Hugh Winkler holding forth on computing and the Web

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flying the F-22

My gut reaction to the internet chatter about distributed version control systems, like Git, was, "What advantage could it possibly offer us, that would justify me and developers spending so much time re-learning how to manage source code?" CVS kinda sucked, but was good enough, and Subversion was better... what more could you want? It's just version control.

But we had a branching requirement, and a customer requiring a branch we'd maintain for a few years.

From the Subversion manual:
Tracking Merges Manually

Merging changes sounds simple enough, but in practice it can become a headache. The problem is that if you repeatedly merge changes from one branch to another, you might accidentally merge the same change twice. When this happens, sometimes things will work fine. When patching a file, Subversion typically notices if the file already has the change, and does nothing. But if the already-existing change has been modified in any way, you'll get a conflict.

Ideally, your version control system should prevent the double-application of changes to a branch. It should automatically remember which changes a branch has already received, and be able to list them for you. It should use this information to help automate merges as much as possible.

Unfortunately, Subversion is not such a system....It means that until the day Subversion grows this feature, you'll have to track merge information yourself. The best place to do this is in the commit log-message.

OK! So, relearning version control might not be a bad idea!

Git is all about changesets, and it can merge changes from branch to branch painlessly. A few months ago, we imported a year or so of changes from SVN to a Git repo (our tree structure was way too f***ed up for git-svn), and never looked back.

I'm a Piper Cub pilot in the cockpit of a F-22 Raptor. There are a lot of switches. I kind of understand some of them. I'm afraid to touch most of them. Every now and then we'll try a new trick -- hey, I think I can just push this changeset to you, from the branch I'm working on to yours... SHIT, THAT WORKED! We haven't crashed yet, and we have the rumbling sense of untapped power.

For reasons unrelated to version control, it turned out we could manage the customer requirements without a long running branch. But we're not going back on Git.

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