27 essential tips for Git and GitHub users

Smarter cloning, forking, merging, branching, documenting, sharing, and automating with Git and GitHub

20 tips for mastering Git and GitHub

While Git users have dozens of get-started guides to choose from, and GitHub offers a number of guides of its own, it’s still not easy to find a collection of useful tips for developers who want to work smarter with Git and GitHub. Let’s fix that.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Git or GitHub, the next few paragraphs will give you enough background to understand the tips. We’ll list about a dozen useful resources at the end of this article.

Git is a distributed version control system, originally written by Linus Torvalds in 2005 for and with help from the Linux kernel community. I’m not here to sell you on Git, so I’ll spare you the spiel about how fast and small and flexible and popular it is, but you should know that when you clone a Git repository (“repo,” for short), you get the entire version history on your own computer, not just a snapshot from one branch at one time.

Git started as a command-line tool, befitting its origin in the Linux kernel community. You can still use the Git command line, if you like, but you don’t have to. In particular, if you use GitHub as your host, you can use the free GitHub Desktop client on Windows or Mac. On the other hand, the Git command line will work for any host, and it comes pre-installed on most Mac and Linux systems.

Only you can decide whether you are most comfortable using the command line or a native client with a graphical user interface. If you like a GUI, in addition to the GitHub client (Windows and Mac), you might want to consider SourceTree (Windows and Mac, free), TortoiseGit (Windows only, free), and Gitbox (Mac only, $14.99). Or you can use an editor or IDE that supports Git internally (see tip No. 11).

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