Source Code Management (SCM) tools are some of the most important tools in a modern software development environment, as they come in handy in editing and managing source code.
If you’re uncomfortable editing code or managing source code, you may want to consider Source Code Management (SCM) tools.
Modern software developers work in teams and create web applications that are supposed to serve clients for a long time.
Web applications also are always evolving to fit changing customer needs, incorporate new features or even comply with new regulations. Such changes eventually change the contents of the source code.
There exist different tools for software engineers. However, having one that can manage such changes is important in a modern world where teams collaborate on different tasks, and software features are always changing and being updated.
What is source code management, and how does it work?
Source code management is the process of tracking modifications to the source code. Such a process ensures that developers keep a running history of all the changes made to source code.
Before the introduction of source code management, there were several approaches to avoid conflicts. For instance, whenever a developer wanted to work on a certain feature, they would inform others to ensure that no one else was working on the same feature.
Even though this approach worked, there was no way of tracking changes at times. It even worsened when a change resulted in a bug, as it was hard to determine where the bug originated from and the right approach to fix it.
Most of the modern source code management tools have a branching concept. Developers can thus fork or create a branch as they work on a specific feature. For instance, Developer A could be working on the “Landing Page” while Developer B is working on the “User Dashboard” for a website.
Each developer will create a branch, work on the specific feature and only push code to the main branch after testing that the separate features are working as expected.
Why is source code management critical?
We live in a digital world where software developers work remotely and still deliver. We also have cases where companies employ different developers to specialize in different things; for instance, frontend and backend development.
Source code management tools make it easy for different developers to work on different features simultaneously and then push them to the main codebase.
Gives a complete version of the history
A source code management tool maintains a running history of all the changes made to a code base and who did them. Such an approach will also make it easy for new developers to follow along and make sense of the source code.
Helps in workflow automation
Developers must follow a certain workflow to work with a source code management tool effectively. Most of the source code tools will send notifications as push notifications or emails whenever a change is made to the source code.
Acts as code backup
Machines can crush or even get lost at times. A source code management tool will act as a backup where you can always get your entire code when things go wrong.
Source code management tools allow users to comment directly on the code base. Developers can thus exchange ideas and reduce conflicts as they work towards a common goal.
Best practices for source code management
- Commit often. Commits should be made often to capture updates to the code base. Such an approach makes it easy to revert to previous versions. Multiple commits can also be combined into a single commit after all the changes have been audited and tested.
- Make detailed notes. A corresponding log entry precedes a commit. The notes should describe “why” and “what” a commit encompasses. These messages become a well-structured history of source code changes and can be used by future developers.
- Always work from the latest version. Source code management tools allow multiple developers to work simultaneously on the same code base. You can always pull the changes to your local machine from the source code.
- Use branches. A branch is a separate line of development. Such an approach allows developers to work on separate lines of development or product features. The changes are later pushed to the main branch when ready for use.
- Review changes before committing. A typical source code management tool has a ‘staging area’ that collects multiple edits into a commit. You can manage and review the changes before you commit them. You can test the feature using your local machine to ensure it works before committing.
- Create a workflow. Even though source code management tools have features that enable and promote collaboration, it is up to the team to determine the workflow to avoid conflicts during merges. A simple setup like agreeing on who will create the remote repository, how to name branches, where to push code, and criteria for merging can save you from conflicts.
Do you need a better way to manage your source code? Check out these great options for source code management software!
GitHub is a source code management platform that allows developers to manage, track and store their code. This platform is perfect for big teams as it has various features, such as branching and merging, to enable collaboration.
- Comes with collaboration tools.
- Easy integration with version control and bug-tracking tools.
- Supports cloud-based deployment
- Easy to track and review changes to the code base.
GitHub has both free and paid packages to suit different needs. The free tier has the basic features for source code management. The paid packages come with advanced features such as GitHub Copilot, an AI-powered tool that helps you write better code through suggestions.
Bitbucket is a repository hosting platform whose user base is primarily business teams working on private code. However, many open-source projects are hosted on this Atlassian-owned platform.
- Has streamlined code review and management tools. The platform has bitbucket pipelines, continuous delivery lines, pull services for comments, and code review to streamline code delivery.
- Automate deployments. The Bitbucket pipelines, a built-in CI/CD tool, make it easy to create automated workflows.
- Collaborate effortlessly. The built-in Jira UI makes it easy to collaborate with other developers as you code. You can always include your issue key in commits, and the Jira issue status will automatically update.
Bitbucket is free for individuals and teams of up to 5 members. Paid plans start from $3/user/month.
GitLab is a DevSecOps platform that brings teams together to shorten cycle times, increase developer productivity and reduce costs.
The platform offers a central server that helps individuals and organizations manage Git repositories.
- Team planning. The platform has various features that allow teams to assign issues to certain members and follow through until they are tackled.
- Create. Users can create, manage and view code on GitLab through its branching features.
- Verify. GitLab helps developers stick to good code practices through its automated builds, integrations, and verification.
- Package management. GitLab has an inbuilt package management for creating dependable and consistent software packages.
GitLab has a free plan for individuals, while paid team plans start from $19/month.
Azure DevOps Server
Formerly known as Team Foundation Server (TFS), Azure DevOps Server is a set of software development tools. The platform has integrated software delivery tools that make it easy to code, track work, and ship software.
- Integrates easily with existing IDEs. You can integrate Azure with your existing IDE to create and share code with your team.
- Easy planning and tracking using Azure Boards. You have all the tools for agile planning, reporting, and visualization on the Azure Boards.
Azure DevOps Server has a 30-day trial period, and paid plans start from $6 per month per user.
Perforce Helix Core
Perforce Helix Core is a version control system suitable for teams that need to accelerate innovation at scale.
Developers can use their favourite tools while at the same time enjoying support for almost all file types, lightning-fast workflows, and fast builds from a single source of truth.
- Secure collaboration. You don’t have to worry that third parties might access your work. This tool ensures that your remote team and partners only access the information they need.
- Keeps history of your entire digital assets. On top of keeping track of changes in your code, this tool is also very helpful in tracking other digital assets such as videos, large binary files, and IPs.
- Integration with your favourite tools. You can keep working with IDEs such as Visual Code and version control systems like Git while Perforce Helix Core works in the background.
Perforce Helix Core has a free plan for up to 5 members. There are also paid plans starting from $19/user/year.
Git is the most popular distributed version control. This free open-source tool is suitable for both small and large projects.
- Support non-linear development. Git allows developers working on different computers to change the source code. Such developers just need to create a copy of the source code and change it to suit different needs.
- Steady performance. All processes in Git, from making commits, and merging to managing versions, are optimized for performance. Git focuses on the file contents instead of file names when presenting version history.
- Secure. Git focuses a lot on the integrity of the source code. The relationship between various files and directories, versions, tags, and commits are cryptographically secured by the SHA hashing algorithm.
Git beats most SCM tools, as it is completely free.
Mercurial is a distributed source control management tool with an intuitive and easy interface. This tool works on different operating systems, such as Windows, Linux and macOS.
- Fast and powerful. The tool is designed to handle any project irrespective of size. Once you clone a project, the file will come with the entire file history, making the actions local, convenient and fast.
- Multiple extensions to enhance functionality. Advanced Mercurial users can enhance functionality using extensions.
- Decentralized. Every working directory in Mercurial has a private copy of the source code history.
Some of Mercurial’s biggest selling points are that it is free and easy to set up and use.
Bazaar is a version control system that enables collaboration and keeps track of project history. This tool is written in Python 2, Pyrex, and C and supports Linux-based, Windows, and macOS operating systems.
- Productive. The command line tool ensures you get the best from Bazaar. You can always click on the help command for every command to understand the syntax.
- Unique. The tool allows you to create foreign branches, keep track of file renaming and direct Launchpad integration.
- Adaptive. This tool supports both distributed and central source code management tools. To work with Bazaar, you don’t have to change your workflow if you have an existing centralized version control tool.
Bazaar is a free source code management tool sponsored by Canonical.
As a web application scales and its complexity increases, having a source control management tool is essential. The ideal Source Code Management tool should enable collaboration, and automation, track changes and allow users to revert to previous versions in case bugs arise.
The role of source code management tools cannot be overlooked in the modern era, where big teams collaborate on different projects. Instead of sending code as an attachment through file-sharing platforms, developers can work on different branches and ship the changes directly to the source code after tests. Project managers can assign tasks and review and approve changes to the source code from the same platform.
You may also explore some best source code hosting solutions for small businesses to enterprises.