This content is part of the Essential Guide: Get the most out of version control in software engineering

Evaluate GitHub features for dev and project management

Developers need to write, branch and merge code without losing one bracket. Many version control tools offer project management features, so compare capabilities for the right fit.

GitHub is one of the most popular products in software development. And that's no minor feat in a market saturated with proprietary and open source tools and frameworks.

So, why to get their foot in the door at most jobs do developers need the ability to work in GitHub? The tool combines Git's version control properties with an extensive community support hub around code repositories.

GitHub, owned by Microsoft, is not the lone Git-based web hosting service, and there are viable alternatives to explore. But, first, understand which GitHub features make it the de facto choice for so many developers.

Favored GitHub features

Developers can use GitHub to manage their ongoing projects. GitHub also enables developers to showcase their work -- in case they want to change employers or foster a side project -- and they can also use the service to contribute to open source or freelance development opportunities.

GitHub brings together a collaborative community that can review and improve existing development methods and projects, as well as propagate ideas. It's a developer support system furnished via the nature of the version control repositories.

GitHub provides a secure code repository that tracks code changes across different versions of software. GitHub enables code files to be available when project collaborators need them and prevents these files from getting lost or corrupted. These GitHub features keep developer productivity high compared to local file storage and ad hoc update management.

Finally, GitHub is popular because it integrates with common app dev platforms and over 200 programming languages. GitHub users can integrate code nearly anywhere and in any modern coding language.

Project management features that matter

Along with GitHub's support of Git for version control, the service adds more features geared toward development teams, including the following:

  • a project issue tracker;
  • labels;
  • branch comparison views;
  • applications for Windows, Mac and Android OSes;
  • data transfer security using Secure Sockets Layer, Secure Socket Shell, HTTPS and two-factor authentication; and
  • API integration.

Git features enable developers to work anywhere, anytime -- either locally or connected to the Git server. If networking issues arise, developers can download the latest code repository, work offline and have all the updated code source files they need. Git tracks all changes, so developers can focus on code, rather than managing incremental versions.

Git and GitHub offer features for developers to work with code branches. Some applications have just a few active branches, while others have dozens of branch versions. GitHub's features for branch comparison help developers easily merge when the time comes.

GitHub also supports modern software security protocols to reduce risk.

GitHub enables API integration across projects and branches, which is of interest for both web and mobile app dev teams.

Viable GitHub alternatives

While GitHub has name recognition as a web-based version control and developer tool, teams should evaluate any of several viable GitHub alternatives for projects. Here are a few to consider.

GitLab. GitLab is a web-based tool intended to work throughout the DevOps lifecycle. GitLab combines source code management through Git repositories with other features that can facilitate quality code for business projects, such as issue tracking and project management.

GitLab is scalable for multiple teams or a single user. The tool can adapt to a team's particular style of Agile, including how it uses or tracks tasks with boards, backlogs and dashboards. For Agile planning, GitLab supports epics, milestones and roadmaps, and it provides burn down charts. The tool can house wiki documentation as well.

SourceForge. SourceForge integrates with Git, Mercurial and Subversion version control systems. For source code management, SourceForge includes links to artifacts, commits and related tickets. Developers can color-code their commits to enhance visual identification. The tool tracks code commit history and can visualize commits in graphs.

SourceForge tracks issues via tickets, and developers can use its markdown feature to format text and attach supporting documentation. The tool includes milestones and labels, along with customizable fields, to suit business process needs. For most tools, it can be difficult to search for issues, but SourceForge offers an advanced search tool and the ability to save favorite searches. It also threads collaborative discussions on stories for easier team communication.

SourceForge offers multiple methods of documentation, including a wiki system. Wiki pages include the ability to attach supporting documents, link to other project data and engage in shared team discussions.

Bitbucket. Atlassian Bitbucket provides web-based repository hosting for source code and development projects. Like GitHub and other version control tools available, Bitbucket uses standard Git functionality, such as pull and push requests and merges. It also can rely on Git alternative Mercurial.

With Bitbucket, developers can perform code reviews before merging the content back into the rest of the code base. Bitbucket supports branch permissions and version comparison. Developers can also compare and review branches of code before they commit them. Users can organize Bitbucket repositories as projects with assigned tasks.

Bitbucket also integrates with most project management tools, like Atlassian Jira, Crucible and Bamboo and the open source Jenkins CI server.

GitKraken. Similar to GitLab, GitKraken integrates with Git for version control but also provides a platform for project planning, coding and deployment. GitKraken features a UI for code editing that includes a visual commit history graph; drag and drop for edits, merges or pushes; and the Fuzzy Finder search feature. Developers can also undo and redo actions with a single click.

GitKraken's built-in code editor enables users to resolve merge conflicts directly, as well as add new files and folders to edit. Users can save files and stage or commit changes without switching tools. Glo Boards connect to project repositories, where users can easily update assigned tasks on the team board. Developers can integrate GitKraken with most hosted repositories. They can also clone, add remotes and open pull requests for code reviews.

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