Version Control with Git

How familiar are you with this situation: You are editing a document, data file, or analysis script. You’ve made changes that you think are good, but you’re not sure. You need to check with your supervisor or collaborator first, or your just want to know that if you decide to change your mind, you can go back to the old version. So what do you do?

Some common ad hoc solutions include

These solutions feel reassuring, but they are often not as functional as we would like, and can lead to more problems further down the line. Some of these situations might be familiar to you:

Using a Version Control System, either manually or via a software tool like Git, allows us to be more systematic about these changes while keeping a clean, current copy of every file we’re working on. Some advantages of version control are

Teams are not the only ones to benefit from version control: lone researchers can benefit immensely. Keeping a record of what was changed, when, and why is extremely useful for all researchers if they ever need to come back to the project later on, once their memory has faded.

Version control is the lab notebook of the digital world: it’s what professionals use to keep track of what they’ve done and to collaborate with other people. Every large software development project relies on it, and most programmers use it for their small jobs as well. And it isn’t just for software: books, papers, small data sets, and anything that changes over time or needs to be shared can and should be stored in a version control system.


In this lesson we use the GitHub Desktop application.


Setup Download files required for the lesson
00:00 1. Manual Version Control What is version control and why should I use it?
00:15 2. Automated Version Control What is git and why should I use it?
00:20 3. Creating a Repository and Tracking Changes How do I get Git to track my files?
How do I record changes in Git?
How do I make notes about my changes?
00:30 4. Ignoring Things How can I tell Git to ignore files I don’t want to track?
00:35 5. Remotes in GitHub How do I share my changes with others on the web?
01:05 6. Exploring History How can I access old versions of files?
How do I review my changes?
01:30 7. Collaborating How can I use version control to collaborate with other people?
01:55 8. Conflicts What do I do when my changes conflict with someone else’s?
02:10 Finish

The actual schedule may vary slightly depending on the topics and exercises chosen by the instructor.