Take a break from the command line with GitHub Desktop

Wedded to Git version control and the GitHub cloud service? Learn how to take advantage of the newest member of the team

Git has become the lingua franca of code. From its birth of scratching Linus Torvalds’ version-control itch, it has grown to become the repository of choice. Git’s cloud incarnation, GitHub, has become the public face of source control -- where recruiters look at candidates’ code and commits and where much of the world’s open source software is developed and shared.

GitHub Desktop is intended to simplify working with the service, bringing common GitFlow techniques to your desktop while still giving you an offline copy of your repositories so that you can work anywhere. With both Mac and Windows versions, built using a common core, it’s an important tool. It handles synchronizing your code with the cloud, managing branches, and showing changes -- so you can work in your usual code editors without having to worry about whether it has integration plug-ins.

Acquiring GitHub Desktop is quick and easy, with the installer downloading the latest version as part of the install process. Once installed it walks you through a quick tutorial showing you how to branch a repository, commit changes, then handle pull requests and merges. The tutorial is built into the app and can be hidden at any time.

At the heart of the tool is a graphical view of a repository, showing the branches and differences, that helps you navigate through your and your collaborators' changes. Looking rather like a public transport map, it gives you a view of your current branch and the commits you’ve made. A drop-down menu lets you pick a branch, with the graph showing the commits since you last branched off. As the client is connected to the cloud service, it keeps up to date with changes in all the branches, showing where pull requests have been made and where commits in the master branch haven’t yet been merged into your current branch.

Commits and pull requests are handled just like you're used to with GitHub, with file system integration so that you can use your choice of editors and development tools. Or you could simply use GitHub Desktop to monitor the Git tooling built into your IDE.

It’s interesting to understand how GitHub built a cross-platform application like this. To learn more, I spoke to GitHub’s Amy Palamountain, part of the company’s Desktop Engineering team.

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