Source Code Management Best Practices

Software projects have become increasingly complex affairs, requiring multi-tiered hierarchies of contributors to write, edit, and maintain countless lines of code. These complicated endeavors require an underlying platform through which contributors can communicate, make changes to the code simultaneously, and still achieve the seemingly miraculous outcome of a cohesive working software application. 

Source code management (SCM) tools such as GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, and Mercurial have emerged to provide exactly that framework for software development teams. Used to track changes, merge versions, and ultimately coordinate the efforts of massive teams of developers and programmers all making simultaneous tweaks and improvements to the same project. In order to provide the best quality software applications for our clients, Apex Technology follows a number of SCM best practices. Follow along as we share some of the most important of those practices and how they help ensure deliverables are world-class pieces of software.  


Deliberate and Methodical By Design 

Prior to SCM tools allowing teams and their managers to tackle multiple issues in the project backlog simultaneously, the software development work cycle was at best organized chaos. Files were manually edited and moved, often via FTP or other protocols, to remote teams where further changes would be made, and then the files passed back. In the process, work would often be unknowingly deleted or vital changes would be missed. Desperate to streamline the process and maximize work efficiency, version control programs were created, and over time, developers at all levels across the industry have landed on a number of best practices to ensure software is protected and properly maintained across multiple locations throughout the development process. ,  

Establish Team Standard Workflows

While the underlying code base might be the same, programmers are notorious for having their own habits and styles when it comes to the patterns and methods in which they execute a project. Their use of SCM tools is no different, and it’s necessary for software development teams to establish a foundation of consistent patterns and processes for managing and merging work. A breakdown in communication can lead to inefficiencies and a poor final product. 

Work From the Established Primary Source Code

Source code management works by isolating the primary code away from the “working copy.” In order to work on the most recent version of the source code, many SCM’s will require users to “check out” the latest version – that is, download the version that includes all of the latest approved changes. Each time a programmer makes changes to a project, they should do so starting with the most recent and updated build. 

Double Check Your Work, Commit Often

While SCM tools use different terminology, one of the most important directives in executing  proper source code management is to add your intended changes to the staging area for insertion into the source code as often as necessary. A best practice for committing changes is to stage a change to the code when you’ve added a block of code that adds a specific feature or function, so that you create a restore point in case what you’ve added doesn’t work or isn’t inline with the project parameters. This natural fallback restore point makes it easier to revert the software to the point where it previously functioned.  

Document Everything

In addition to in-software comments explaining the function and purpose of various coding decisions, each commited change to the main body of the software should include an accompanying explanation of the “why” and “what” of the intended change. This helps backtrack and troubleshoot if portions of a program cease to work after making changes.  

Take Advantage of the Branch

As we stated at the start, one of the advantages of SCM tools is that they provide a platform that caters to multiple teams and contributors working on different elements of the code simultaneously. Keeping features and work tasks divided up with an SCM is simply a matter of keeping all relevant work on a single branch of changes. Once the code has been verified and vetted, it can be folded into the main program in its entirety. 

Following Best Practices Results in the Best Software Solutions

Based out of North Carolina, Apex Technology has a reputation for providing amazing managed IT services to our clients. Whether we’re revisiting legacy software, revamping and modernizing your database, or building software applications from scratch, our success stems from understanding the best practices that go into building innovative technology solutions. To learn more about what we do and how we do it, get in touch with our team and we’ll happily discuss how we can help you achieve your business goals.