Version Control Systems

Version control systems allow you to compare files, identify differences, and merge the changes if needed prior to committing any code. Versioning is also a great way to keep track of application builds by being able to identify which version is currently in development, QA, and production.

For almost all software projects, the source code is like the crown jewels - a precious asset whose value must be protected. For most software teams, the source code is a repository of the invaluable knowledge and understanding about the problem domain that the developers have collected and refined through careful effort. Version control protects source code from both catastrophe and the casual degradation of human error and unintended consequences.


Developing software without using version control is risky, like not having backups. Version control can also enable developers to move faster and it allows software teams to preserve efficiency and agility as the team scales to include more developers.

A complete long-term change history of every file. This means every change made by many individuals over the years. Changes include the creation and deletion of files as well as edits to their contents. Different VCS tools differ on how well they handle renaming and moving of files. This history should also include the author, date and written notes on the purpose of each change. Having the complete history enables going back to previous versions to help in root cause analysis for bugs and it is crucial when needing to fix problems in older versions of software. If the software is being actively worked on, almost everything can be considered an "older version" of the software.

Branching and merging. Having team members work concurrently is a no-brainer, but even individuals working on their own can benefit from the ability to work on independent streams of changes. Creating a "branch" in VCS tools keeps multiple streams of work independent from each other while also providing the facility to merge that work back together, enabling developers to verify that the changes on each branch do not conflict. Many software teams adopt a practice of branching for each feature or perhaps branching for each release, or both. There are many different workflows that teams can choose from when they decide how to make use of branching and merging facilities in VCS.

Traceability. Being able to trace each change made to the software and connect it to project management and bug tracking software such as Jira, and being able to annotate each change with a message describing the purpose and intent of the change can help not only with root cause analysis and other forensics. Having the annotated history of the code at your fingertips when you are reading the code, trying to understand what it is doing and why it is so designed can enable developers to make correct and harmonious changes that are in accord with the intended long-term design of the system. This can be especially important for working effectively with legacy code and is crucial in enabling developers to estimate future work with any accuracy.

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