Learn what version control is and why it's essential

Many testing and programming courses focus a lot on work done locally, on your own machine without any kind of version control. However, in the real world, you probably work with others as a team in order to develop or test a product.

In order to make life easier for teams to work at the same time on a single piece of software, version control systems have appeared. These tools help individual developers spend less time on making sure their changes don’t interfere with modifications from colleagues, as well as the whole team by providing the latest functional version of the software.

In this article, we’re going to be explaining why version control is a very important aspect of the development and testing lifecycles, and how it can help you and your team more efficient.

What is version control? 🔃

A simplified version control workflow
A simplified version control workflow

Version control systems have an online server, usually called a repository, which holds the latest version of the software that you are working on.

Once they get a task, developers take the latest version (this procedure is called pull, as in the developer pulls the latest version or changes).

Once their task is completed, the developer saves their work (this is called a commit, as in they commit all their changes to a single update).

That commit, which holds all the modifications made by the developer, is then sent to the repository (this is called push, as in the commit gets pushed to the repository).

The repository then tries to merge those changes with the current latest version and, if successful, a new latest version will be created, with the recent change.

If the process fails, a merge error appears and the developer responsible for the faulty commit must fix it. Until then, the latest version will be the one before the problematic commit.

How can version control systems (VCS) help you? 🤔

Providing stable versions

You need to protect the source files for a project from faulty modifications but, at the same time, they need to be available so that people can enhance them with new content/features/information.

VCS provide both these important attributes, as they hold the latest stable version of the source files, while making sure that people can add new modifications.

Easy collaboration

A new member joins your team and he needs to implement a major new feature that will take them some time to create in your application. Without a VCS, colleagues would need to stop working and wait for the new feature to be implemented.

Thanks to the VCS, however, the new joiner can get the latest working version and work without any rush. Colleagues can continue working and updating the VCS with their changes and, once your new member has finished his work, he can rely on the VCS to merge the new feature and then sort out any potential inconsistencies.

Access to modification history

You may, my mistake, merge a change that has errors with the repository and it’s not spotted automatically. In this case, you can easily access the VCS’ history and roll back to previous versions.

You can also see for each file who made modifications and at what point in time, making it easier to ask for clarifications about the choices they made. Some VCS also provide easy comparison between different versions of a file, so you can notice what specific changes were made.

Ability to branch your work

Consider you have a single main version of your software. A client wants a specific feature implemented only for them. Using a VCS, you can create a branch of your main repository, implement the feature, and deliver a version for that specific client. Once more changes are made to the main version, you can easily merge those modifications to the custom branch.

Another benefit of branching is that you can develop new features in individual branches and, once finished, you can merge them into the main repository for a release.

Conclusion 🏁

Version control systems are useful when working with software but also all sorts of files that benefit from having stable versions, such as documents, images, and much more. Simply put, if one or more people are making changes on a file, it can help to control its versions.

Stay tuned for more articles about popular version control systems, such as Git, Subversion (SVN) and more.

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