git 4 Astronomers

Why use version control

At the recent STFC summer school in Cardiff, I organized a python workshop. I encouraged all the attendees to use have a sensible way of keeping different versions of your code. Having used other methods, I particularly like Git. Having a backup of your code somewhere not on your computer is also a great idea. I highly recommend keeping your work in GitHub. Instead of periodically copying your code somewhere manually, its a good be able to see all your revisions if you are away from your computer, or if (and it will happen) your computer dies at a critical moment.

How to get Git

GitHub have an easy guide on installing git. It also covers setting up a GitHub account. Its probably a good time to do that.

How to use Git

If you have a folder with files in that you want to use version control with, its easy to start.

cd myfolder
git init

Easy. You now have a new repository which you can start adding things to.

Lets have a look at what git thinks about our folder:

git status

If you had files in that folder, you’ll see a list of untracked files.

Add version tracking to files

You have to tell git which files you want to keep track of. You can do this in a number of different ways:

Add an individual file

git add

Add all files in the current directory

git add .

Add all files in all subfolders of your project.

git add -A

Making revisions

So, you’ve added all those files. Now you start editing your code. When you have done some editing, writing, deleting and your code is working (you probably don’t want to deliberately save a revision which is broken - you’ll do that unconsciously quite often anyway!). Save your files normally.

Now comes the git part:

You’ll add all your edited files and add a helpful message:

git commit -am "Fixed a bug in somefunction and added falangy feature"

You now have a nice revision and at any point in the future, you can look at the code at this time.

This is actually a short hand (i.e. the -am flag) for adding and committing a revision. It only works for files you’ve previously added and only ones in the current directory. If you added some files in a different directory of the same project, you can use do:

git add -A
git commit -m "Fixed a bug in somefunction and added falangy feature"

Revert to previous version

You’ve gone to all this effort to make your code to log all these different revisions, how do you revert to a previous edit. You might realise that your code is borked but it worked yesterday, or you might just want to look at the code you just committed before you changed it. As you would hope, its very easy.

git revert HEAD

This will undo the last commit you made. If you want to see all of the revisions you’ve committed and pick the one you need to revert first do:

git log

you will get a list of your different commits with long alphanumeric sequences next to them, and the message you added when you made the commit. Pick the one you want, copy the alphanumeric code and do the following:

git revert <alphanumeric code>

This will roll back the code to that point.

Putting it in the cloud

If you want to share your project with people, or just have a cloud backup, I recommend using GitHub. GitHub have made a very good step-by-step guide to making a repository on GitHub. Your repository will be made public by default. Normally you have to pay for private repositories, but if you are at a University you can get a load of free, private repositories from GitHub. Which is nice.

When you have set up your repository on GitHub you need to tell the version on your computer that you’ll be using github to store it in the cloud.

git remote add origin <name of your repository>

The URL to your repository will look like [email protected]:username/repositoryname.git.

Now you want to copy all of the revisions you’ve been saving to GitHub. This is called pushing your code.

git push origin master

From that moment on everytime you have your code in a good place (i.e. not knowingly buggy), this is your workflow:

git add -A
git commit -m "My latest changes"
git push

That saves revisions and then copies them to GitHub.

The End?

Thats a really, really quick getting started guide. I didn’t mention:


This is a really nice cheat sheet from Atlassin (who provide BitBucket remote repository service)