Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: Version Control by Example

It isn't surprising that most FoxPro developers think of one primary tool when version/source control is mentioned: Visual SourceSafe. After all, this was the Microsoft tool that was heavily promoted when version control integration was first promoted in VFP. (I recall YAG and Flash introducing their Multi-User Project Manager for FoxPro which was my first introduction to how to let multiple developers work on the same project, absolutely needing some kind of version control)

But if you, like many other VFP developers, were geographically remote, you quickly discovered SourceGear's SourceOffSite, a SourceSafe client that made working remotely fast and easy. SourceGear's founder, Eric Sink, has written on version control for years and SourceGear moved from assisting SourceSafe to Vault, a SQL Server based alternative and additional tools, such as bug-tracking.

VFP's integration of source control isn't perfect - most of it due to its use of the DBF/FPT format for MNX, VCX, SCX and FRX - and the existing SCCTEXT has been improved in the past with alternate SCCTEXT and GenXML.

More recently, however, he's written on open-source version control systems, and no surprise, SourceGear has written its own distributed version control system, Veracity (also open-source). His new book, "Version Control By Example", however, isn't just about Veracity - it's about making Version Control even more accessible than before.

He takes the reader from the history of version control (v1 - SourceSafe , v2 - centralized version control, v3 - distributed version control) and then plunges into perhaps, one of the best examples of learning Source Control in recent memory.

Eric walks us through exactly the same development scenario, using Subversion, Git, Mercurial and Veracity as the version control tool. With Harry and Sally, two developers separated by an ocean and culture, we start with the creation of a software project and go all the way to its version 1.0 implementation, with the challenges of code conflicts, spelling changes, commenting and of course, the inevitable, "I'm going to work alone" mentality.

But the book also describes how different software (web, commercial, etc) implement version control and the internals of how each VCS handle some of the details. While Veracity is discussed, it isn't heavily promoted - this isn't your "here's why my product rocks" book - this is a discussion piece on the strengths and weaknesses of each tool.

Eric's writing style is fun and easy to read. With most developer books, readers pick and choose what chapters you read, and while you can do this with Version Control By Example, I read it cover to cover. You might think going through the same example four times would be boring - but Eric's minor changes make it a breeze (if you're looking for the many different ways Brits can say "happy" or "angry", this is just the sprig in the thicket!) Highlighting the differences in culture helps show the "real" development process.

My favourite chapter is the Best Practices where there are gems that even experienced software developers may not consider:

3) Don't Comment Out Code. (throw it away! - as some developers know, I just hate unnecessary comments comments!)
Version Control By Example is available free online, for purchase, for download, for ePub and more.

If you're looking for a new version control system, read it. If you've never heard of version control before (hello students!!), read it. If you're looking at changing your version control system (some of my clients are still using VSS), read it. If you're looking for a great dev book, read it. I received a copy and after reading it, the best thing I could do, as I do with all the best developer books, is share it.

Version Control by Example