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Git Version Control

Git [1] is a distributed text code repository which operates as follows:

  • Local workstation project folders include a copy of the repository archive
  • Commit adds changes to the local repository copy
  • A remote master or upstream repository maintains the canonical archive
  • Pull retrieves remote master archive changes and merges them into the local copy
  • Push merges local commits with the remote master archive
  • Collision detection rather than exclusive locking manages conflicts between local and remote archives

Git was written by Linus Torvalds to manage version control for the Linux kernel. It has become a de facto standard for open-source version control. Git is simple in use, and the distributed code approach is well-suited to open-source development, where contributors do not share continents, much less office space.

Set Up Git


Git installation packages are available for practically every computer system. Here are Linux installation commands:

System Git Installation Command
Debian/Ubuntu Linux sudo apt-get install git-core
Redhat/Fedora Linux sudo yum install git-core
Mac OS-X w/ Mac Ports sudo port install git-core
OS-X graphical install

Use this guide for a more detailed explanation of Git packages, versions, and system requirements.


Git stores global settings for each user in home directory file ~/.gitconfig. Git config console commands change settings in this file. The following global configuration settings are recommended:

git config --global "{firstname lastname}"
git config --global "{email@domain}"
git config --global branch.master.remote origin
git config --global branch.master.merge refs/heads/master
git config --global --add color.ui true

For git 2.0, push.default changes from matching to simple. If this is a problem, add the following configuration command:

git config --global push.default matching

The following configuration is necessary when encased in the Microsoft Windows coccoon:

git config --global core.autocrlf true

If the –global option is omitted, then settings will apply to whichever project repository is open at the time. Most git information specific to a project is stored in directory .git at a project’s root folder.

Remote Repository Hosting

Remote Git repository hosting services are readily available, and so there is little reason to install a private Git repository server. Some sites which provide free repository services for public and some private repositories are listed following:

Site name URL to site

Many website hosting services provide direct integration with repository services. Github provides hosting for static sites through gh-pages and blogs with octopress. Heroku hosts a variety of code sites with deployment occurring through git repository commands:

heroku create adds a git repository remote heroku to a project
git push heroku deploys project web application code at Heroku

Creating a Project

Project Folder

Typically developers manage projects as folders in a Projects directory within their user home. Git commands will create or install a project folder in one of two ways:

  1. A git server or hosting service, such as Github, will generate a project resource URL. The project can be cloned to a local client with the command:

    git clone {project_resource_URL} {folder_path}

    for example, clone this project from github into folder doc-develop with the command:

    git clone ~/Projects/doc-develop
  2. A project is started on a local client and later pushed to a remote server. In this case, the local project is initialized with the command:

    git init {folder_path}

    for example,

    git init ~/Projects/doc-develop


Your project will contain files with content that you create, and other files which are generated by the system, such as compiled code. A git repository should track user-created text content and not system files. Using nano or kate, create a .gitignore file to identify untracked files to git. [2] Here are suggested entries for .gitignore with a documentation project using the Linux Kate editor:

# ignore editor backup files
# ignore make compilation
# ignore deployment content
# keep hidden placeholder files which preserve directories

When creating a repository, most hosting services will include a .gitignore file appropriate to the specified repository type.

Using Git

Basic git commands [3]

Git Command Command Purpose
git pull retrieve and merge remote changes with local
git status display tracked and untracked changes
git add {filename} stage and track changes ({filename}=. for all)
git reset clear changes staged for commit (undo add)
git mv {old} {new} rename files under git version control
git rm {-rf} {filepath} delete files under git version control
git commit -m "{message}" commit changes to local repository copy
git push add and merge local changes with remote

Command Notes:

  • git pull – synchronize your local repository copy to the remote master repository before starting a day’s work.
  • git add – use the period (“dot”) to stage all tracked changes, otherwise name specific files to add. Exclude categories of files using entries in .gitignore.
  • git mv – syntax for git-mv is the same as the Linux mv command, but proceded with git.
  • git rm – syntax for git-rm is the same as the Linux rm command, but proceded with git.
  • git commit – Provide a terse but descriptive message for your changes.
  • git push – push local content once it is synchronized with master changes, tested, and committed locally.


Always use the git command versions for mv and rm when working with files under version control. The penalty for ignoring this convention is much repeated typing.


If git requires a user password in the git push command, then an ssh key is missing at the remote host. Follow directions from the hosting site to add the missing key.

Git in daily workflow

Start your day’s work with:

git pull

Add your local changes and view the results with the command sequence:

git add .
git status
git commit -m "{a brief description of the changes for this commit}"


Git adds and commits your saved work. Therefore, make sure you save changes to documents in the editor before using git commands.

Rename files or delete them with git-specific commands:

git mv {old_filename} {new_filename}
git rm {-rf} {path/filename}

Update the remote master repository with the command:

git push


[1]For information on git, see A git online reference manual is at
[2]GitHub Help has an excellent explanation of .gitignore.
[3]Try GitHub offers a quick tutorial on Git and GitHub to bring you up to speed.
[4]Scott Chacon, Pro Git (August 27, 2009, ISBN-10: 1430218339), available at Amazon, or for free on-line at
[5]Scott Chacon, Pro Git book source (written in MarkDown, not reST) repository on GitHub: