remotely with your team.

To ensure you achieve a seamless software development process, you should apply Git best practices to all your projects. Below are some of the Git best practices you should apply in your next project to boost communication and collaboration with your teammates and to increase team productivity.

Implement Git Standard: Use Git Workflow

A Git workflow allows you to achieve efficiency in your coding process. It is a branching model that directs developers while they work. It provides recommendations to Git users on how to properly use Git. This is an ideal tool for new developers who are yet to get familiar with the system as well as those collaborating with other teammates on a project.

There are a couple of Git workflows out there but to ensure uniformity, all the members of the team should agree on one. So the team can take time to compare the Git models and decide which one is best. The workflow that is selected should be easy for all members to work with. Most importantly, the workflow should align with the size and skill level of the team.

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Rebase Your Git File

A Git rebase can be an effective tool for your software projects if you’re familiar with the system. However, if you’re new to the Git software, you should not work with rebase without following a Git best practice. Having too many commits can be quite confusing and overwhelming and using rebase eliminates that hurdle.

Also, if you notice that rebasing has introduced an error to your file, you can easily reverse your action or glide through your work to find and correct the errors. One thing to note is that rebasing is best for a one-man project or a relatively small team. It can be used to reduce any conflicts that arise when another developer is committing changes to the same codebase in a remote repository.

Know What and What Not to Commit

While working on a project at developmental intervals you will need to commit changes made to your repository. These commits are snapshots of your logical project development and they facilitate code review. Before committing files to your local or remote repository you should know what can qualify as a commit message.

You should only commit files that relate to your project. You can commit files that contain your source code. Empty files shouldn’t be included. Files that don’t contain code lines for that particular project shouldn’t be committed either. Files generated from preprocessors or libraries shouldn’t be included. Configuration files should not be added to your codebase.

Commit Every Time You Add a New Feature

Committing your code files on time ensures that you can track your project history systematically and make logical developments when the need arises. If you do not commit the changes made to your project steadily, you run the risk of losing valuable content. However, you should stick to committing when you’ve added a new feature to your file to avoid having too many separate commits.

Also, if you commit changes with little or no developmental progress, it will be confusing to review your code when the need arises. Also if you wait to commit until you’ve added a lot of changes to your file, it will make it less effective to track the changes in your previous commit history.

Resolve Git Conflicts Immediately

Resolving merging conflicts immediately is especially important when you’re working with other developers on a remote repository. The more time you waste not resolving the conflicts within your Git repository the more you lose developmental control of your project. This is because when there’s a conflict, the other developers will not be aware of it.

If it is a remote repository they will continue to make adjustments to the source code and it will become increasingly difficult for you to track and resolve the errors since Git will stall the merging process until it is resolved. You can use a conflict editor to resolve some of the merging conflicts that can arise. For instance, when a conflict results from two developers adding content to the same line of code.

Test Your Code Before Pushing it to the Remote Repository

Before you push your code to a public repository you should make sure there are no errors or bugs and that the code can be easily understood by other developers. It should also comply with the team’s Git standard. Git supports several testing tools to enable developers to effectively review their codes.

Although Git has an automated test tool called “Git Hooks” that can cross-check each commit made or feature added to a codebase, you should conduct your code review before sharing your code file. You can do this by integrating quality code review tools with your Git. Examples include Embold, Gerrit, and Phabricator.

Ensure Your Branches Are Organized

When your file branches are organized, it will be easier to track the progress flow of your project. This way you can properly manage the changes made to your code. Using a branching strategy makes it easy to organize the different branch types. Whatever branching strategy you choose should work with your Git workflow and repository size.

The code should first be reviewed before it is branched. You can use more than one branching strategy but before you do, communicate it to your teammates. Some of the branching strategies you could use include the trunk branch strategy, task branch strategy for each task you perform on the codebase, feature branch strategy for features you add to the code, and the release branch strategy for production releases.

Use Pull Requests

A pull request is an efficient way for code owners to review a project code. Using a pull command, a developer can notify other developers of a change made to the codebase so it can be reviewed and included in the next commit message. The change could be a new feature added to the source code or an error or bug corrected.

This creates an opportunity for the teammates to go review the additions or deductions made in the codebase. Pull requests breed workflow uniformity, communication, and improved code quality. They reduce the likelihood of another developer causing a merge conflict. It also ensures issues are resolved faster.

Tag Your Commits

As an efficient way of protecting your code quality and ensuring merging conflicts are reduced, you should assign serial tags to your series of commits. This way you can easily track your code and properly merge the right code files. Depending on your Git workflow or branching model, you can assign your commit tags to suit the existing pattern.

You can assign tag numbers based on feature developments, tasks completed, or merged branches. This will make it easier to review your code with other teammates, especially if you’re working on large projects with other developers.

Back-Up Your Repositories

Aside from storing your Git repositories in an open-source Git hosting platform, you can save them in the cloud for future reference. It is always ideal to have more than one storage option. So many incidents can cause a loss of data. You can even mistakenly delete your repository from your hosting platform account.

Also, because it is on an open-source platform other members of your team can still make adjustments to the codebase, which will alter the entire code. However, that won’t happen if you backed up a copy on your cloud. For an added layer of security, it is best to have multiple backups of separate repositories.

How to Learn Git Best Practices

There are several resources available to help you properly understand Git and how to implement its guidelines and practices in the most effective ways. From articles on Git to specialized books and lectures, there are many options out there. There are also courses and full-on Git training , so you can become an expert in using Git in no time.

Can a Bootcamp Help You Learn Git Best Practices?

A coding bootcamp is an immersive educational training program that enables tech students to gain knowledge within a short amount of time. Bootcamp students will learn the industry-standard knowledge and skills they need to launch a career as a tech professional.

Participating in the best Git bootcamps is an ideal option as the level of instructor-student engagement is very high. Also, learning Git best practices requires practical lessons and coding bootcamps will provide opportunities to engage in guided Git projects. You’ll also be trained on how to handle working on a professional team as there are collaborative projects to help you get up to speed.

Best Courses and Training Programs to Learn Git Best Practices

Provider Course Price
Udemy Git Training: Step-by-Step Guide to Git Version Control $69.99
Atlassian University, Coursera Version Control with Git Free
Codecademy Learn Git $19.99/month
Udacity Version Control with Git Free
Skillup by Simplilearn Git Training Free

Should You Learn Git Best Practices?

Yes, learning Git best practices will improve your coding skills, increase your knowledge of software project management, and boost your chances of landing good-paying jobs. You could work for top employers like Netflix, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon if you learn how to implement Git best practices. You can also earn a higher salary as software engineers with Git skills earn an average of $83,337 a year, according to PayScale.

Git Best Practices and Guidelines FAQ

Is quashing commits good practice?

Quashing commits might be good practice, depending on the circumstances. Quashing commits is a way to organize your commit history before allowing other programmers to access the source code. While quashing commits makes the codebase concise it can still cause your team to lose some valuable information that existed in the unintegrated branches. It comes down to personal preferences but think carefully before you decide to do it.

What is the best practice while working with Git in a collaborative manner?

The best practice while working on a Git project with a development team is to devise a Git standard. There should be a defined development workflow in use and there should be a set commit method and rules. In addition, implement a branching strategy that aligns with the team size, project type, and work culture.

What is the best branching strategy in Git?

There are different branch strategies in Git. Each of these strategies depends on your team culture, skill level, and work pattern. You should choose one that suits your joint demands. The most popular branching strategies are the feature branching strategy, trunk branch strategy, task branching strategy, and release branching strategy. Each of these branch workflows may work for different teams.

What is a Git mirror?

A Git mirror is used for cloning and fetching identical source codes from a remote repository while still staying connected to the source codes. A Git mirror is ideal for large teams working remotely as each developer can independently work on a code while others are also working on it. By easily owning an identical copy of the original code, teammates can focus on the reviewing process.

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Mercy Ugonna Njoku

About the author: Mercy has a background in accounting and is a veteran content writer who holds a BSc in Business Management from Abia State University. In her writing, Mercy helps people navigate unfamiliar and complex situations in their professional lives so they can thrive. Her hobbies include drawing, working on startup projects, and engaging in discussions.

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