You’ve definitely heard about version management, but how much do you know about it?
Multiple tools exist but the one that has become predominant as of today is certainly
So we’re going to focus on git flows for software’s version control.
What is version control?
We’re talking about code, but version control can be applied to any kind of documents we want to “version”, like a presentation 📊, a text document 🗒, an image 🖼 and so on.
Version control is the practice of tracking changes, each change is basically a version of the original work. In software development, it encompasses the practice as well as the tool that manages changes of the code over time.
For software, all changes are stored in a special kind of database (ex: In the
.git folder with
git) so that it’s
easy to navigate and modify through the revision to revert to a previous version or apply modifications.
Don’t use version control
Print out your code 🖨 like in the 60’s or better yet, send it over by mail 📨 like in the 80’s. But the one true best option is to just use one computer so everyone should be either mob programming 👩👩👦👦 or keeping track of the latest news on the next trending social media buzz. 📲
Not using version control is an option technically… but let’s be real, until we invent the next best thing that’ll make it obsolete, you have to have it.
Ok, use it 🙆♀️
Let’s not be provocative, and use version control for its obvious benefits. By the nature of the incremental work of software management, versioning is a must. Having one source of truth in the main repository is key to allow multiple team players to work on the same project.
We’ll be talking about git which is an open source, source code management system originated by Linus Torvalds (Linux) in 2005. It’s not the only open source option, but it has a broad adoption from the community.
Now let’s assume that your tool is in place, on your coding device locally and set up with a remote server for collaboration. You now have multiple options to get you development process started. You can either go:
- Trunk based: Usually no branches everybody pushes to main
- Feature based: All new code is added via pull requests that are reviewed and merge into main
- Stage based: Working with multiple branch representing the state of the code, develop, main, release.
- A mix of the above.
Let’s review those “git flows” in details, their benefits and inconveniences and in which environment they’d be at their best.
Git branching strategy
☝️ That’s how it called, “git branching strategy” which describes how you are using
git with your tool and your
It’s a very common topic that does not only touch developers, as you’ll find on both Microsoft and Google DevOps documentation. The main guideline is to keep it simple. I have differentiated three main strategies, but it’s not uncommon to see hybrid ones.
There’s no better practices than the one everybody is comfortable and have agreed to follow, …even if it’s a bad one 🙆♀️ Fail fast, learn fast, gotta apply that agile methodology 👌
The trunk based strategy is also the simplest, the golden rule is simple, everyone should commit to master at least once a day. It’s not a zero branch strategy as you can have some as well, but it’s usually without since the goal is to always push to the main branch.
While this is great to kickstart a project, you can iterate quickly. However, this model is not compatible with open source project where you may want more control on who and what gets into the code. Also having a main branch means that each commit needs to match a higher level of quality, and be tested or protected behind a feature flag. This may be tough step to jump for junior developer when each commit can potentially break prod, writing code becomes a bit more daunting.
For the trunk based strategy to work, you need some pair programming for synchronous code review and mentoring.
Also referred as GitHub flow because it has been popularized via open source projects on GitHub, it’s a model that performs well with controlled collaboration. It is also considered as a simplified version of the common git flow or stage based.
In this context, you have a main branch and every change is done via feature branches. This process impose a code review when merging a PR (pull request from a feature branch) which can bring good discussion and ensure some code and quality standards. It also performs well when with release cycle as each tagged version correspond to a feature, so you know exactly what’s being deployed.
On the downside, making and reviewing PRs may add some overhead on your development process.
This one is also called Git Flow, but I prefer stage based, since we have multiple branches representing each stage, like develop for the currently worked on branch, main which is the latest version, sometimes there’s even a release branch for the latest stable version.
Considering trunk based is mostly on one branch, and feature based on multiple ones, you could use both of the previous approach in a stage based strategy, here is how it would look:
- Stage with dev trunk (still pretty uncommon):
- Staged with dev features, with a release branch, this is the traditional git flow, also the most complex:
As you can see, this strategy can be a bit more complex than the other ones. It’s best made for established software where you might need to support multiple version in production. You want the highest stage branch (main in our case) to be as stable as possible.
The downside is the added complexity that can slow down the development process.
I have tried all of them, and I have to say that the trunk based while having some potential great inconvenient, can truly do wonders with developers. Taking accountability on your code, striving for quality and thinking about the customer will make you evolve as a software developer 💪. It’s something that really depends on the work culture and atmosphere, you need to be able to make errors and learn from them to make it work.
Having branches is a must to entice collaboration, no wonder the feature based is so popular. And as project grows and mature stage based strategy while cumbersome might ease out some complexity of the release cycle, when maintaining released products for a long time (like OS version, or computing language).
There are advantages in all of them, but it all depends on your project complexity, team size and preference. Regardless of your branch strategy, your development process be backed with a good CI/CD pipeline and automated tests to ensure the best quality.
Do you have a strong opinion about your development flow, or have been using a custom one that I haven’t mentioned, then please share it with me in the comment! 💛