software solutions / project leadership / agile coaching and training

Git: you really should use it. Really.

Posted on August 15, 2011

I’m always looking for anything that can make me more productive and help me develop software the way that I want to. I’m going to make it easy for you and give you some low-hanging fruit that can make software development easier — use Git for source control.

But you say, “It’s just source control, what’s the big deal?”

I said this once too. Most of us at some point used TFS or SVN or some other source control system that works like that. These allow you to check out, check in, branch, and merge, and I always held my breath when branching and merging. I never thought that there could be anything more than that.

Git enables you do to a lot more than that, and it doesn’t get in your way. It does what I want, and it does it fast.

Here are some ridiculous things that I or people I have worked with have been able to do with Git that I couldn’t have done with TFS or SVN:

  • Merged a release branch that we had been working on for a few weeks back into the trunk… in just a few seconds
  • Reverted a few selected files from a previous commit
  • Screwed up a big merge… and then reverted it so that I was back where I was before the merge… in about 1 second (git reflog)
  • Switched my code back to a release that we made 3 weeks ago… again, with virtually no waiting
  • Accidentally deleted a local branch that I had committed to the trunk… and then undid the delete and got the whole branch back (with all of the commits still intact) (git reflog, again)
  • Changed the commit message of something I had already committed (git commit –amend)
  • Pulled a single commit from the middle of another branch into the current branch (git cherry-pick)
  • Squished two commits that I had in a local branch into one commit (with a new commit message) before I merged it into the trunk (git rebase -i)
  • View the commit tree (with all branches and merges displayed graphically) (gitk, gitg, gitx, etc.)
  • Pull a commit from another repository into my repository, showing me as the committer but the original developer as the author (github pull requests)
  • Renamed files and directories… and git figured out on its own that I had done the rename and recorded it as such

I know some people are scared of Git because they don’t want to have to learn something new and confusing. The reason that I say that Git is low-hanging fruit is that it’s not that hard to learn (after all, it’s just a source control system, right?). If you want do the things that you do daily with TFS or SVN, all you’re really doing it checking in, checking out, looking at commit history, reverting commits, and maybe branching and merging. Those things are easy to learn, and then you can learn the advanced tricks that let you do the really awesome stuff.

Git will also change the way you work because now you can do things that you couldn’t easily do before. The biggest benefit of Git for me is that branching and merging is very easy and switching between or merging branches is almost instantaneous. As a result, I create a branch for every new feature that I work on, or every time that I want to try something that I’m not sure is going to work. I could never do this before because branching and merging was too slow and I didn’t completely trust that it wouldn’t become a merge nightmare. Also, if you’re using TFS, creating a branch means it has to copy the entire source tree into a new folder (as you could imagine, this takes awhile). Now that I can create a branch instantaneously or switch between branches very quickly, there’s no reason not to create one. So when someone comes over and wants me to try something on my machine, I can switch from the feature branch I was working on back to the trunk, do what I need to do, and then switch back to what I was working on.

Also, because I can have a local branch, I check in all the time. Then when I’m ready to go merge it into the trunk, I can squish and alter all of the commits to have nicer commit messages, combine ones that don’t need to be separate commits, and make it nice and clean. I kept it nice and clean in TFS and SVN too, but if I wanted to do that I couldn’t check in as often. I don’t like when my source control system prevents me from doing what I want to do.

If you still had an excuse, you have even less of an excuse because EdgeCase has an awesome Git tutorial up at It’s broken up into a bunch of short, easy to read pages so that it’s not overwhelming, and you can look in the table of contents to go directly to something that you’re interested in.

Oh, by the way, Git is free. Setting it up is as easy as getting an account on a site like Github or Unfuddle (OK, those aren’t free if you want to have private repositories with multiple committers) or setting up a folder share on Windows. Can’t say the same for TFS.

Again, if you’re skeptical, I encourage you to invest an hour going through the Git Immersion tutorial and see what you think. I can’t think of anything else that will give you so much benefit for so little investment.

If you’re at a place when you don’t have a say in which source control system to you use, check out git-svn or git-tfs.

Done anything else awesome with Git that I didn’t touch on? Please leave a comment!

I have over 15 years of software development experience on several different platforms (mostly Ruby and .NET). I recognize that software is expensive, so I'm always trying to find ways to speed up the software development process, but at the same time remembering that high quality is essential to building software that stands the test of time.
I have experience leading and architecting large Agile software projects and coordinating all aspects of a project's lifecycle. Whether you're looking for technical expertise or someone to lead all aspects of an Agile project, I have proven experience from multiple projects in different environments that can help make your project a success.
Every team and every situation is different, and I believe that processes and tools should be applied with common sense. I've spent the last 10+ years working on projects using Agile and Lean concepts in many different environments, both in leadership roles and as a practitioner doing the work. I can help you develop a process that works best in your organization, not just apply a prescriptive process.
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