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Techly Explains: What is GitHub?

If you are a code monkey, chances are you know and use GitHub – 24 million developers already do (including yours truly and several others here at Conversant Media).

Techly just covered GitHub Universe in San Francisco last week, so if you don’t know anything about GitHub or Git, allow us to explain.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is an online platform on which developers can both manage and share the ‘source code’ of their software project.

For comparison, GitHub is a little like YouTube, but instead of uploading videos to a streaming video server, developers upload all the files that comprise their entire software project to a Git server.

Also like YouTube, developers can then share their project openly with other developers anywhere in the world, post comments and generally communicate around the project.

In fact, GitHub’s suite of collaboration tools are really impressive and a big part of its popularity.

Lastly, once again in similar fashion to YouTube, GitHub is ‘da motherload’ of software projects. There’s like 67 million projects hosted on GitHub and the bulk of these projects are available under an open-source license, which means the software may be freely copied by anyone to use within their own new project.

There are similar services to GitHub, such as BitBucket and GitLab, but a massive worldwide community of open source developers have chosen to make GitHub their home and this makes GitHub the top Git service.

GitHub interface

What is Git?

Now, a Git server does one thing and does it really well.

Every single change made to the source code of a project is saved as a snapshot in a historical timeline. If a change causes your code to break, it’s super easy to revert back to the last working version.

This is known as a Version Control System (VCS) and it’s near impossible for a team of developers to collaborate on a software project, mobile app or website build without having a VCS in place.

Fun fact: a project held in VCS is called a repository, which all Aussie’s naturally shorten to ‘repo’!

There are other vendors of VCS, but Git (created by the same genius who created Linux) emerged from its April 2005 release as the VCS of choice for millions of developers.

Git is also free and open-source – the same as Linux – so you could even run your own Git server if you wanted to. However, it’s much easier to use a platform service like GitHub, just like how it’s much easier to use YouTube than put together your own video streaming server.

Why is Git so popular?

There are two distinguishing features of Git that have made it the go-to VCS choice:

Firstly, Git enables a repo to be downloaded to a personal computer and worked on without requiring the rest of the team to be sharing a common network. This feature is called Distributed Version Control and it’s a killer advantage for team members spread all over the world.

Secondly, Git enables a repo to be easily split into two versions (this is called a fork) and then later easily merged back into one version without conflict.

This feature seals the deal for countless developers. Prior to Git, splitting and then merging software with any other VCS was very tricky and often resulted in broken code.

And in case you were wondering… yep, Git did get its name from the British slang ‘Pommy git’. True story!

More facts & resources

– GitHub’s logo and mascot is called Octocat. Part cat, part octopus.
– Find all the biggest, most impressive GitHub numbers via the Octoverse
– Learn a little more about version control at Better Explained

The author travelled to San Francisco as a guest of GitHub.

GitHub Universe

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