|By Selene Bainum||
|May 11, 2004 12:00 AM EDT||
Question: Who needs version control? Answer: Every developer. Most people think of versioning control software as something that should be left to big companies and large teams. However, version control is a good idea for everyone.
Even if you are working on an application by yourself, it is too easy to lose important changes forever, because you accidentally saved over a document. Not to mention how nice it would be to go back to see an earlier version of a file. Besides, how many files can you have in your directory that end in "_backup.cfm" or ".old"?
There are several major benefits to version control software, for teams that range in size from 1 to 100: retaining a history of files; being able to roll back an earlier version of a file; marking or labeling a set of files for a particular release; ensuring a file is being worked on only by one person at a time; and keeping track of who did what.
Comparing the Options
Typically, version control software can be expensive - such as Visual Source Safe (VSS) from Microsoft or Merant Version Manager. Others, like CVS, are free (support not included). The features of these products vary, and your particular needs may determine what you are already using - or not using.
Code Co-op, from Reliable Software, is a lower-cost version control software, that they refer to as "The Peer-to-Peer Version Control Software System for Distributed Teams." The comparison matrix between Code Co-op, VSS, and CVS certainly shows that Code Co-op is not short on features. All the things that you expect to see are there: integration using SCC API, support of all file types, parallel development, visual differencing, merging, restoring from file history, reporting, branching, and change notification. You can even collaborate with your team through e-mail. However, Code Co-op runs only on Windows-based systems so Unix/Linux users will have to stick with CVS.
From my experience with development teams, there are several ways to organize code:
- The code rests in a centralized location and developers all work from that code base. Any changes made are immediately available to the entire team, for better or for worse. This method is good if you don't want to have to worry about synching local development environments with the main repository, but is bad if someone is breaking something that affects the entire system.
- The code rests in a centralized location, but each developer has a local development environment with copies of the code. The centralized location is updated only when a developer checks files back in. This is very helpful in that developers can test on their own environment before synchning files with the main repository, but the team must remember to get the latest version of files or synch in order to make sure their environment is up to date.
- Each developer has his or her own code base and there really isn't one centralized location in which the files are stored.
To get started, you install Code Co-op on all the machines that will be accessing projects. Machines can be either voters (can check files in/out, approve scripts, etc...) or observers (only receives synchronized scripts). Observer machines don't need paid licenses, which is a good thing. Synchronization can occur two ways: via e-mail or via a LAN. You can even set up for both, though e-mail is the easiest way to get started.
Each member of the team has a copy of the code base on his or her computer. Code Co-op controls the properties of the files (read-only versus writable) on that computer only. When a developer wants to make changes, he or she checks the file(s) out and gets to work. After files are checked back in, synching scripts will be sent to the other members of the project. Those members can then view the changes, accept/reject them, and merge them into their files. The only way to have a centralized code base is to install Code Co-op on another machine (such as a development/staging server) and have it act as an observer to automatically accept all scripts. That way there is a set of code that can be backed up or used as a way for anyone to access the code from a centralized location.
Distributed Code Base Model
There are several benefits to a distributed code base model, such as being able to check files in/out very quickly regardless of network connectivity status - you can do it without being connected at all. If anyone has ever tried using VSS over a remote connection - even a high-speed VPN, you know what a help this can be. It also eliminates the problem of another developer introducing a bug that affects you while he or she is developing. At least you would hope that members of your team would do some sort of tests before checking files in and sending out synch scripts, but we all know how well we test our own code.
There are drawbacks to this model as well, the largest being that there is no way to see an overall project snapshot. Records of a developer having a file checked out is only on their machine, there is no centralized reporting - though Reliable Software hopes to add that feature to the next version. Reliable Software touts the absence of an application database on its comparison matrix as an advantage to both VSS and CVS; however, that is a matter of opinion. A centralized database/administration tool gives you that project snapshot as well as many other features. Users are not tied to a computer, as you can usually log in from any computer with the source control software installed, and you aren't at a loss when the project administrator's computer fails along with all the project information.
User Experience While Code Co-op is less expensive than products like VSS, you would expect a better user interface for $159. The interface has the feel of a shareware application as opposed to a commercial product that is aiming to play with the big boys. For instance, there are three ways to perform actions: using a pull-down menu, using the menu bar buttons, and right-clicking on an item and selecting an option. However, the options available differ among the three ways to access them, making it difficult to know exactly how to perform a particular action. The feature set is solid; you just have to learn how to use it.
Those of us familiar with Allaire/Macromedia's support forums will certainly appreciate Reliable Software's support options. There is a free support forum that is moderated by employees - even on the weekends. My queries for help were responded to quickly, even on Easter Sunday.
The company also provides an e-mail address directly to their support team. The responses feel helpful and informal, letting you know that the people developing this product are on the same level as you, which is a nice feeling.
Is Code Co-op Right for You?
Like most applications and collaboration tools, many factors must go into determining which version control software is right for your organization. Teams looking to get started with version control can look to Code Co-op as a way to get most of the features of the other major packages at a lower price and with easier configuration/installation. Organizations that already use systems such as VSS will feel limited by the lack of centralized administration, but not everyone needs that. Code Co-op would be a life saver for smaller teams that need source control. The price is low enough that it is even well worth the investment for individual developers who are tired of overwriting saved work.
VitalsCode Co-op: Peer-to-Peer Version Control Reliable Software
1011 Boren Avenue PMB 206
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 361-6679
Fax: (206) 367-6085
Web: www. relisoft.com
Pricing: $159/seat for 1-10 seats; $125/seat after 10. There is also a 31-day free evaluation and reduced upgrade prices.
Product Snapshot Target Audience: Developers looking at good entry-level versioning control software that has most of the features of other packages with a lower cost and free support options, yet don't require a centralized application database or project administration.
|Juan Escalada 05/20/04 09:19:21 AM EDT|
Great article Selene!
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