Git workflow

Practice collaborating on code using Git and GitHub, including branches, pull requests, and resolving merge conflicts.

  • git
  • fundamentals

An exercise to practice git workflow skills. The workshop should be undertaken by two programmers, working on two computers.

Note: you may see references to a master branch in diagrams or external resources. This used to be the name of the default Git branch, but this was changed to main last year. New repos should all have a main branch, so that’s what you should use.

Part 1: Initial setup

You’re working in a team of two on a project for a new client. Steps 1 to 8 in this section should be completed by one of you, who we’ll refer to as Programmer 1.

Step 1: make a new repo

Programmer 1 creates a new GitHub repo and clones it.

  1. Create a new GitHub repo on Programmer 1’s profile, making sure to initialise it with a initialise repo with readme
  2. Go to “Settings > Collaborators” and add Programmer 2 so they can access the repo
  3. Programmer 2 should check their email and accept the invite to collaborate
  4. Clone this new repository using your terminal.
  5. Move into the newly created directory.
    cd your-repo-name-here
    This is what your remote and local repositories look like after this. HEAD is a reference to your current location.
repo visual after step 1

Step 2: raise issues

Normally you would decide on which “features” you were going to build and then break these down into smaller tasks before starting the work. These tasks can be tracked with GitHub issues.

For the sake of this exercise, we’re just going to add one issue at the moment. Your client wants a beautifully styled heading for the homepage. It should be bold black writing with a background shadow that makes it stand out.

  1. Raise a new issue with a descriptive title.
  2. In the body of the issue, provide more detail about how to complete the work.
  3. Assign yourselves to this issue.

Step 3: move to a new branch

There are many types of workflow. At FAC we use GitHub flow, where the main branch is always deployable. In this flow, each branch is used for a separate feature.

  1. Create a branch with a unique and descriptive name. For example, create-heading-with-shadow.
    git branch create-heading-with-shadow
    repo visual after step 1
  2. Leave the main branch by switching to the new branch you have just created.
    git checkout create-heading-with-shadow
    repo visual after step 1

Alternatively you can do this in a single step by using the -b flag to tell the git checkout command to create the new branch:

git checkout -b create-heading-with-shadow

Step 4: satisfy the requirements

Now we need to write some code to add the new feature.

  1. Add the following code into a new file called index.html.

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <html lang="en">
    <meta charset="UTF-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" />
    <title>Git Workflow Workshop</title>

    <h1 class="some-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOW</h1>

    Note: you may notice errors in this code. This is deliberate—we’ll be fixing them later on in the workshop.

  2. Create a new file called style.css which contains:

    * {
    margin: 0;
    padding: 0;

    .page-heading {
    box-sizing: border-box;
    font-family: "Avant Garde", Avantgarde, "Century Gothic", CenturyGothic,
    "AppleGothic", sans-serif;
    font-size: 3.5rem;
    padding: 5rem 3rem;
    text-align: center;
    text-rendering: optimizeLegibility;
    color: #131313;
    background-color: #e7e5e4;
    letter-spacing: 0.15em;
    text-shadow: 1px -1px 0 #767676, -1px 2px 1px #737272, -2px 4px 1px #767474,
    -3px 6px 1px #787777, -4px 8px 1px #7b7a7a, -5px 10px 1px #7f7d7d,
    -6px 12px 1px #828181, -7px 14px 1px #868585, -8px 16px 1px #8b8a89, -9px
    18px 1px #8f8e8d, -10px 20px 1px #949392, -11px 22px 1px #999897,
    -12px 24px 1px #9e9c9c, -13px 26px 1px #a3a1a1, -14px 28px 1px #a8a6a6, -15px
    30px 1px #adabab, -16px 32px 1px #b2b1b0, -17px 34px 1px #b7b6b5,
    -18px 36px 1px #bcbbba, -19px 38px 1px #c1bfbf, -20px 40px 1px #c6c4c4, -21px
    42px 1px #cbc9c8, -22px 44px 1px #cfcdcd, -23px 46px 1px #d4d2d1,
    -24px 48px 1px #d8d6d5, -25px 50px 1px #dbdad9, -26px 52px 1px #dfdddc, -27px
    54px 1px #e2e0df, -28px 56px 1px #e4e3e2;

Step 5: stage your changes

  1. Add index.html and style.css to the staging area.
git add index.html style.css

If you know you definitely want to stage all your current changes you can save some typing and use:

git add .
repo visual after step 1

Step 6: commit your changes

The history of a project is made up of “commits”. Each commit is a snapshot of your whole repository at one particular time.

The message you type to describe each commit is important, since it will be preserved in the history of the project for future contributors. It should be descriptive and relatively high-level—someone can always read the code to find out specifically what you changed.

For example this message is not descriptive enough: “update title”. This one is a bit too descriptive: “Use an h1 element with a classname applying nice text shadow CSS”. This one has a good balance: “Add new page heading element with styles”.

Here are some great guidelines on writing better, more useful commit messages.

It’s also important to link your code changes to the issues that track them. GitHub lets you use a hash symbol followed by a number to connect a commit to an issue. For example if the message includes Relates #1 it will show this commit in issue number 1 on the GitHub repo. If a commit totally fixes an issue you can use Closes #1, and GitHub will automatically close the issue when the commit is pushed to GitHub.

  1. Commit the files that are in the staging area.
    git commit -m 'Add new page heading element with styles' -m 'Relates #1'
    Here we’re using a second -m flag to add another line to our commit message with the extra issue info. You could also just run git commit, which will open your default text editor so you can write longer commit messages in a more comfortable environment.
repo visual after step 1

Step 7: push your changes to GitHub

At this point your remote repo on GitHub hasn’t changed yet. You need to push your changes.

  1. Push the create-heading-with-shadow branch up to the “origin” (the GitHub repo that you cloned from).
    git push origin create-heading-with-shadow
repo visual after step 1

Step 8: create a pull request

  1. Programmer 1 navigates to the repository on GitHub and creates a pull request.
    • Add a descriptive title (e.g. Create page heading)
    • Add some more info about the change in the body. You can also link the PR to the issue here by including Relates #1 or Closes #1.
    • Select Programmer 2 as an assignee.

Step 9: merge the pull request

You usually shouldn’t merge your own pull requests. A PR gives the rest of your team the chance to review before your changes are merged into main. In your projects, you will be asking the other pair to do this.

  1. Programmer 2 reviews the changes. This is where you’d leave any feedback or request changes to be made.
  2. Programmer 2 merges the pull request

Now your remote repo looks like this:

repo visual after step 1

You can go and close the issue tracking this feature now that the change is merged (If you put Closes #1 in your commit message it will have automatically closed).

Part 2: splitting the work

Your quality assurance engineer has just noticed some problems with the recent change to the website.

  1. Spelling mistake in the heading (the word ‘WORKSHOW’ should be replaced with ‘WORKSHOP’)
  2. The classname applied to the h1 is wrong, so the styles aren’t applying (class="some-heading" should be replaced with class="page-heading").
a regular h1 with the browser default font styles
The current heading
the same heading with some fancy shadow styles and a nice font
How the heading should look

Programmer 1 will fix the first problem and Programmer 2 will fix the second. When you begin working on your weekly projects, you will always be pairing. So Programmer 1 represents “pair 1” and Programmer 2 represents “pair 2”. From this point on you both need to work on separate computers.

Note: Only one line in the index.html file needs to be modified.

Step 1: clone the repo (Programmer 2)

  1. Programmer 2 also needs a copy of the repo, since they haven’t worked on it yet

Step 2: raise 2 new issues

  1. Create the following two issues and assign each one to a different person
    • Fix typo in page heading (Programmer 1)
    • Correct the classname of page heading (Programmer 2)

Step 3: create your branches

Git branches are used to make sure each person can work independently without affecting the code others in the team are working on.

  1. Both programmers create one branch each:
    • git checkout -b fix-typo-heading (Programmer 1)
    • git checkout -b update-class-heading (Programmer 2).

Step 4: make your changes

It’s important to avoid making unrelated changes as you work. It can be tempting to just quickly fix an error if you spot one while doing some other work. However this makes the Git history of changes really difficult to track. It’s also confusing to review a pull request that has lots of unrelated changes.

  1. Programmer 1 fixes only the spelling typo in the heading (WORKSHOW -> WORKSHOP).
    <h1 class="some-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOP</h1>
  2. Programmer 2 updates only the class name of the heading (class="some-heading" -> class="page-heading").
    <h1 class="page-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOW</h1>

Step 5: stage your changes

  1. Both programmers save their index.html files.
  2. Both programmers check the status of their files, to confirm that index.html has been modified.
    git status
  3. Both programmers add their modified index.html file to the staging area.
    git add index.html

Step 6: commit your changes

  1. Both programmers commit their change. Don’t forget the multi-line commit message with the referenced issue.
repo visual after step 1

Important: don’t work in parallel from here. We want to push, PR and merge Programmer 1’s change first, then move on to Programmer 2’s change.

Step 7: pull any new changes (Programmer 1)

On a real project there might be lots of other people contributing code simultaneously. It’s a good idea to regularly incorporate changes from the remote main branch into your branch (especially if you’ve been working on this branch for a long time). You usually want to check for remote changes before pushing your branch.

  1. Programmer 1 switches to main branch.
    git checkout main
  2. Programmer 1 pulls any changes from the main branch of the remote (GitHub repo). There should be no changes since neither of you has pushed any changes yet.
    git pull origin main
    On the default branch you can use a shorthand, since Git knows which remote branch to use:
    git pull
  3. Programmer 1 switches back to the fix-typo-heading branch.
    git checkout fix-typo-heading
    Since there were no new changes to deal with Programmer 1 can move on to pushing.

Step 8: push changes (Programmer 1)

  1. Programmer 1 pushes their fix-typo-heading branch to remote
    git push origin fix-typo-heading
repo visual after step 1

Step 9: create a pull request (Programmer 1)

  1. Programmer 1 creates a pull request.
    • Don’t forget a descriptive title/body (and link the relevant issue in the body)
    • Assign Programmer 2 to review

Step 10: review the pull request (Programmer 2)

  1. Programmer 2 reviews the pull request
    1. Step through each commit (in this case one)
    2. Check the “Files changed” tab for a line-by-line breakdown.
    3. Click “Review changes” and choose from “Comment”, “Approve” or “Request changes”

Step 11: merge the pull request (Programmer 2)

  1. Programmer 2 merges the pull request
repo visual after step 1

Note: now Programmer 1’s changes are merged we can move on to Programmer 2’s

Step 12: pull any new changes (Programmer 2)

Remember it’s always a good idea to check for any new changes on the remote before pushing your branch. In this case we know that Programmer 1’s branch was just merged, so there will be changes. Once we’ve pulled them to the local main branch we’ll need to merge them into the update-class-heading branch.

  1. Programmer 2 switches to main branch.

    git checkout main
  2. Programmer 2 pulls the remote main branch

    git pull
    repo visual after step 1
  3. Programmer 2 switches back to the update-class-heading branch.

    git checkout update-class-heading
  4. Programmer 2 tries to merge main branch into update-class-heading branch.

    git merge main

    At this point there should be a “merge conflict”. Move on to the next section to find out how to resolve this.

Step 13: resolve merge conflicts (Programmer 2)

This conflict occurred because the line with the <h1> heading was changed by Programmer 1 and Programmer 2. Git doesn’t know how to merge the two different versions of this line together, so it needs you to do it manually. Merge conflicts are highlighted with HEAD and main markers like this:

<<<<<<< HEAD
<h1 class="page-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOW</h1>
<h1 class="some-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOP</h1>
>>>>>>> main

The code between <<<<<<< HEAD and ====== is the current change on this branch. The code between the ====== and >>>>>>> main is the change from the main branch that we are merging in.

You can resolve the conflict by manually editing the code to leave only the change you expect. You can also use VS Code’s built-in options to choose either the HEAD or main change (or both). You also need to make sure to remove the conflict marker lines, since those are not valid HTML code. Finally you need to make a new commit for the merge.

  1. Programmer 2 removes HEAD and main markers
  2. Programmer 2 manually merges the two different h1 lines to keep both new changes
    <h1 class="page-heading">GIT WORKFLOW WORKSHOP</h1>
  3. Programmer 2 adds the index.html file to staging area and commits the merge changes.
git add index.html
git commit -m 'Merge main and resolve conflicts'
repo visual after step 1

Step 14: push your changes (Programmer 2)

  1. Programmer 2 pushes the update-class-heading branch to remote.
  git push origin update-class-heading
repo visual after step 1

Step 15: create a pull request (Programmer 2)

  1. Programmer 2 creates a pull request.
    • Don’t forget a descriptive title/body (and link the relevant issue in the body)
    • Assign Programmer 1 to review

Step 16: review the pull request (Programmer 1)

  1. Programmer 1 reviews the pull request
    1. Step through each commit (in this case one)
    2. Check the “Files changed” tab for a line-by-line breakdown.
    3. Click “Review changes” and choose from “Comment”, “Approve” or “Request changes”

Step 17: merge the pull request (Programmer 1)

  1. Programmer 1 merges the pull request
repo visual after step 17

Finishing up

That’s it, you have successfully followed the GitHub flow to add a new feature and fix some bugs.

Both Programmer 1 and Programmer 2 can switch back to the main branch and pull the remote changes. They should also both delete their other local branches since they are now merged. The final step should be to close any open issues (if the PRs didn’t do this automatically).