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Marlabs Explains the Basics of Version Control Software Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One of the great things about working with computers is the ability to backup and restore your work. There are countless professions in the world that would give anything to have the ability to revert to an earlier version of their work; painters and sculptors would definitely have much easier jobs. Though, in reality the ability to go back in time is usually something reserved for science fiction, but thankfully with computers life can sometimes be stranger than fiction. What allows computers to essentially travel back in time is something known as version control.

Version control or revision control as it is sometimes called refers to is the ability of computer software to create different versions of a particular data set over time which can range from an individual file to an entire database based upon the conditions specified by the system or individual user. With version control software a person can revert to or go back to an previous version of a file in case of a emergency, error, or to simply track the change that have been made to a particular file over time, and even merge versions of the same file.

These days many applications and operating systems include some form of native version control; however, in most cases these forms of version control are somewhat lacking when compared to dedicated version control software, though.Although. that’s not to say that version control that comes included with many programs or operating system is no less useful. For years Apple has been praised for its popular version control implementations in their popular data backup service known as Time Machine, which creates backups or copies of a Mac user’s files on a connected external disk drive at regular intervals.  In case of a catastrophic failure, human error or the like the backup files that Time Machine makes can be restored at any time.

However, unlike other data backup utilities that sometimes require replacing an entire data directory, Apple’s Time Machine allows a person to restore individual files according to the date when they when originally backed up. Recently, Apple even added another form of  version control to its new operating system – OS X Lion – aptly named Versions. Like Apple’s Time Machine service, Versions in OS X Lion creates backups of a user’s files at specific intervals and allows a user to track the history of a particular file all the way to its very beginning and restore said file to any of its previous iterations. Additionally, with Versions OS X Lion users can compare the current file with past versions to identify changes or just observe how the file has progressed. Unfortunately at this time only a few Mac programs are compatible with OS X Lion’s Versions, though many Apple developed applications such as TextEdit and iWork have full Versions support. Having any sort of native version control is useful but there are many key benefits to relying on a dedicated version control software over an application or operating system’s native version control implementations.

The Benefits of Dedicated Version Control Software

There are several different  free and commercial version control programs that are available and while each program has its own strengths and weakness most versioning programs have every implementation has the same basic features. There are numerous benefits to using dedicated version control software and some of the most significant benefits will be covered as follows. Many people find dedicated version control software like Git — often used in professional and corporate environments –  to be very useful because  it can be used as a collaboration tool allowing multiple people to work on the same file. In a collaborative project each team member can work on his or her own version of one individual file sometimes called the master file; when needed each version can be merged into back into the master file. Merging files with version control software involves combining the master file with any or all other versions of the same file.

For example, in many version control programs, when merging two text document versions the program will compare each line for changes and depending on the program’s settings will only add new content from a more recent version, or replace entire segments. In terms of collaborative projects version control software is useful because it allows a project team to only turn in one comprehensive and up-to-date file at the conclusion of the project.

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Posted by Vivek Ramegowda | No Comments
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