Version Control — Why Do We Need It?

Complex code development is impossible without a Version Control System (VCS). Version Control is used to track and control changes to source code. It is an essential tool to ensure the integrity of the codebase.

Why is Version Control Essential?

Easy Modification of the codebase

Software development includes the continuous process of modifying programs and version control system makes this task easier. Version control software is used by software developers to maintain documentation and configuration files as well as source code. It helps developers to store different versions of software safely and in an organized manner.

With this, a Software Engineer can quickly identify which version needs to be modified and what commits had been done previously and should be done.

Reverting Errors

Version control can be an excellent help for emergency hot-fixes, routine maintenance, upgrades, and new features with potentially overlapping development timeframes.

When you need to troubleshoot an issue, you can easily access and compare the last working file with the faulty file, and decrease the time spent identifying the cause of an issue. 
You can restore older versions of a file (or even the whole project) effectively through the use of version control systems. You can simply undo every commit you have done in just a few clicks.

Collaboration

Programmers and developers can easily collaborate on a project through the version control system. Everyone can access the database simultaneously to view previous versions. It will be easier for them to work simultaneously as a team regardless of their location.

Version control allows developers to store the history of changes and who made them, enabling them to revert or look back to previous versions of documents and understand how contributions by different contributors have changed the project over time.

When working with multiple collaborators, understanding what commits are being incorporated into the repository and why commits were pushed are crucial to avoid breaking one another’s source code.

Collaborative environments ( like GitHub, GitLab, etc.) developed around version control systems provide central repositories, issue tracking/management, and threaded discussions/forums which helps facilitate a team-based approach to the software development lifecycle.

Backup

A distributed VCS acts as a backup. If a central server does down, a developer can retrieve one of his/her teammates’ local VCS repository. However, take note that VCS is not generally a backup system so do not cram files on your remote server.

Version Control Best Practices

To reap the benefits of using VCS, remember these best practices:

Commit early and commit often. This will help you make your commits small and limited only to related changes. Make small changes but do not commit unfinished work to avoid breaking the build.

Document everything. Provide a short description of the changes that have been done every time you save a new version. This will help you understand how your project evolved between versions and store versions correctly.

Write a good commit message with a short summary of your changes (up to 50 characters as a guideline). The summary should provide details on the intent and purpose of the changes and how it differs from the previous implementation. Link code changes to work items for the changes’ traceability.

Test before you commit. Make sure that a commit is thoroughly tested before implementing to ensure that it has no side effects or errors. Do not share untested commits with other developers.

Comply to agreed conventions and workflow and be a team player. Consistency helps ensure quality making it easier for the whole team or other developers to review code, debug, or make other modifications.

Version control is essential to track, organize and control changes over source code and avoid confusion, especially for large, fast-changing projects.

Version control systems are essential tools when integrated with a well-defined version management process.

Free version control systems are commonplace so there’s no reason to not use one.

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