When using git, you really have to define a workflow that you want to use. In his talk “Real World Git Workflow” (slides on slideshare), Stefan Saasen explains some kinds of workflows and when they are appropriate.
The first step in any workflow design is asking questions. Some examples that will sound familiar:
- “Can we fix a bug for a specific release?”
- “Can we do a fast hotfix for the current release?”
- “Can we build the current code?”
- “Is the code for that feature complete?”
- “Has everybody reviewed the code for this feature?”
Your questions will be different but make sure you ask them. There is no perfect workflow but there is your workflow. Omit this step at your own peril.
First, which collaboration model do you use?
“Anarchy” (anyone can push anywhere, slide 17), “Gatekeeper” (one person reviews all changes, often used by OSS projects, slide 18), “Dictator and Lieutenants” (Linux, slide 19) or “Centralised” (slide 20). See also “Git Workflows” on atlassian.com/git.
In the enterprise, the centralized model is often used. This approach makes it most simple to integrate all the tools (CI servers, code quality tools, deployment, …). (slide 23)
The two most common branching models are “continuous delivery” and “product releases.” (slide 25)
From slide 28:
“Significant branches map to a concept in the outside world. It may be a past release, an environment or a role. Those branches are long-running and stable whereas feature branches are short lived and volatile.”
– Stefan Saasen
Slide 27 shows the branches for “continuous delivery”. PR is a “pull request.”
As you can see, development is consolidated in the staging branch and pushed into production (master branch) from there. If you make a hotfix in the master branch, it is cherry-picked back into staging.
Slide 30 shows how to handle “product releases.” You have a single, central repository with a master branch which consolidates the development (no staging). Each feature and bugfix happens in a short-lived “feature branch.” When a release is made (slide 31), then a new long living release branch is created. Bug fixes still happen in short lived branches.
When the bug is fixed, the fix is first merged back into the oldest affected release. From there in the next release until you get to the latest release from which it is then merged back into master (slide 33).
But what about changes you don’t want to merge like the changes made by the Maven release plugin? Maybe you will want to replace it with a better release workflow.
Or we use the correct git merge strategy: ours. This creates a new changeset with the merge information without actually merging anything. For git, it will look as if everything has been done and it won’t bother us with merging those changes ever again (slide 39).
While the above sounds reasonable, the question is why? What are the rules and forces which make this better? Stefan introduces “the merge protocol” to answer this. See slide 42 for this.
In a nutshell, you always try to merge more stable branches into less stable ones: Bug fix branch into branches where the bug hasn’t been fixed, yet. Features into branches which don’t have the feature.
That’s why you never merge master back into a release branch: Releases are most stable. You merge them into master. If you have fixed in master that you really need in a release, you cherry-pick them (slide 43).
A lot of people understand why code reviews would be a good thing, “but …” Sounds familiar? Then pull requests are for you.
Pull requests are an easy, low-overhead tool to have as much “code review” as you feel comfortable with. You can merge with by clicking a button or you can review the changes line-by-line. Your choice.
Most projects will use a single canonical repository but remote forks are useful, too. Imagine you have fixed an important (for you at least) bug in a OSS project. You send them a pull request but it’s rejected! What do you do?
You fork the project. git allows you to still track the changes made by the original project while isolating your life as much as you want (slide 52)
A fork is nice if you want to do an innovation spike – code that might never be included in the product. Fork instead of polluting the project history with dead experiments (53).
Some department needs big changes to some component? Fork it until the feature stabilizes. You can still merge them if you want, but you don’t have to (54).
Reduce the noise (55). A fork allows you to rewrite history.
You can use pre and post hooks to make everyone’s life easier. Use a local pre-commit or pre-push hooks to make sure some important tests have been run. For example, you could run FindBugs or checkstyle.
An interesting post-checkout hook would be to check whether the branch is green (66), i.e. code builds and all tests pass. Stop wasting time to search for bugs that were already there before you started your work. You can get this gem from bitly.com/green-builds (69).
The explosion of branches can quickly bog down your build server if you don’t come up with a strategy to handle this (71). Usually, it’s enough to build stable and master but developers will love it when they can manually trigger feature branch builds (72).