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Version Control by Example

📅 2011-Oct-10 ⬩ ✍️ Ashwin Nanjappa ⬩ 🏷️ book, computer, review, version control system ⬩ 📚 Archive


Look what arrived in my snail-mail last weekend: a free dead-tree copy of Version Control by Example written by Eric Sink! 😁 I know Eric Sink from his Source Control HOWTO, a series of fantastic introductory posts on the subject. In this book, Eric Sink gives a simple introduction to version control systems (VCS), the common operations in a VCS and he illustrates these operations in Subversion, Mercurial, Git and Veracity. The book ends with chapters that dip into the internal workings of distributed VCS (DVCS), common workflows of using DVCS and best practices.

Eric Sink is a delightful writer with the talent to make technology accessible and fun. (He reminds me of Tanenbaum, whose textbooks I love for the same reason.) I especially loved his analogy of VCS to a multi-threaded program, which he uses all through the book. Before getting into examples, he provides a solid debate on the pros and cons of centralized VCS (CVCS) vs. DVCS. After that, he shows a sample workflow between two programmers, one in the USA and other in UK, who have to collaborate on the code of a game using a VCS. He uses this scenario four times, once for each VCS he illustrates in the book. I used to use Subversion for my personal work before and my current life completely revolves around Mercurial. So, I loved going through the chapters on these VCS, it acted as a good revision. I skipped the chapter on Git, after seeing (yet again) how it makes every action more complicated than necessary. The final tool is Veracity, an open-source DVCS created by SourceGear which is Eric Sink's company. It adds some extra features needed by commercial users that are not provided in most free DVCS.

Version Control by Example is a super-fast read. It is a practical book, there is nothing to mull or chew over here. If you are either thinking about using a VCS (oh, you must!) or thinking about switching from a CVCS to a DVCS, please pick up this book. The dead-tree version has gaudy page design and is printed on glossy paper. But, once you get over these distractions, the content is good. The book is also available online here.