Why Git?

time to read 5 min | 899 words

I have been using Git for the past week or so, enough to get a good handle on its benefits and disadvantages.

I moved to Git from Subversion, after having done a stint of almost 6 years of using Subversion. A stint which also included doing some development on Subversion.

Despite appearances, I actually took a fairly structured (and long running) approach to learning Git, I got a book and read it, I played around with it, and I mostly dismissed it as “it isn’t solving my problem” and “I already know how source control works”.

Last week I had the chance to pick Aaron Jensen mind about Git, and he was able to clear up some conceptual issues about how Git operates. I made a bigger effort since to learn how I can make better use of Git and I think that I now know enough to be able to talk about it.

First, let me talk about Subversion a little bit. As I said, I am a long time user of Subversion, and I consider it an excellent source control system. It is, however, strongly aimed at meeting corporate development scenarios.

What do I mean by that? In Subversion, you have the root repository, and everything else falls out from there. That doesn’t sounds like such a problem, until you realize that except for your local working copy, every single operation is a remote operation.

Just to give you an idea why this is a problem, looking up a history of changes (including file diffs) is a real pain in Subversion. Merging (the actual act, not keeping track of it) is a pretty long operation as well.

That was the final deal breaker for me. I feel insulted whenever I have to wait for the machine, it should be the other way around, damn it!

But there are other issues with Subversion usage, specifically, for Open Source projects I don’t believe that the centralized model works anymore.

Consider the workflow for getting a patch in Rhino Mocks. You get the code, make the patch, send the patch. In the meantime, the project is moving ahead and you are forced to keep up with what is basically a dirty and unversioned working copy.

Worse, for me, when you send me the patch, it has to go back to the server for any old versions (slow! slow! slow!) and make me do a lot of the work.

Having a single source of truth is important, for official releases. But in the meantime, I like the idea of having multiple disparate copies that people are working on independently. They should.

Some other important thoughts, with absolutely no order:

  • Local history is another major important aspect. I mentioned that this is something that I sometimes do, and it is a total pain to go through that with Subversion, and it totally painless to do so with Git. I have TortoiseGit installed specifically for that, so I get a UI that I am very familiar with but with no network round tripping time.
  • I am not sure how to qualify this point, but it feels like Git is faster even when it does goes on the network. Project checkouts and remote commits seems to be faster. Even though on the face of it Subversion should be much faster at least for checkouts (Git gets the entire history, Subversion gets a single revision).
  • People keep mentioning having private commits as an advantage. I guess I see the point, but I am not sold on that yet. Sure, it is fun to be able to do that, but this is a paper advantage so far. What I really do like is that commits are fast. Which means that in many cases I can commit & push on the background while resuming work.

Github is another consideration, its major advantage is that it is taking care of a lot of details related to actually managing git.

For open source work, I love looking at this:


This gives me a good indication about the actual interest in a project.

Other things, like pull requests and their management makes me tingle all over, since they represent how people actually work in OSS project in real life and this represent a significant time saving.

There are other stuff as well, having a download button in the site means that I don’t get questions from people that have no Subversion tools or are behind firewalls.

Github is also a huge disadvantage since in less than a week I caught it broken at least twice. There are some things that I want to be stable, the place where I put my source code is one of them, and I don’t care if the unstable parts aren’t the Git repositories. As far as I am concerned, unstable site equals to nervousness on my part.

Anyway, those are my reasons for moving to Git. The tooling are pretty good, I got used to the git command line, gitk and git gui fairly quickly.