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Source Code Control: Snapshots of the Code (and why business people should care)

I have a theory that the reason why normal people are so put off by programmers is that they use goofy, complex language that is meaningless to most people. For example, take the phrase “Source Code Management” or “Source Code Control”.

What the heck is that?

It is software that programmers use to capture copies of the source code as it is changed. Think of it as a camera taking pictures of the code at various moments in time. These snapshots are stored in a central location for all the team.

What do they use it for?

A couple of things:

Storing code in a central place for a team so all the programmers can get at it. That way, when Fred writes that great code to convert everyone’s name into Pig-Latin, Mary doesn’t have to write her own. She can just use Fred’s.

More importantly, Mary can fix Fred’s code when she finds a bug for names that start in vowels. (That Mary is such a show off.)

Is that it?

Well, no. Because it keeps track of each version, if Mary’s bug fix breaks something else, we can recover by restoring a older version. Phew!

Is THAT it?

Well, no. Both Mary and Fred can work on code in the same file at the same time, and when they put a new version back into the software, it will merge their changes together. (Or it can merge two different versions worked on by the same person into one file.)

Anything else?

Well yes, but these are the core features.

Why should a business person care?

These are all features that either help developers be more efficient or protect the code as it changes.

Should freelancers and programmers working on solo projects use source code control?

Absolutely. Just because features involving multiple developers aren’t applicable doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. Keeping track of multiple versions is very valuable. I find it useful to look at earlier versions of my code all the time. And merging changes between two different versions of the code can also be helpful. This allows the programmer to be working on a major set of enhancements, release an interim build that includes some bug fixes, and know that the bug fixes will be folded back into the major release.

There are free and open source options available, so cost is not an issue.

I just interviewed a programmer, and he says source code control is a waste of time.

Be afraid. Very afraid.


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Comments  2

  1. Jacki Hollywood Brown 27 May

    Even non-programmers like myself should get into the habit of source code control.

    My website uses CMS (content management system) so if I want to make any modifications to a page that is slightly complicated such as adding photos in a table, I copy the source code to a plain text file then save it. Then I fiddle around with the code in the CMS to try and get what I want. If I completely F#$% it up, then I just delete it all and copy and paste the code from the plain text file that I saved back into the CMS.

    This procedure's saved my butt (and my designer's time) often!
  2. Avonelle Lovhaug 29 May

    @Jacki - thanks for that great tip! I've got a customer who is getting ready to implement a CMS, and I'm going to pass that along, because I think that is definitely one of the risks!
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