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Section 19.1.  Revision Control

 
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19.1. Revision Control

Use a revision control system.

Maintaining control over the creation and modification of your source code[*] is utterly essential for robust team-based development. Just as you wouldn't use an editor without an Undo button or a word processor that can't merge documents, so too you shouldn't use a filesystem you can't rewind, or a development environment that can't integrate the work of many contributors.

[*] And documentation, and data files, and document templates, and makefiles, and style sheets, and change logs, and any other resources your system requires. Revision control isn't only for source.

Programmers make mistakes, and occasionally those mistakes will be catastrophic. They will reformat the disk with the most recent version of the code. Or they'll mistype an editor macro and write zeros all through the source of a critical core module. Or two developers will unwittingly edit the same file at the same time and half their changes will be lost. Revision control systems can prevent those kinds of problems.

Moreover, occasionally the very best debugging technique is to just give up, stop trying to get yesterday's modifications to work correctly, roll the code back to a known stable state, and start over again. Less drastically, comparing the current condition of your code with the most recent stable version from your repository (even just a line-by-line diff ) can often help you isolate your recent "improvements" and work out which of them is the problem.

Revision control systems such as RCS, CVS, Subversion, Monotone, darcs, Perforce, GNU arch, or BitKeeper can protect against calamities, and ensure that you always have a working fallback position if maintenance goes horribly wrong. The various systems have different strengths and limitations, many of which stem from fundamentally different views on what exactly revision control is. So it's a good idea to audition the various revision control systems and find the one that works best for you. Pragmatic Version Control Using Subversion, by Mike Mason (Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2005) and Essential CVS, by Jennifer Vesperman (O'Reilly, 2003) are useful starting points.

After all, rm * is never more than half a dozen keystrokes away.

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