What is GitHub? More than Git version control in the cloud

GitHub is at heart a Git repository hosting service, i.e. a cloud-based source code management or version control system, but that’s just the beginning. In addition, GitHub implements features for code review (pull requests, diffs, and review requests), project management (including issue tracking and assignment), integrations with other developer tools, team management, documentation, and “social coding.”

Something like a social networking site for programmers, GitHub is an open environment where programmers can freely share and collaborate (even ad hoc) on open source code. GitHub makes it easy to find useful code, copy repositories for your own use, and submit changes to others’ projects. As a result, GitHub has become home to virtually every open source project of any importance.

Whenever I want to explore an open source project, I start by searching for the project name. Once I find the project website, I look for its code repository link, and nine times out of 10 I wind up on GitHub.

Git version control

Before we can understand what GitHub does and how GitHub works, we need to understand Git. Git is a distributed version control system, originally written by Linus Torvalds in 2005 for and with help from the Linux kernel community. I’m not here to sell you on Git, so I’ll spare you the spiel about how fast and small and flexible and popular it is, but you should know that when you clone a Git repository (“repo,” for short) you get the entire version history on your own computer, not just a snapshot from one branch at one time.

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