what is git

28 May 2021
6 min read

We've previously discussed the Basics Of Version Control providing background and why it is a vital component in all software development projects.

Over the years software developers have explored and used many different approaches and tools for version control systems and the current most popular tool in use today is git distributed version control

What is git

Git is a free and open-source software distributed under GNU General Public License Version 2 for distributed version-control systems to track changes in source code during software development. It is purposely designed for coordinating work in software development teams, but it can be used to track changes in any set of files. Originally developed by Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux Kernel

The primary goals git are aimed at the typical use cases for software developers which include:

  • speed
  • data integrity
  • support for distributed team workflows

Git was created by Linus Torvalds in 2005 for development of the Linux kernel, with other kernel developers contributing to its initial development. Since 2005,Git has evolved and matured to be amazingly fast and efficient with an incredible branching system that enables non-linear development.

Git is distributed version-control systems, and every Git directory on every computer is a full-fledged repository with complete history and full version-tracking abilities, independent of network access or a central server.

Why do software developers like git?

There are few characteristics about git that make it a popular choice for software developers and understanding these key properties actually make git easier to user and comprehend.

File-system Snapshots

The major difference between Git and any other common Version Control Systems (VCS) is the way data and details about files is treated by Git. Conceptually, most other systems store information as a list of file-based changes or they store as a set of files and the changes made to each file over time, this is commonly described as delta-based version control. The set of incremental changes for each file are recorded,the increment is the difference -Delta - to changes in the file between the previous and current versions. For text-based files, such as source code files, the line changes are recorded.

Git doesn't store information in this manner, it stores data more like a series of snapshots of a miniature file-system. Every time you commit, or save the state of your project, Git basically takes a picture of what all your files look like at that moment and stores a reference to that snapshot. To be efficient, if files have not changed, Git doesn’t store the file again, just a link to the previous identical file it has already stored. Git thinks about its data more like a stream of snapshots.

This makes Git more like a mini file-system with some incredibly powerful tools built on top of it, rather than simply a VCS.

Local operation

Every developer works on their own local copy of the code. What this means is that developers can work on and change, edit, add and delete code file while disconnected from the internet or network, without affecting their team mates.

Even though developers may be disconnected from the network, they can still see a complete history and view old versions of files because every thing is available locally.

This also means that If you get on an aeroplane or a train and want to do a little work, you can commit happily to your local copy until you get to a network connection to synchronise your changes to a central repository.

In many other systems, doing so is either impossible or painful because you can’t do much when you're not connected to the server. This may not seem like a huge deal, but you may be surprised what a big difference it can make especially when working remotely.

File integrity

Once a file(s) has been committed to a git repository it is impossible to change or tamper with without git knowing about it. All files and folders in Git repository undergo a checksum process before being stored and then referred to by their checksum.

A checksum is a sequence of numbers and letters used to check data for errors. To produce a checksum,a program runs a file through an algorithm. Typical algorithms used for this include MD5, SHA-1, SHA-256, and SHA-512.

The algorithm uses a cryptographic hash function that takes an input and produces a string of a fixed length. The input file can be a small 1 MB file or a massive 4 GB file, but either way, you’ll end up with a checksum of the same length. Checksums are also commonly referred to as hashes.

Even the slightest change in a file produces very different looking checksum values. A single character difference in the underlying file produces a very different looking checksum.

The mechanism that Git uses to produce a checksum is called a SHA-1 hash. This is a 40-character string composed of hexadecimal characters (0–9 and a–f) and calculated based on the contents of a file or directory structure in Git.

A SHA-1 hash looks something like this:


Git stores everything in its internal database by the hash value of its contents.

Data addition

In git, every action preform is an addition only operation. There is very little chance of something being completely deleted from git. Even if a file has been from 1 version or a commit, the file will still be available and restore-able from other versions or branches.


A core concept within git, is branching. Users can create, delete, manipulate and manage branches in git with ease. However, git has even stronger support for branches and provides capabilities for changing branch points and reproducing changes from one branch to another - a feature known as rebase.

This ease in working with and manipulating branches forms the basis for a software development model with Git. In this model, branches are managed as easily as files are in some other systems.

One Working area

Git provides a single-step managed process enabling you to work in one workspace for a repository, regardless of how many branches you may have or need to use. It manages updating the content in the workspace to ensure it is consistent with whichever branch is active. You never need to leave that workspace. Also, while working in one branch, you still have the expected access to view, merge, or create other branches.


If you're coming from an environment where you used a traditional centralized source control system, like Subversion, Perforce or Team Foundation Services you'll find that Git is significantly different and has a learning curve.

The workflow is very different. Trying to map commands, structures, and workflows from your previous system is not an effective strategy. Rather, you should take the time to read through the other tutorials on this site and examine the concepts and examples.

We will aim to provide practice labs and tutorials to guide you along your way to understanding and effectively working with git.