Git workflow in the toolkit theme

This page outlines the git workflow employed by the University of Leeds Theme (gitflow) and its associated plugins. The theme is currently managed using git in a repository on Azure DevOps.

Main Branches

The central repo holds two main branches with an infinite lifetime:

  • master
  • develop

We consider origin/master to be the main branch where the source code of HEAD always reflects a production-ready state.

We consider origin/develop to be the main branch where the source code of HEAD always reflects a state with the latest delivered development changes for the next release. Some would call this the “integration branch”.

When the source code in the develop branch reaches a stable point and is ready to be released, a new release branch is created from develop, the code prepared for release (bumping version numbers, etc.), then all of the changes are merged back into master and tagged with a release number. Therefore, each time changes are merged back into master, this is a new production release by definition.

Supporting branches

Next to the main branches master and develop, our development model uses a variety of supporting branches to aid parallel development between team members, ease tracking of features, prepare for production releases and to assist in quickly fixing live production problems. Unlike the main branches, these branches always have a limited life time, since they will be removed eventually.

The different types of branches used are:

  • Feature branches
  • Release branches
  • Hotfix branches

Each of these branches have a specific purpose and are bound to strict rules as to which branches may be their originating branch and which branches must be their merge targets. By no means are these branches “special” from a technical perspective. The branch types are categorized by how we use them. They are of course plain old Git branches.

Feature branches

May branch off from:
develop
Must merge back into:
develop
Branch naming convention:
feature-*, or issue-*

Feature branches are used to develop new features for the upcoming or a distant future release, or fix current issues in the theme. When starting development of a feature, the target release in which this feature will be incorporated may well be unknown. The essence of a feature branch is that it exists as long as the feature is in development, but will eventually be merged back into develop (to definitely add the new feature to the upcoming release) or discarded (in case of a disappointing experiment).

Feature branches typically exist in developer repos only, not in origin, although if you want others to review your feature, check the branch into origin and issue a pull request.

Creating a feature branch

When starting work on a new feature, branch off from the develop branch.

$ git checkout -b myfeature develop
Switched to a new branch "myfeature"

Incorporating a finished feature on develop

Finished features may be merged into the develop branch to definitely add them to the upcoming release. Features which resolve issues should contain fixes #[bitbicket issue number] in the merge message in order to close the issue in bitbucket:

$ git checkout develop
Switched to branch 'develop'
$ git merge --no-ff myfeature
Updating ea1b82a..05e9557
(Summary of changes)
$ git branch -d myfeature
Deleted branch myfeature (was 05e9557).
$ git push origin develop

The --no-ff flag causes the merge to always create a new commit object, even if the merge could be performed with a fast-forward. This avoids losing information about the historical existence of a feature branch and groups together all commits that together added the feature. Compare:

In the latter case, it is impossible to see from the Git history which of the commit objects together have implemented a feature—you would have to manually read all the log messages. Reverting a whole feature (i.e. a group of commits), is a true headache in the latter situation, whereas it is easily done if the --no-ff flag was used.

Yes, it will create a few more (empty) commit objects, but the gain is much bigger than the cost.

Incorporating a finished feature on develop (using a pull request)

To create a pull request for your feature branch, you first need to check the branch in to origin:

$ git checkout myfeature
Switched to branch 'myfeature'
$ git push -u origin myfeature
(Summary of actions)
Branch myfeature set up to track remote branch myfeature from origin

Once your feature branch is set up in origin, you can use the tools in Azure DevOps to create a pull request for the feature branch – when the feature has been reviewed and merged into develop, this gives the reviewer the option of removing the feature branch after the merge.

Release branches

May branch off from:
develop
Must merge back into:
develop and master
Branch naming convention:
release-*

Release branches support preparation of a new production release. They allow for last-minute dotting of i’s and crossing t’s. Furthermore, they allow for minor bug fixes and preparing meta-data for a release (version number, build dates, etc.). By doing all of this work on a release branch, the develop branch is cleared to receive features for the next big release.

The key moment to branch off a new release branch from develop is when develop (almost) reflects the desired state of the new release. At least all features that are targeted for the release-to-be-built must be merged in to develop at this point in time. All features targeted at future releases may not—they must wait until after the release branch is branched off.

It is exactly at the start of a release branch that the upcoming release gets assigned a version number—not any earlier. Up until that moment, the develop branch reflected changes for the “next release”, but it is unclear whether that “next release” will eventually become 0.3 or 1.0, until the release branch is started. That decision is made on the start of the release branch and is carried out by the project’s rules on version number bumping.

Creating a release branch

Release branches are created from the develop branch. For example, say version 1.1.5 is the current production release and we have a big release coming up. The state of develop is ready for the “next release” and we have decided that this will become version 1.2 (rather than 1.1.6 or 2.0). So we branch off and give the release branch a name reflecting the new version number:

$ git checkout -b release-1.2 develop
Switched to a new branch "release-1.2"
$ gulp bump
(select release type and new version)
Files modified successfully, version bumped to 1.2
$ git commit -a -m "Bumped version number to 1.2"
[release-1.2 74d9424] Bumped version number to 1.2
1 files changed, 1 insertions(+), 1 deletions(-)

After creating a new branch and switching to it, we bump the version number. Here, gulp bump will ask you for the type of release (major, minor, patch, custom) you are preparing, and alter files in the working copy to reflect the new version. Then, the bumped version number is committed.

This new branch may exist there for a while, until the release may be rolled out definitely. During that time, bug fixes may be applied in this branch (rather than on the develop branch). Adding large new features here is strictly prohibited. They must be merged into develop, and therefore, wait for the next big release.

Finishing a release branch

When the state of the release branch is ready to become a real release, some actions need to be carried out. First, the release branch is merged into master (since every commit on master is a new release by definition, remember). Next, that commit on master must be tagged for easy future reference to this historical version. Finally, the changes made on the release branch need to be merged back into develop, so that future releases also contain these bug fixes.

The first two steps in Git:

$ git checkout master
Switched to branch 'master'
$ git merge --no-ff release-1.2
Merge made by recursive.
(Summary of changes)
$ git tag -a 1.2

The release is now done, and tagged for future reference.

To keep the changes made in the release branch, we need to merge those back into develop, though. In Git:

$ git checkout develop
Switched to branch 'develop'
$ git merge --no-ff release-1.2
Merge made by recursive.
(Summary of changes)

This step may well lead to a merge conflict (probably even, since we have changed the version number). If so, fix it and commit.

Now we are really done and the release branch may be removed, since we don’t need it anymore:

$ git branch -d release-1.2
Deleted branch release-1.2 (was ff452fe).

Hotfix branches

May branch off from:
master
Must merge back into:
develop and master
Branch naming convention:
hotfix-*

Hotfix branches are very much like release branches in that they are also meant to prepare for a new production release, albeit unplanned. They arise from the necessity to act immediately upon an undesired state of a live production version. When a critical bug in a production version must be resolved immediately, a hotfix branch may be branched off from the corresponding tag on the master branch that marks the production version.

The essence is that work of team members (on the develop branch) can continue, while another person is preparing a quick production fix.

Creating the hotfix branch

Hotfix branches are created from the master branch. For example, say version 1.2 is the current production release running live and causing troubles due to a severe bug. But changes on developare yet unstable. We may then branch off a hotfix branch and start fixing the problem:

$ git checkout -b hotfix-1.2.1 master
Switched to a new branch "hotfix-1.2.1"
$ gulp bump
(select release type and new version)
Files modified successfully, version bumped to 1.2.1.
$ git commit -a -m "Bumped version number to 1.2.1"
[hotfix-1.2.1 41e61bb] Bumped version number to 1.2.1
1 files changed, 1 insertions(+), 1 deletions(-)

Don’t forget to bump the version number after branching off!

Then, fix the bug and commit the fix in one or more separate commits.

$ git commit -m "Fixed severe production problem"
[hotfix-1.2.1 abbe5d6] Fixed severe production problem
5 files changed, 32 insertions(+), 17 deletions(-)

Finishing a hotfix branch

When finished, the bugfix needs to be merged back into master, but also needs to be merged back into develop, in order to safeguard that the bugfix is included in the next release as well. This is completely similar to how release branches are finished.

First, update master and tag the release.

$ git checkout master
Switched to branch 'master'
$ git merge --no-ff hotfix-1.2.1
Merge made by recursive.
(Summary of changes)
$ git tag -a 1.2.1

Next, include the bugfix in develop, too:

$ git checkout develop
Switched to branch 'develop'
$ git merge --no-ff hotfix-1.2.1
Merge made by recursive.
(Summary of changes)

The one exception to the rule here is that, when a release branch currently exists, the hotfix changes need to be merged into that release branch, instead of develop. Back-merging the bugfix into the release branch will eventually result in the bugfix being merged into develop too, when the release branch is finished. (If work in develop immediately requires this bugfix and cannot wait for the release branch to be finished, you may safely merge the bugfix into develop now already as well.)

Finally, remove the temporary branch:

$ git branch -d hotfix-1.2.1
Deleted branch hotfix-1.2.1 (was abbe5d6).

Credits

This guide is based on an excellent article at http://nvie.com/posts/a-successful-git-branching-model/.