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Introduction to Git and Types of Version Control Systems

D. J., Software Development Consultant

What is Git

Git is a Version Control System or VCSVCS is basically software designed to record changes within one or more files over time. It allows us to undo or to cancel all made or pending changes within one or more files. If we're working on a project with many files, VCS enables us to control the whole project. If necessary, this allows us to revert one or more files any of their previous versions or the whole project to a previous version. We can also compare changes to one file between two versions in order to see exactly what was changed in each file, when it was changed and who made the change. We can also see why the change was made.

Why am I mentioning files instead of code? Because Git is a universal system that can be used for version control of all types of files, be it Microsoft Word files, pictures, AutoCAD files, Visual Studio Project, etc.

Types of VCS

Git is not the only VCS in use. Moreover, Git is just a kind of VCS.

The types of VCS are:

  • Local Version Control System
  • Centralized Version Control System
  • Distributed Version Control System

Local Version Control System

A local version control system is a local database located on your local computer, in which every file change is stored as a patch. Every patch set contains only the changes made to the file since its last version. In order to see what the file looked like at any given moment, it is necessary to add up all the relevant patches to the file in order until that given moment.

The main problem with this is that everything is stored locally. If anything were to happen to the local database, all the patches would be lost. If anything were to happen to a single version, all the changes made after that version would be lost.

Also, collaborating with other developers or a team is very hard or nearly impossible.

Centralized Version Control System

A centralized version control system has a single server that contains all the file versions. This enables multiple clients to simultaneously access files on the server, pull them to their local computer or push them onto the server from their local computer. This way, everyone usually knows what everyone else on the project is doing. Administrators have control over who can do what.

This allows for easy collaboration with other developers or a team.

The biggest issue with this structure is that everything is stored on the centralized server. If something were to happen to that server, nobody can save their versioned changes, pull files or collaborate at all. Similar to Local Version Control, if the central database became corrupted, and backups haven't been kept, you lose the entire history of the project except whatever single snapshots people happen to have on their local machines.

The most well-known examples of centralized version control systems are Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) and SVN.

Distributed Version Control System 

With distributed version control systems, clients don’t just check out the latest snapshot of the files from the server, they fully mirror the repository, including its full history. Thus, everyone collaborating on a project owns a local copy of the whole project, i.e. owns their own local database with their own complete history. With this model, if the server becomes unavailable or dies, any of the client repositories can send a copy of the project's version to any other client or back onto the server when it becomes available. It is enough that one client contains a correct copy which can then easily be further distributed.

Git is the most well-known example of distributed version control systems.

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