What Is GitHub & How Does It Work? (2021)

guide to GitHub

If you’ve ever worked in a team of software developers – chances are you’ve heard them mention Git, GitHub, forking, and version control. The internet is rife with comments from developers about how GitHub is a godsend and completely changes the way they write code; but, what is GitHub anyway?

At its core, GitHub is a cloud-based platform that allows developers to collaborate & track changes to their code.

Before we dive into GitHub, what it is & how it works – it’s important to understand Git first. In the following article, we take a deep dive into the underlying systems powering GitHub, its main features, and how it integrates with RunCloud.

An Introduction to Git & Version Control

Created by Linus Torvalds (the founder of Linux) in 2005, Git is an open-source, distributed version control system. Essentially, it’s software designed for tracking changes made to any group of files. Because it’s distributed, every codebase, along with its history, is available to every GitHub user. This makes collaboration and revisions much easier as developers can seamlessly work together.

If you’ve ever saved a game and then reloaded back to that point after doing something wrong, or created a system recovery point in your computer, you inherently understand the concept of Git.

So, What is GitHub?

GitHub

GitHub launched in 2008 after spending a brief period in beta. It’s a for-profit company that has become one of the largest version control systems in the world – mostly because of its safety and user-friendliness. As of May 2021, GitHub is used by more than 55 million users, with more than 228 million repositories.

The interface streamlines Git’s capabilities, allowing even amateur users to start writing code on the platform. GitHub is particular for open-source projects, since anyone can sign up and host a public code repository without any charge. That’s one of the reasons why GitHub has more than 42 million public repositories.

GitHub has also become one of the largest developer communities worldwide. It’s used by employers and recruiters to look for talented coders, and many developers use it for networking purposes as well.

While there are a few competitors in the market like GitLab and SourceForge, neither of them really come close to the sheer number of users on GitHub. According to Gitlab itself, they have an estimated 30 million users, which is almost half that of GitHub.

GitHub supports all popular programming languages, and makes version control extremely easy. You can always view the changelog to see editions to the code and who made them. Let’s dive a little deeper into what version control is, and why it’s so important for developers.

Version Control Explained

Version control is the established practice of making and tracking changes to a project’s code. As new features are added to the project, the code continues to grow. Without version control, it’s difficult for the software team to figure out how the code was revised and what changes were made.

Instead of delving into the official source code for a particular program, developers can work in a more efficient manner. In case they make a mistake, they can simply revert to the older version to compare what went wrong. This is particularly helpful for DevOps teams who want to keep development time as minimal as possible.

Version control also protects the source code from human error and because everything’s in the cloud, the chances of a developer losing their source code from GitHub are next to none. Version control systems like GitHub help ensure that all revisions to the code are tracked.

All the subsequent changes made to the code are stored in a central “hub.” This makes it easy for developers to share their code and collaborate with others. One developer may work on a specific feature while another might focus on fixing an existing bug thanks to version control systems like GitHub. Two common techniques used by developers include branching and merging.

  • Branching: This technique allows developers to replicate part of the original code and work on it. This isolates a section of the code, and doesn’t have any effect on the original project.
  • Merging: Once the developer has made changes to the code, they can use the git merge command to bring together independent lines of code into the official source code.

It’s Not Just for Teams

While it may seem that a lot of GitHub’s features are geared towards teams of software developers, many others can take advantage of it as well. Amateur software developers can easily track changes made by others in a codebase and learn from it.

One of the major features of GitHub is “forking.” Forking allows you to copy an entire repository from one user account and bring it on your own, thus giving you write access to it. Once you are done making changes, you can then send a notification to the owner, and they can decide whether to merge the changes or leave them be.

Easily Contribute To Public Projects

When you send a request to the original owner for review (known as a pull request), the project maintainer is able to view your activity on GitHub, as well as any past contributions you have made on the platform. If accepted, you’ll get credit for the changes, and enhance your reputation.

Prior to GitHub, developers who wanted to contribute to a project had limited options to contact the authors. They relied mainly on email, and even then, convincing the authors to even consider their contribution used to be difficult.

With GitHub, every user has a discrete profile that serves a similar purpose to a resume. This allows groups of experts to find like-minded developers and collaborate with each other on projects, and also provides a free option to host your portfolio if you’re looking for a new role in the software industry.

How to Use GitHub with RunCloud

RunCloud makes it incredibly easy to deploy web applications that use version control (i.e. Git) in particular with GitHub. We also integrate directly with Bitbucket, Gitlab as well as custom Git servers…

RunCloud

If you are using Git, you can easily generate a deployment key within RunCloud and attach it to your repository. RunCloud can then clone your repository and register the Webhook URL. This way, automatic deployment of web apps becomes much easier.

Here’s how to use GitHub with RunCloud.

Step 1: Create an Account

You need to register for an account on RunCloud so you can deploy your server. We offer a free 5-day trial period that lets you explore its features and see how it simplifies server management.

RunCloud Dashboard

Step 2: Deploy a Server

You will have to provision a server from a cloud provider, such as DigitalOcean, AWS, or Google Cloud. Once you are done, it’s time to connect the server.

Step 3: Connect the Server

Now that you’re logged into your account – you’ll need to go ahead and connect your first server to RunCloud. This only takes a few minutes, to get started, click Let’s get started as shown below:

Connect Server RunCloud

Step 4: Deploy Your Web App from Git

RunCloud allows you to attach your project to your web apps with ease. An automatic pull will sync the latest code to your website. When you get to the Web Application Screen, select Git. You can also easily switch repository branch.

Simply add your Deployment Key to the Git repository, and then select a provider (GitHub, shown above). Add the repository name and your GitHub username, and then click on Attach Git Repository to connect to your web app.

If you are looking for a robust server management platform, RunCloud is a fantastic choice. We support NGINX and OpenLiteSpeed & offer easy 1-click installations for popular apps like WordPress, Joomla, and Laravel.

RunCloud Atomic Deployment

And for those of you with more complex, mission-critical infrastructure – we also offer built-in support for Atomic Deployments with zero downtime. In short, Atomic Deployment is essentially a script that allows your web application to be updated from Git so that it continuously runs, while the code updates in the background, ensuring zero downtime on your server during the entire process

Getting Started with GitHub

If you’re interested in a weekend well spent – and have been planning to improve your deployment infrastructure, all you need is two things. A GitHub account (completely free) and your RunCloud account. Going forward as your team grows and you manage multiple sites, you won’t even be able to imagine going back to the days with no version control for changes you deploy to your web applications.

Already using RunCloud with GitHub for version control? Or, have any other questions? Let us know & join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 💬

Categories: Tech Tips, Technology

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