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Git Tutorial for Beginners - Crash Course

Version Management is key when it comes to efficient project and code management. For this purpose, most programmers use Git, so let's learn the basics in this video!

Created by Manuel Lorenz

Git is a version control system and allows you to manage your source code history efficiently. Whenever you work on your code, changes can be saved with Git and you can jump back to any previously saved versions. Without tools like Git, you would have to create manual copies of your code, which would be quite cumbersome and impossible to maintain once your application grows.


Git vs Github

These terms can be confusing, especially for beginners. Git is a version control system which you can download to your computer, GitHub is a hosting & collaboration provider which hosts your Git projects. It is a web based solution allowing you to upload your Git Repositories (more on these in the next chapter) to it.

Uploading your code from your local Git environment to GitHub makes your code available to anybody who wants to contribute to your project. In this article we'll focus on Git though, if you want to dive deeper into GitHub, we also got you covered.


Repositories, Branches & Commits

Git Repositories, Branches and Commits explained

A Repository is the location where your code is stored, so a folder on your machine containing your project code. After turning this folder into a Git Repository (we'll learn how this works soon), Git manages the project code version history.

The code is not directly stored in the Repository though. Inside our Repository we have "subfolders", so-called Branches. After we added the first code to our Repository, a default "master" Branch is created. We are not limited to one Branch though, a Repository typically contains multiple Branches. So these are Repositories and Branches, but where is our code stored?

Inside our Branches! A Branch contains different versions of our code, our Commits. Each Commit is a snapshot of a specific version of the code.

These are the basic terms in short words, let's dive into Git now to see this in practice.


How to Install & Use Git

Git is for free and can be downloaded here.

Git runs in the terminal (MacOS) or the Command Prompt (Windows) only, so it doesn't come with a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Make sure to dive into dedicated resources on that in case these terms are totally new to you.

If you're working with an IDE, you can also use the integrated terminal. I will use Visual Studio Code in this video/ article.


The Main Commands

Let's create a new project, a folder which contains an "index.html" file for example, and add some basic code to it:

<p>Some text</p>

git init

Let's write our first Git command. git init will turn our project into a project managed by Git. You should see the Initialized empty Git Repository info in your terminal, confirming that Git now monitors the project. But why is our project empty?


git status

git status provides information about the current state. We have untracked files, meaning that Git is aware of the files being located in our folder but we need to explicitly tell Git to track these files (i.e. to check if the files changed) and to save any changes in a new Commit.


git add

Tracking files either works with git add filename ("filename" should be the name of the file you want to track) or git add . which will track changes in all files inside the Repository. With git status we can see that we added a new file ("index.html" in our case) to the Repository, we didn't save any changes on the code up to this point though.


git commit

As a last step we need to commit or save the current code version in our Repository. git commit -m adds the latest version of the code to our Branch, -m should provide a meaningful Commit message. In our case we could use git commit -m "added starting code".


Diving Deeper into Branches and Commits

Time for a quick summary before we dive deeper:

  1. We turned our project folder into a Git Repository with git init

  2. We told Git to track any changes in the ìndex.html file with git add .

  3. We saved the current version of our code in a commit with git commit -m "added starting code"

That was simple wasn't it? But what about Branches? I told you before that we automatically created our master Branch with our first Commit, but where can we see this Branch?


git branch

git branch lists all Branches in our Repository. Although we didn't add any name, the master Branch was automatically created with our first Commit:

git branch shows all Branches of the Repository

We have one Branch only at the moment, the asterisk indicates that we are also currently working in this Branch.

Let's add more code to our index.html file:

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>

With git add . and git commit -m "div added" we can add this new code as a second Commit to our Branch.

##git log

Entering git log in our terminal will display all Commits inside our Branch:

git log shows all commits of the current Branch

Each Commit contains a unique ID, the author, the date and the Commit message (this -m "your message" part). "HEAD" just points to the latest Commit of our current Branch, more on that in the next chapter.

Scrolling down a bit will also show us our initial Commit named "starting code".

But how does Git create these Commits? Each Commit is not an updated copy of the previous Commit. After the first Commit, Git just tracks changes for each following Commit. So with git add ., Git checks our files for any changes, git commit saves these changes in a new Commit then.

Tracking changes like that makes Git fast and efficient as creating copies over and over again would simply bloat our Git folder, definitely something we want to avoid in any project!


Time to have a closer look at the HEAD.

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>
<div>Testing the head</div>

I added another "div" and created a new Commit (git add . and git Commit -m "head testing"), as explained earlier, this Commit became the HEAD as it is the latest Commit in our Branch:

the HEAD is the latest Commit in our Branch

The latest Commit might not always be the one we want to work on though, we could either just want to have a quick look at a previous Commit or we might want to go back to an earlier Commit and delete later Commits.

##git checkout

git checkout is the required command here as it allows us to select a specific Branch (more on that later) or a specific Commit as required in our case.

Here we can use the ID we previously had a look at with git log:

the ID of a Commit

Let's checkout the second Commit named "div added" with git checkout yourcommitsID (just copy and paste the Commit's ID to the "yourcommitsID" part).

Our HEAD is now pointing towards this Commit, but the Commit we just checked out is no longer part of our master Branch. In simple words it's kind of in the middle of nowhere at this stage, it doesn't belong to any Branch and therefore this approach just allows us to jump back and have quick look at the previous code.

If you really want to go back to this Commit, and therefore get rid of the later Commits, just checking it out like this won't work.

checkout previous Commit

We first have to go back to our master Branch with git checkout master (or simply git master), now we're back in the latest Commit of the Branch (our HEAD).

Deleting our latest Commit is easy now. Copy the ID of the Commit you want to jump back to (NOT the ID of the Commit you want to delete) and use git reset --hard ID (ID should be the ID of the Commit). That's it, we now reset the HEAD and deleted all later Commits.

But be careful! After deleting the Commit we cannot undo this change, so think twice before using this command.


Reverting Unstaged Changes

Let's again add some code:

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>
<div>Something I don't need</div>

Turns out that we actually don't need that code and we would like to delete it - the changes were not commited though. Besides manually deleting our code (which won't work that easily if you changed a lot of code in different places), git checkout -- . let's us jump back to our last Commit (which doesn't include these uncomitted changes of course).

Awesome, these were the basics about Commits, time to move on to Branches now.


Working with Branches

Up to this point we only worked in the master Branch. In a real world project, you typically have multiple Branches, for example:

  • The master Branch which contains your currently stable and running version of your website

  • The feature Branch where you're currently working on a new feature

The final goal would be to merge both Branches as soon as the new feature is finished and ready to go live.


git checkout -b

git checkout -b creates a new Branch based on the latest Commit of the Branch you're currently working in. As we are in the latest Commit in the master Branch which contains the "index.html" file, the new Branch created will therefore also include that code and all Commits inside that Branch - so we basically copy the entire Branch.

git checkout -b new-feature will create that new Branch named "new-feature":

creating a feature branch in git

After creating the Branch we're automatically working in the latest Commit of this Branch (you can always check that with git branch and git log) and we can add code to it, just a styles.css file to keep it simple.

git add . and git commit -m "css added" will create a new Commit with these changes in our "new-feature" Branch.

This also results in two different HEADS. In the "new-feature" Branch the Commit we just created is the HEAD, in the master Branch we have a different HEAD, our "div added" Commit - the second one on the screenshot:

two Branches with two heads


Merging Branches

Back in our master Branch with git master, we can now combine or merge our two Branches with git merge new-feature.

This will add the changes made in the "new-feature" Branch to our master Branch and therefore our last "css added" Commit is now the HEAD of both Branches.


Deleting Git Branches

As our new feature is implemented into the master Branch, we can get rid of the "new-feature" Branch with git branch -D new-feature.


Solving Merge Conflicts

Merging Branches is a great feature, but sometimes it can also cause conflicts.

We currently have this code in the latest Commit in our master Branch:

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>

Let's create a new Branch with git checkout -b new-feature and let's change the code as follows:

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>

After adding and commiting the changes, let's switch back to the master and change the code like this:

<p>Some text</p>
<div>Another text</div>

If we add and commit this change too, we worked on the same code in two different Branches (the first <p>), so what happens if we try to merge the Branches now?

git merge new-feature will give us an error: "Automatic merge failed; fix conflicts and then commit the result".

The conflict can be solved by deleting the code you do not want to keep. After that, commit the changes as learned before, this resolves the conflict and merges the Branches successfully.

But again: Be careful whenever you delete code, Branches or Commits, after deleting information it is gone so you should know what you're doing here.


Useful Git Commands

Quickly need to find a Git command? Here is your little helper:

  • git init: Initialize a Git repository in the current folder

  • git status: Show the current status of your Git repository (the "working tree" status)

  • git add .: Track changes of all files in your Repository

  • git commit -m "your message": Save updated code to a new Commit named "your message"

  • git log: List all Commits inside your Branch

  • git checkout branch-name: Jump to the last Commit of a Branch

  • git checkout commitid Jump to a specific Commit of a Branch (commitid should be the ID of the Commit you want to checkout)

  • git checkout -- .: Jump back to the last Commit and remove any untracked changes

  • get reset --hard: Turn the selected Commit into the new HEAD

  • git branch: List all Branches inside your Repository

  • git checkout -b branch-name: Create a new Branch named branch-name

  • git merge branch-name: Merge two Branches, branch-name is the Branch you merge with the Branch you're currently working in

  • git branch -D branch-name: Delete the Branch named branch-name

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