GitHub improvements aim to clean up code reviews

After addressing long-standing complaints about missing features, GitHub's latest additions focus on problems with reviewing submitted changes to code

Since owning up to having ignored community concerns, GitHub has unleashed one set of updates after another. Almost all of them focus on developers' day-to-day experience with the service rather than enterprise-centric features like hardware-based authentication or support for operations at massive scale.

The newest round of additions, as announced on the code hosting service's blog, improve the way users search, review, examine comments, and handle workflow on GitHub's site.

When examining a pull request that consists of multiple files, the reviewer can narrow the focus of the review by screening files via a file filter. This will surely be a welcome feature for large, sprawling pull requests that touch many files in a project at once, especially if similar files need to be reviewed together.

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Commits on GitHub can now be browsed and filtered file-by-file to narrow the scope of a review effort.

Another change lets users browse by individual file commits in a pull request. GitHub has provided a new browsing interface to flip through the commits, along with keyboard shortcuts.

A timeline indicator lets code reviewers see what changes have been slotted by others after reviewing a pull request, which helps developers keep from being overwhelmed by changes. Finally, diffs that have been rendered obsolete by later changes can be seen in context if needed,to help understand why specific changes were made at that time.

These latest updates come in the wake of a rush of features targeted at fixing one long-standing complaint about the service. Reactions to conversations around pull requests, issues, and comments were rolled out to allow what amounted to tabulating votes on a given issue -- a feature long asked for but only recently delivered.

Much of GitHub's efforts of late have involved features destined for its for-pay GitHub Enterprise product as well as the public GitHub service. Competitors like Gitlab, with an entirely open source offering patterned after both GitHub's enterprise and public-facing products, and Atlassian's Bitbucket, with features designed to appeal to all stripes of developers, are trying to lure developers away. But the sheer inertia around GitHub as a focus for modern software development will make the service difficult to displace.

[Edited to clarify GitHub Enterprise features versus regular GitHub features.]

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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