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Version control tools

Version Control Tools

Source code is an invaluable resource that provides precious context, knowledge, and understanding for any given project. As such, it must be protected and preserved. Since source code is constantly being written and modified by various developers, it’s easy for different versions to sprawl out of control, which can lead to bugs and incompatibility.

This is where version control systems (VCSs) come in. They have the ability to take a snapshot of a set of files at a moment in time. That snapshot is given a unique identifier or reference name, then checked in to a special database where only the changes are recorded. This can be done automatically and continuously, so that users can backtrack to a previous state at any time. Lastly, a VCS can branch off the main branch into concurrent paths and merge back again, allowing developers to work independently on their features without having to wait for other team members. This is a powerful enabler of continuous integration, without which the CI/CD pipeline would not be possible.

Version control is absolutely essential for modern software development, regardless of the size of the project and its state of agile or DevOps adoption. 

There are two main types of VCSs:

1. Centralized Version Control:
The repository is located in one centralized location and provides access to many clients in a client-and-server relationship. All changes, users, and commits must be sent and received from the repository. Centralized version control works in a similar way to FTP, where a single FTP client connects to a single FTP server. It tends to be simple to set up and easy to understand, but it is dependent on access to the server and isn’t as compatible with branching and merging tools. Basically, if the server goes down, then nobody can collaborate or save changes. Subversion and Perforce are both centralized systems.

2. Distributed Version Control:
Also known as decentralized version control, this system gives each user their own copy of the entire repository (files and history both), forming a network of individual repositories. It is fast, doesn’t require a server, and enables branching and merging to be more reliable. Git and Mercurial are both distributed systems. 
Version Control Tools

What are Version Control Tools?

Version control tools provide an organized way to track changes over time. They record changes so that specific versions can be recalled later, synchronize versions to make sure that team members don’t make different code changes, and provide process enforcement and permissions. 

Key features of an ideal version control tool include:
1. Complete change history of every file
2. Branching and merging
3. Traceability
4. Conflict resolution
5. Rollback source code
6. Off-site source code backup (if using centralized version control)

In general, you will also want to consider 3rd party integrations, whether the tool encompasses collaboration and messaging, and metrics capture and analysis. 

Benefits of Version Control Tools

Version control tools allow everyone on the team to work and collaborate freely on any file at any time. Changes and updates are in no danger of being overwritten, and team members don’t have to wait for others to finish before working on a file. In addition, version control tools save versions in a well-structured and organized manner. Thorny issues like how much to save, how to name the versions, and how to document the changes are all side-stepped by the fact that version control only allows for one version. That version becomes the single source of truth for all team members, so that they can consistently get a snapshot of the complete project. 

Perhaps even more importantly, version control allows you to restore previous versions, meaning that developers can undo erroneous changes and avoid tedious rework. A distributed VCS is especially useful in this regard. If the central server becomes corrupt or breaks down, each developer has a local repository for recovery purposes.

Ultimately, VCS tools provide a complete and easily digestible timeline of changes and are a must for projects of any size.

Best Version control tools

  • Kallithea SCM


    Kallithea is open-source donationware under the Software Freedom Conservancy project that focuses on providing a customized, self-administered interface for Mercurial and Git repositories. It is built for speed and performance with a built-in push/pull server, full text search and code-review, and can be run as standalone hosted application on your own server.

    The name of the project originates from Καλλιθέα, the name of a locality on the island of Rhodes, in Greece, which means ‘the best view’. In turn, the Kallithea project helps developers get the best views of their project and its contributions.

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  • Beanstalk


    Beanstalk by Wildbit is an all-in-one tool that allows users to code, commit, review and deploy using a browser. It is easy to set up, supports both Git and SVN, has a versatile deployment system, and comes with built-in analytics features. However, it is less comprehensive than tools like GitHub and Bitbucket, and lacks a wiki.

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  • Gitbucket


    GitBucket is an easily installable Git platform written with Scala. It has a GitHub-like user interface, with features like Git repository hosting via HTTP and SSH, repository viewer, issues, wiki and plugin system.

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  • Mercurial


    Mercurial is a free, distributed source control management tool designed for efficient handling of very large distributed projects. It provides anyone who clones a repository with a standalone, fully functional local repository containing the full development history and the ability to select any version of the code. Its features and functionality are similar to Git, but Mercurial is generally considered to be simpler and easier to learn.

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  • Gogs


    Gogs is an open source, self-hosted Git service written in Go. It provides services similar to GitHub, but with several differentiating features, such as a very low memory footprint, fewer requirements and the ability to compile code into a single binary.

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  • Git Lab


    GitLab is an open source web-based Git repository manager with a wiki and issue-tracking features. It provides integrated CI/CD tools that help teams to shorten the delivery lifecycle.

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  • Bitbucket


    Bitbucket, owned by Atlassian, is a web-based version control repository hosting service for projects that use Mercurial or Git.

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  • Git Hub


    GitHub is a web-based version control and collaboration platform for software developers. It facilitates social coding by providing a web interface for Git’s code repository, collaboration tools, wikis, and task management tools for projects.

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  • Subversion


    Apache Subversion (SVN) is a free, open source version control system for tracking changes to files, folders, and directories. Software developers use it to maintain current and historical versions of files such as source code, web pages, and documentation.

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  • Git


    Git is a free, open source distributed version control system (DVCS) used for software development version tracking and work coordination.

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