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Developer Basics: Git

Modified 2020-05-24 by Andrea F. Daniele

Andrea F. Daniele

Maintainer: Andrea F. Daniele

Every time there is a large project, with many contributors and the need for code versioning and history, developers rely on VCS (Version Control Systems) tools. Duckietown uses Git as VCS and as a service provider for it. The Duckietown organization page on GitHub is

Monolithicity VS Modularity

Modified 2020-06-09 by Aleksandar Petrov

Whether a software project should be monolithic or modular is one of the most debated decisions that a group of developers faces at the beginning of a software project. Books have been written about it. Duckietown started as a monolithic project, and some of us still remember the infamous Software repository, and only later transitioned to a full modular approach.

There are two levels of modularity in Duckietown. We distinguish between Modules and Nodes. Modules form our first and highest level of modularity, with each module being a collection of nodes. Nodes constitute the smallest software entities, and each node is usually responsible for a very specific task. Nodes are not allowed to exist outside modules. We will revisit these concepts later in the book, but in a nutshell, modules represent high level concepts, like autonomous driving capability for a vehicle, while nodes within a module tackle more granular tasks, like traffic signs detection.

In Duckietown, code is separated so that each module has its own repository. All official repositories are hosted under the same GitHub organization Be brave, (as of April 2020) we have more than 220 repositories there. You can also have your own modules hosted as repositories on your own GitHub account.


Modified 2020-05-24 by Andrea F. Daniele

This section goes through the most common operations you can perform on a git project and a git project hosted on


Modified 2020-05-24 by Andrea F. Daniele

A non-exhaustive list of terms commonly used in git follow.


A repo (short for repository), or git project, encompasses the entire collection of files and folders associated with a project, along with each file’s revision history.


Branches constitute threads of changes within a repository. Though we call them branches, do not try to force an analogy with tree branches, they are similar in spirit but quite different in how they work.

A repository is not allowed to exist without a branch, and every operation inside a repository only makes sense in the context of a branch (the active branch). Inside a repository, you can have as many branches as you want, but you always work on one branch at a time. Every git project has at least one main branch, usually called the master branch.

Use the command git branch to see the list of branches present in your repository and which branch you are currently working on.

Though, branches are used in different scenarios, they simply allow groups of developpers to work on their own task without having their work affect or be affected by other groups’ work. For example, after a project is released with version 1.0.0, one team is tasked to develop a new feature for the version 1.1.0 milestone while another team is asked to fix a bug that a user reported and whose patch will be released in the version 1.0.1.

Branch operations are performed through the command git branch.


A commit is an atomic change in a repository. A commit is a set of changes to one or more files within your repository. Each commit is uniquely identified within a repository by the hash (SHA-1) of the changes it contains (“plus” a header).

When you create/delete/edit one or more files in a git repository and you are confident enough about those changes, you can commit them using the command git commit.

A commit is not a snapshot (or a copy) of the entire repository at a given point in time. Each commit contains only the incremental difference from the previous commit, called delta in git.

A chain of commits in which all the ancestors are included makes a branch. Since every commit is linked to its parent, a branch is simply a pointer to a commit (the full chain of commits can always be reconstructed from the commit). In other words, you can think of branches as human friendly labels for commits. Every time you create a new commit, the pointer of the current branch advances to the newly created commit.


A tag is a human friendly name for a commit but unlike branches, tags are read-only. Once created, they cannot be modified to point to a different commit.

Tags are commonly used for labeling commits that constitute milestones in the project development timeline, for example a release.


A fork is basically a copy of someone else’s repository. Usually, you cannot create branches or change code in other people’s repositories, that’s why you create your own copy of it. This is called forking.


A git remote is a copy of your repository hosted by a git service provider, e.g. GitHub. Remotes allow you to share your commits and branches so that other developers can fetch them. Technically speaking, remotes are exactly the same as local repositories, but unlike your local repository, they are reachable over the internet.

You can use the commands git fetch and git push to bring your local copy of the repository in sync with a remote, by downloading commits or uploading new commits respectively.

Merging branches

Merging is the dual operation of creating a new branch. Imaigne you have branched out a new branch (e.g. new-feature) from the some branch (e.g. master), made some improvements and tested them out. Now you want to incorporate these changes in the master branch which hosts your main code. The merge operation does exactly that. It takes the changes done in new-feature and applies them to master.

Often git will manage to apply these changes by itself. However, sometimes if both new-feature and master changed the same part of the code, git cannot determine by itself which of the two changes should be kept. Such a case is called merge conflict and you will have to manually select what should be kept after the merge.

Pull Requests

If you are working on a secondary branch or if you forked a repository and want to submit your changes for integration into the mainstream branch or repository, you can open a so-called Pull Request (in short PR).

A pull request can be seen as a three-step merge operation between two branches where the changes are first proposed, then discussed and adapted (if requested), and finally merged.

Common operations

Modified 2020-05-24 by Andrea F. Daniele

Fork a repository on GitHub

To fork (creating a copy of a repository, that does not belong to you), you simply have to go to the repository’s webpage and click fork on the upper right corner.

Clone a repository

Cloning a repository is the act of creating a local copy of a remote repository. A repo is cloned only at the very beginning, when you still don’t have a local copy of it.

To clone a repository, either copy the HTTPS or SSH link given on the repository’s webpage. Use the following command to create a local copy of the remote git repository identified by the given URL.

$ git clone REPOSITORY-URL

This will create a directory in the current working path with the same name of the repository and the entire history of commits will be downloaded onto your computer.

Create a new branch

The command for creating a new branch is a little bit counter-intuitive, but you will get use to it. Use the following command to create a new branch:

$ git checkout -b NEW-BRANCH-NAME

This creates a new branch pointing at the same commit your currently active branch is pointing at. In other words, you will end up with two branches pointing at the same commit. Note that after you issue this command, the newly created branch becomes your active branch.

Working tree

In git, we use the term working tree to indicate all the changes that are not committed yet. You can think of it as your workspace. When you create a new commit, the hash for the current working tree is computed and assigned to the new commit together with the changes since the last commit. The working tree clears as you commit changes.

You cannot create commits from a clean working tree.

Use the command git status to inspect the status of your working tree.

Create a new commit

Unlike many git operations, a commit is not created by a single git command. There are two steps to follow. First, we mark all the changes that we want to be part of our new commit, second, we create the commit. From your working tree, mark changes to include in the new commit using the command:

$ git add FILE

The command git status will always show you which changes are marked to be used for a new commit and which changes are not. Use the command

$ git commit -m "COMMIT-MESSAGE"

to create a new commit. Replace COMMIT-MESSAGE with your notes about what changes this commit includes.

Do not underestimate the value of good commit messages, the moment you will go back to your history of commits looking for a change of interest, having good commit messages will be a game changer.

Push changes

Use the following command to push your local changes to the remote repository so that the two repositories can get in sync.

$ git push origin BRANCH-NAME

Fetch changes

Modified 2020-05-26 by Andrea F. Daniele

If you suspect that new changes might be available on the remote repository, you can use the command

$ git fetch origin BRANCH-NAME

to download the new commits available on the remote (if any). These new changes will be appended to the branch called origin/BRANCH-NAME in your local repository. If you want to apply them to your current branch, use the command

$ git merge origin/BRANCH-NAME

Use the command git pull origin/BRANCH-NAME to perform fetch and then merge.

Delete branches

Unlike the vast majority of git commands, git delete does not work on the current branch. You can delete other branches by running the command

$ git branch -d BRANCH-NAME

If you want to delete your current branch, you will need to checkout another branch first. This prevents ending up with a repository with no branches.

To propagate the deletion of a branch to the remote repository, run the command:

$ git push origin --delete BRANCH-NAME

Open a GitHub Issue

If you are experiencing issues with any code or content of a repository (such as this operating manual you are reading right now), you can submit issues. For doing so go to the dashboard of the corresponding repository and press the Issues tab where you can open a new request.

For example you encounter a bug or a mistake in this operating manual, please visit this repository’s Issues page to report an issue.

GitHub Issues are a crucial part of the life cycle of a software product, as they constitute a feedback loop that goes directly from the end-user to the product developers. You don’t have to be a developer or an expert in software engineering to open an Issue.

Hands on

Modified 2020-04-25 by Andrea F. Daniele


It is strongly suggested to all git beginners to follow the awesome tutorial Learn Git Branching.

Further reading material can be found at the following links:


Modified 2020-05-26 by Andrea F. Daniele

You can gain access to GitHub by creating an account on (if you don’t have one already).

A short GitHub tutorial is available at this link.

It is higly suggested that you setup an SSH key for secure passwordless access to GitHub by following these steps:

  1. Generate a new SSH key
  2. Add SSH key to your GitHub account.

Ask the community

Modified 2020-05-24 by Andrea F. Daniele

If you have any questions about how to use of Git in Duckietown, join the Slack channel #help-git.