Git and GitHub have become essential tools for developers looking to build their skills and collaborate on impactful open-source projects. This step-by-step guide will take you from git basics to advanced workflows, setting you up for success on your open-source journey.
What is Git?
Git is an open-source distributed version control system that helps developers manage and track changes to their code over time. With Git, you can record project history, roll back changes, and collaborate with other developers more efficiently.
Unlike older centralized version control systems, git is distributed – every developer has a full copy of the code base on their local machine. This enables you to work offline and switch seamlessly between versions.
Nearly all modern software development relies on Git for version control. It fosters better collaboration and enables developers to contribute more easily to open source. Mastering git is a must for any aspiring developer.
Git comes pre-installed on many operating systems, but you can download the latest version from the official website. Follow the installation wizard, selecting your OS and preferred options.
To confirm it is installed correctly, open your terminal or command prompt and enter:
This will print the version number if Git is installed.
Setting Up Git
Once Git is installed, the first thing you’ll want to do is set your username and email, which will be attached to your commits:
git config --global user.name "Your Name" git config --global user.email "email@example.com"
It’s also a good idea to set your default text editor for Git commit messages:
git config --global core.editor "code --wait"
This uses Visual Studio Code as the editor, but you can configure your preferred text editor here.
With your identity set up, it’s time to start using Git!
Git Basics: Your First Repository
To start using Git, you first need to initialize a repository – a designated folder that Git will track for version control.
Navigate into your project directory and run:
This creates a hidden .git subfolder that contains all of Git’s tracking data and metadata for the repo.
Once you have a repo, you can start tracking files with these core commands:
- git add filename: Adds files to the staging area to be committed
- git commit -m “Meaningful message”: Commits staged files to the repository with a log message
- git status: Checks the status – which files are staged, unstaged, or untracked
git add index.html git commit -m "Add initial homepage" git status
index.html, commits it to the repo history with a message and then prints the current state of the repository.
Git Branches and Workflows
Now that you understand Git’s basics let’s go deeper into branching – one of Git’s killer features.
Branching allows you to experiment with different versions of a project by diverging from the main line of development. The main branch is conventionally called main.
To create a new branch:
git branch new-feature
This creates a separate timeline starting from the current commit. To start working on that branch:
git checkout new-feature
Any commits you make will be added to new-feature without impacting main.
Once your feature is complete, you can merge it back into main – this adds all the branch commits into the main timeline.
git checkout main git merge new-feature
Branching enables powerful workflows like Gitflow:
- main contains official releases
- develop is for integrating features before the release
- feature/* branches implement specific features
- release/* branches prepare releases
- hotfix/* branches address live emergencies
Understanding these workflows will help you collaborate efficiently on open-source projects.
Working with Remote Repositories on GitHub
So far, we’ve been working with local repositories on our machine. But to collaborate and share code, you need a remote repository hosted somewhere like GitHub.
First, create a new empty repo on GitHub.com. Then connect your local repo to the remote:
git remote add origin
This associates your local repo with the GitHub repo.
Now you can push your code to GitHub:
git push -u origin main
This pushes main to the origin remote. The -u flag tracks it as the default remote branch.
To pull latest code from GitHub:
git pull origin main
This fetches and merges changes from the remote main branch into your local repo.
Push and pull allows you to sync code between GitHub and your machine.
Forking and Cloning Repositories
Forking and cloning are great ways to start contributing to open-source projects.
Forking creates a copy of a GitHub repository under your account. You can then clone your fork:
This downloads the forked repo to your machine so you can make changes. Work on a branch:
git checkout -b improvements # Make changes and commit git push origin improvements
This pushes your branch to your fork. Finally, open a pull request to the original upstream repository to request your changes be merged.
Fork, clone, branch, change, commit, push, PR – these compose the git workflow for contributing to open source!
Git Best Practices
Follow these best practices as you work with Git:
- Write clear, concise commit messages explaining why
- Keep a linear commit history with rebases instead of merges
- Test locally before pushing to avoid breaking the build
- Review your code with linters like Prettier to catch issues
- Prune remote branches after merging PRs
- Sync your fork to avoid diverging too far from the upstream
- Ask for code reviews from contributors when you need help
Adopting these practices early on will help you become a better open-source contributor.
Level Up Your Git Game
You now have a solid end-to-end understanding of Git fundamentals. Here are some more advanced topics to further master version control:
- Stashing changes to switch contexts quickly
- Using git reset and revert to undo changes
- Leveraging git log to analyze repositories
- Experimenting with git hooks and aliases
- Trying out GitHub CLI to automate workflows
- Managing conflicts when merging divergent branches
- Making atomic commits using fixup and squash
As you tackle more challenging projects, revisit these skills to level up.
Start Contributing to Open Source
You now have the key tools to start collaborating on impactful open-source projects. Here are some great ideas to make your first contribution:
- Documentation – Fix documentation typos and gaps in your favorite projects
- Beginner Issues – Look for open issues labeled “Good First Issue” or “Help Wanted.”
- Code Samples – Improve existing examples or add new ones
- Visual Design – Create logos, themes, or UI elements to enhance design
- Testing – Increase test coverage or correct failing tests
- Translation – Help translate docs and UI text into other languages
- Bug Triage – Try replicating bug reports and provide additional details
The open-source community is welcoming and encouraging to new contributors. GitHub makes it easy to discover interesting projects. Just filter by your favorite language or topics to get started.
Before you know it, you’ll be an open-source git pro!
Why Open Source Contribution Matters
Contributing to open source goes beyond improving your coding skills – it allows you to make an impact and give back. Here’s why the open-source contribution is so valuable:
- You support projects you rely on and help improve software for everyone
- It connects you with an international community of developers
- Your contributions provide real value even as a beginner
- Open source development process produces higher quality software
- Collaborating builds communication, teamwork, and leadership skills
- Participating allows you to learn faster from senior developers
- Impressive open-source contributions shine on your tech resume
- Fosters diversity, inclusion, and belonging in tech
In the open source model, anyone can contribute regardless of their background. By participating, you help create better software that can benefit people everywhere.
FreeCodeCamp is a popular open-source code learning platform. Help contribute to lessons, code challenges, tutorials, and more.
- First Contributions
First Contribution is a hands-on tutorial for making your first open-source contribution. Great for absolute beginners.
CoderDojo is a volunteer-led community teaching kids to code. Contribute to their educational materials and open-source projects.
Scratch is a programming language and online community for kids. Contribute projects, examples, documentation, and translations.
LibreOffice is a free and open-source office suite. Help improve features, compatibility, localization, templates, and documentation.
- Godot Engine
Godot Engine is an open-source game development engine. If you’re interested in game dev, contribute to engine features, demos, tutorials, and docs.
- Home Assistant
Home Assistant is an open-source home automation platform. Contribute integrations, improvements, and documentation for smart home tech.
Jupyter is an open-source platform for interactive and exploratory computing. Contribute to Jupyter Notebook, JupyterLab, widgets, and extensions.
The open-source community is much broader than just the big platforms. These lesser-known projects are still impactful and welcome new contributors.
Git enables extremely powerful collaboration workflows for software teams. Mastering it unlocks new opportunities to get involved in impactful open-source projects.
Start small – fix a typo, add documentation, or try tackling a beginner issue. Learn from senior developers during code reviews. Stay engaged with the community.
Before long, you’ll become a trusted contributor able to mentor newcomers yourself. Git skills translate directly to success on engineering teams.
So get motivated and start collaborating on open source! Be part of a global community improving software for the benefit of all.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide and feel motivated to start your Python programming journey.
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