Introductory Material

Getting Started with Git

Overview

Teaching: 15 min
Exercises: 0 min
Questions
  • What is Git and Github?

  • Why are we using Git?

Objectives
  • Install Docker on your computer

  • Learn how to add remove and commit changes to github repo

We’ll start by exploring how version control can be used to keep track of what one person did and when. Even if you aren’t collaborating with other people, automated version control is much better than this situation:

Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham, http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1531

We’ve all been in this situation before: it seems ridiculous to have multiple nearly-identical versions of the same document. Some word processors let us deal with this a little better, such as Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” or Google Docs’ version history.

Version control systems start with a base version of the document and then save just the changes you made at each step of the way. You can think of it as a tape: if you rewind the tape and start at the base document, then you can play back each change and end up with your latest version.

Changes Are Saved Sequentially

Once you think of changes as separate from the document itself, you can then think about “playing back” different sets of changes onto the base document and getting different versions of the document. For example, two users can make independent sets of changes based on the same document.

Different Versions Can be Saved

If there aren’t conflicts, you can even play two sets of changes onto the same base document.

Multiple Versions Can be Merged

A version control system is a tool that keeps track of these changes for us and helps us version and merge our files. It allows you to decide which changes make up the next version, called a commit, and keeps useful metadata about them. The complete history of commits for a particular project and their metadata make up a repository. Repositories can be kept in sync across different computers facilitating collaboration among different people.

Setting Up Git

When we use Git on a new computer for the first time, we need to configure a few things. Below are a few examples of configurations we will set as we get started with Git:

On a command line, Git commands are written as git verb, where verb is what we actually want to do. So here is how Dracula sets up his new laptop:

$ git config --global user.name "Vlad Dracula"
$ git config --global user.email "vlad@tran.sylvan.ia"
$ git config --global color.ui "auto"

Please use your own name and email address instead of Dracula’s. This user name and email will be associated with your subsequent Git activity, which means that any changes pushed to GitHub, BitBucket, GitLab or another Git host server in a later lesson will include this information. If you are concerned about privacy, please review GitHub’s instructions for keeping your email address private.

Git Help and Manual

Always remember that if you forget a git command, you can access the list of command by using -h and access the git manual by using –help :

$ git config -h
$ git config --help

title: Tracking Changes teaching: 20 exercises: 0 questions: - “How do I record changes in Git?” - “How do I check the status of my version control repository?” - “How do I record notes about what changes I made and why?” objectives: - “Go through the modify-add-commit cycle for one or more files.” - “Explain where information is stored at each stage of Git commit workflow.” keypoints: - “git status shows the status of a repository.” - “Files can be stored in a project’s working directory (which users see), the staging area (where the next commit is being built up) and the local repository (where commits are permanently recorded).” - “git add puts files in the staging area.” - “git commit saves the staged content as a new commit in the local repository.” - “Always write a log message when committing changes.” —

Let’s create a file called mars.txt that contains some notes about the Red Planet’s suitability as a base. (We’ll use nano to edit the file; you can use whatever editor you like. In particular, this does not have to be the core.editor you set globally earlier.)

$ nano mars.txt

Type the text below into the mars.txt file:

Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color

mars.txt now contains a single line, which we can see by running:

$ ls
mars.txt
$ cat mars.txt
Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color

If we check the status of our project again, Git tells us that it’s noticed the new file:

$ git status
On branch master

Initial commit

Untracked files:
   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)

	mars.txt
nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

The “untracked files” message means that there’s a file in the directory that Git isn’t keeping track of. We can tell Git to track a file using git add:

$ git add mars.txt

and then check that the right thing happened:

$ git status
On branch master

Initial commit

Changes to be committed:
  (use "git rm --cached <file>..." to unstage)

	new file:   mars.txt

Git now knows that it’s supposed to keep track of mars.txt, but it hasn’t recorded these changes as a commit yet. To get it to do that, we need to run one more command:

$ git commit -m "Start notes on Mars as a base"
[master (root-commit) f22b25e] Start notes on Mars as a base
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)
 create mode 100644 mars.txt

When we run git commit, Git takes everything we have told it to save by using git add and stores a copy permanently inside the special .git directory. This permanent copy is called a commit (or revision) and its short identifier is f22b25e (Your commit may have another identifier.)

We use the -m flag (for “message”) to record a short, descriptive, and specific comment that will help us remember later on what we did and why. If we just run git commit without the -m option, Git will launch nano (or whatever other editor we configured as core.editor) so that we can write a longer message.

Good commit messages start with a brief (<50 characters) summary of changes made in the commit. If you want to go into more detail, add a blank line between the summary line and your additional notes.

If we run git status now:

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working directory clean

it tells us everything is up to date. If we want to know what we’ve done recently, we can ask Git to show us the project’s history using git log:

$ git log
commit f22b25e3233b4645dabd0d81e651fe074bd8e73b
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Date:   Thu Aug 22 09:51:46 2013 -0400

    Start notes on Mars as a base

git log lists all commits made to a repository in reverse chronological order. The listing for each commit includes the commit’s full identifier (which starts with the same characters as the short identifier printed by the git commit command earlier), the commit’s author, when it was created, and the log message Git was given when the commit was created.

Where Are My Changes?

If we run ls at this point, we will still see just one file called mars.txt. That’s because Git saves information about files’ history in the special .git directory mentioned earlier so that our filesystem doesn’t become cluttered (and so that we can’t accidentally edit or delete an old version).

Now suppose Dracula adds more information to the file. (Again, we’ll edit with nano and then cat the file to show its contents; you may use a different editor, and don’t need to cat.)

$ nano mars.txt
$ cat mars.txt
Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color
The two moons may be a problem for Wolfman

When we run git status now, it tells us that a file it already knows about has been modified:

$ git status
On branch master
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

	modified:   mars.txt

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

The last line is the key phrase: “no changes added to commit”. We have changed this file, but we haven’t told Git we will want to save those changes (which we do with git add) nor have we saved them (which we do with git commit). So let’s do that now. It is good practice to always review our changes before saving them. We do this using git diff. This shows us the differences between the current state of the file and the most recently saved version:

$ git diff
diff --git a/mars.txt b/mars.txt
index df0654a..315bf3a 100644
--- a/mars.txt
+++ b/mars.txt
@@ -1 +1,2 @@
 Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color
+The two moons may be a problem for Wolfman

The output is cryptic because it is actually a series of commands for tools like editors and patch telling them how to reconstruct one file given the other. If we break it down into pieces:

  1. The first line tells us that Git is producing output similar to the Unix diff command comparing the old and new versions of the file.
  2. The second line tells exactly which versions of the file Git is comparing; df0654a and 315bf3a are unique computer-generated labels for those versions.
  3. The third and fourth lines once again show the name of the file being changed.
  4. The remaining lines are the most interesting, they show us the actual differences and the lines on which they occur. In particular, the + marker in the first column shows where we added a line.

After reviewing our change, it’s time to commit it:

$ git commit -m "Add concerns about effects of Mars' moons on Wolfman"
$ git status
On branch master
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

	modified:   mars.txt

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

Whoops: Git won’t commit because we didn’t use git add first. Let’s fix that:

$ git add mars.txt
$ git commit -m "Add concerns about effects of Mars' moons on Wolfman"
[master 34961b1] Add concerns about effects of Mars' moons on Wolfman
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

Git insists that we add files to the set we want to commit before actually committing anything. This allows us to commit our changes in stages and capture changes in logical portions rather than only large batches. For example, suppose we’re adding a few citations to our supervisor’s work to our thesis. We might want to commit those additions, and the corresponding addition to the bibliography, but not commit the work we’re doing on the conclusion (which we haven’t finished yet).

To allow for this, Git has a special staging area where it keeps track of things that have been added to the current change set but not yet committed.

Staging Area

If you think of Git as taking snapshots of changes over the life of a project, git add specifies what will go in a snapshot (putting things in the staging area), and git commit then actually takes the snapshot, and makes a permanent record of it (as a commit). If you don’t have anything staged when you type git commit, Git will prompt you to use git commit -a or git commit --all, which is kind of like gathering everyone for the picture! However, it’s almost always better to explicitly add things to the staging area, because you might commit changes you forgot you made. (Going back to snapshots, you might get the extra with incomplete makeup walking on the stage for the snapshot because you used -a!) Try to stage things manually, or you might find yourself searching for “git undo commit” more than you would like!

The Git Staging Area

Let’s watch as our changes to a file move from our editor to the staging area and into long-term storage. First, we’ll add another line to the file:

$ nano mars.txt
$ cat mars.txt
Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color
The two moons may be a problem for Wolfman
But the Mummy will appreciate the lack of humidity
$ git diff
diff --git a/mars.txt b/mars.txt
index 315bf3a..b36abfd 100644
--- a/mars.txt
+++ b/mars.txt
@@ -1,2 +1,3 @@
 Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color
 The two moons may be a problem for Wolfman
+But the Mummy will appreciate the lack of humidity

So far, so good: we’ve added one line to the end of the file (shown with a + in the first column). Now let’s put that change in the staging area and see what git diff reports:

$ git add mars.txt
$ git diff

There is no output: as far as Git can tell, there’s no difference between what it’s been asked to save permanently and what’s currently in the directory. However, if we do this:

$ git diff --staged
diff --git a/mars.txt b/mars.txt
index 315bf3a..b36abfd 100644
--- a/mars.txt
+++ b/mars.txt
@@ -1,2 +1,3 @@
 Cold and dry, but everything is my favorite color
 The two moons may be a problem for Wolfman
+But the Mummy will appreciate the lack of humidity

it shows us the difference between the last committed change and what’s in the staging area. Let’s save our changes:

$ git commit -m "Discuss concerns about Mars' climate for Mummy"
[master 005937f] Discuss concerns about Mars' climate for Mummy
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

check our status:

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working directory clean

and look at the history of what we’ve done so far:

$ git log
commit 005937fbe2a98fb83f0ade869025dc2636b4dad5
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Date:   Thu Aug 22 10:14:07 2013 -0400

    Discuss concerns about Mars' climate for Mummy

commit 34961b159c27df3b475cfe4415d94a6d1fcd064d
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Date:   Thu Aug 22 10:07:21 2013 -0400

    Add concerns about effects of Mars' moons on Wolfman

commit f22b25e3233b4645dabd0d81e651fe074bd8e73b
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Date:   Thu Aug 22 09:51:46 2013 -0400

    Start notes on Mars as a base

Paging the Log

When the output of git log is too long to fit in your screen, git uses a program to split it into pages of the size of your screen. When this “pager” is called, you will notice that the last line in your screen is a :, instead of your usual prompt.

Limit Log Size

To avoid that git log cover all your terminal screen you can limit the numbers of commit that Git will list by using -N where N is the number of commits that you want to receive the information. For example, if you only want the information from the last commit you can use

$ git log -1
commit 005937fbe2a98fb83f0ade869025dc2636b4dad5
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Date:   Thu Aug 22 10:14:07 2013 -0400

   Discuss concerns about Mars' climate for Mummy

You can also reduce the quantity of information using the --oneline option:

$ git log --oneline
* 005937f Thoughts about the climate
* 34961b1 Concerns about Mars's moons on my furry friend
* f22b25e Starting to think about Mars

You can also combine the --oneline options with others. One useful combination is

$ git log --oneline --graph --all --decorate
* 005937f Thoughts about the climate (HEAD, master)
* 34961b1 Concerns about Mars's moons on my furry friend
* f22b25e Starting to think about Mars

To recap, when we want to add changes to our repository, we first need to add the changed files to the staging area (git add) and then commit the staged changes to the repository (git commit):

The Git Commit Workflow

Choosing a Commit Message

Which of the following commit messages would be most appropriate for the last commit made to mars.txt?

  1. “Changes”
  2. “Added line ‘But the Mummy will appreciate the lack of humidity’ to mars.txt”
  3. “Discuss effects of Mars’ climate on the Mummy”

Solution

Answer 1 is not descriptive enough, and answer 2 is too descriptive and redundant, but answer 3 is good: short but descriptive.

Committing Changes to Git

Which command(s) below would save the changes of myfile.txt to my local Git repository?

  1. $ git commit -m "my recent changes"

  2. $ git init myfile.txt
    $ git commit -m "my recent changes"

  3. $ git add myfile.txt
    $ git commit -m "my recent changes"

  4. $ git commit -m myfile.txt "my recent changes"

Solution

  1. Would only create a commit if files have already been staged.
  2. Would try to create a new repository.
  3. Is correct: first add the file to the staging area, then commit.
  4. Would try to commit a file “my recent changes” with the message myfile.txt.

Committing Multiple Files

The staging area can hold changes from any number of files that you want to commit as a single snapshot.

  1. Add some text to mars.txt noting your decision to consider Venus as a base
  2. Create a new file venus.txt with your initial thoughts about Venus as a base for you and your friends
  3. Add changes from both files to the staging area, and commit those changes.

Solution

First we make our changes to the mars.txt and venus.txt files: ~~~ $ nano mars.txt $ cat mars.txt ~~~

Maybe I should start with a base on Venus.
$ nano venus.txt
$ cat venus.txt
Venus is a nice planet and I definitely should consider it as a base.

Now you can add both files to the staging area. We can do that in one line:

$ git add mars.txt venus.txt

Or with multiple commands: ~~~ $ git add mars.txt $ git add venus.txt ~~~

Now the files are ready to commit. You can check that using git status. If you are ready to commit use: ~~~ $ git commit -m “Wrote down my plans to start a base on Venus” ~~~

[master cc127c2]
Wrote down my plans to start a base on venus
2 files changed, 2 insertions(+)

~~~

Author and Committer

For each of the commits you have done, Git stored your name twice. You are named as the author and as the committer. You can observe that by telling Git to show you more information about your last commits:

$ git log --format=full

When commiting you can name someone else as the author:

$ git commit --author="Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>"

Create a new repository and create two commits: one without the --author option and one by naming a colleague of yours as the author. Run git log and git log --format=full. Think about ways how that can allow you to collaborate with your colleagues.

Solution

$ git add me.txt
$ git commit -m "Updated Vlad's bio." --author="Frank N. Stein <franky@monster.com>"
[master 4162a51] Updated Vlad's bio.
Author: Frank N. Stein <franky@monster.com>
1 file changed, 2 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

$ git log --format=full
commit 4162a51b273ba799a9d395dd70c45d96dba4e2ff
Author: Frank N. Stein <franky@monster.com>
Commit: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>

Updated Vlad's bio.

commit aaa3271e5e26f75f11892718e83a3e2743fab8ea
Author: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>
Commit: Vlad Dracula <vlad@tran.sylvan.ia>

Vlad's initial bio.

Key Points