While the whole development world relies on Git to track changes in computer files, it has always had shortcomings that prompted the appearance of some better equipped external platforms which leverage its power, but also provide built-in features for code review, issue tracking, and other collaborative development tasks. One of them is GitHub. And because we live in a continuously evolving world and GitHub’s offering could be even better, a new, more immersive tool called GitButler was announced. GitButler promises to help developers at every step of the process. Thought out as a code concierge, an intelligent, context aware helper that learns continuously rather than a tool that developers have to learn, GitButler has generated quite a stir and is eagerly awaited by the development world.

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In order to find out if there is a real need for a new Git client, or where could this new product find its users, we need to have a look at both products and see what features they bring to the table.

GitHub under the scope

While Git revolutionized version control (without it, managing changes would not have been possible), GitHub gave us a staging platform that let developers build and share prototypes, collaborate on projects, edit and contribute to others’ projects and also give stakeholders the chance to view in-project work being done.

While its primary use is to host code in various programming languages, GitHub allows developers to store their work as well as collaborate with others. This collaborative approach enables users to discuss their work, fix errors, or repurpose solutions from other projects. GitHub is the environment that encourages the improvement of code.

The idea behind it is that in writing even the simplest app, many lines of code are needed. And this requires a high level of attention to detail. Even the simplest mistake can ruin the app. That’s why extra pairs of eyes are needed, and this is exactly what GitHub does. It facilitates bringing in that extra pair of eyes. 

One of the major benefits from GitHub is that it allows work on different branches simultaneously. In fact, the platform became so popular that they can proudly say that the platform is ‘the place where the world builds software’. And they couldn’t be more right.

Developers and their team can create their own branches of code to work together in parallel. Individual branches are alternate timelines where users can build, fix bugs and experiment safely. Right next to the code, there are communication and test delegation tools, so when the code from the whole team is ready, it can be merged instantly.

GitHub is also a networking platform where users communicate by sharing code and other artefacts that can be well used in creating a software project. It allows developers to duplicate code from a project and work on it without changing the original code. In other words, you can continue developing an application without affecting the work that has been done.

It is imperative to mention that users are protected by a high level of safety, which can be strengthened further with third-party apps or by choosing the ‘Enhanced security’ option.

GitHub and large-scale open source projects

The Hub part gave it the strength to become what it is today – a platform used by more that 70 million people. From small in-house dev teams, to global communities working on massively scaled projects, GitHub made it all possible. 

Cloud-hosted, with a powerful built-in user management feature, it redefined collaborative software development, offering a centralized approach that is immensely beneficial for large-scale projects. 

In fact, open-source projects like Magento would not have been possible without such platforms. Developers from various geographical locations can easily contribute by submitting code, identifying bugs, proposing enhancements, and reviewing changes from other contributors. The centralized nature of GitHub ensures that all contributors are working with the latest version of the project, helping to avoid conflicts and duplication of work, and allowing for efficient coordination and communication.

Furthermore, GitHub’s extensive documentation and issue-tracking features help ensure that everyone involved in the project has access to the information and resources they need to contribute effectively, ultimately improving the pace and quality of development.

Additional features

Apart from its version control, code hosting and sharing capabilities, GitHub also offers project planning tools, AI-powered code editing, and many more features worth noting. Users can create issues, break them into tasks, track relationships, add custom fields, and have conversations. For easier visualization, large projects can be presented as spreadsheets or boards.

In collaboration with OpenAI, GitHub developed Copilot, an extension for Visual Studio Code. Github Copilot provides suggestions for code completion, as well as whole lines or blocks of code, based on the context of the user’s code. You can read a comprehensive article about GitHub Copilot here…

GitHub Actions is a feature which allows for automated workflows, enabling continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) directly within GitHub.

GitHub supports documentation alongside code, making it easy to include project documentation, wikis, and Readme’s.

With GitHub Pages, users can host websites directly from their GitHub repositories.

Additionally, GitHub can also be enhanced with many apps and actions. The GitHub Marketplace features more than 800 apps and over 20000 actions that can improve your workflows.

GitButler – a quick look over

GitButler is still in the development phase, so all findings are based on announcements made by the founders and might surfer changes until the date it will actually be released.

Developed by Scott Chacon, co-founder of GitHub and a group of entrepreneurs that come from Shopify, Meta, Google, etc, GitButler is more like a tool to work in conjunction with GitHub, rather than a direct GitHub competitor. 

Basically, it is a Git client designed to manage your branches, record and backup your work, but its focus is to help developers automate tasks that usually take place after writing code in their editor of choice and before sharing it on GitHub for review. 

On GitButler, users can work on several branches at the same time. It’s imperative to know that in order to load a project into GitButler, you will have to have it in your files system, meaning that you actually have to have a Git project. 

For teams that are testing and deploying every day, GitButler brings a more streamlined tool to the table. GitButler Flow is similar to GitHub Flow, but simpler, faster, more flexible and less error prone. 

The whole GitButler world revolves around their Virtual Branch functionality, which is based on the idea that branches are meant to be small, independent and rapidly integrated. 

Working with these virtual branches is highly versatile. Virtual branches can be started and ended entirely independently of each other. Developers can work on longer branches, while starting, reviewing, finishing, merging and deleting small ones without ever changing branch context.

A really cool feature is that users can apply or un-apply virtual branches locally until they are merged into their upstream base branch. Once integrated, the virtual branch is automatically disposed of, keeping it all clean.

Other interesting features

Although GitButler is still in development mode, there are some interesting features worth shouting about. The Project Timeline tool saves any files that are not in the .gitignore file, automatically, every time a change is applied to them. This way, users can find any version of any file that has ever existed in their project from the moment they downloaded GitButler.

The Project dashboard brings in another useful functionality that shows users a summary of all the changes that the platform has observed for the last few days. This includes changes to files and also Git commands (commits, pushes, fetches).

If you sign in to GitButler Cloud then you can go into the settings of your project and opt for sending your data to your account on the servers. This option will backup all your local history several times a day if you’re online.

GitButler also promises to bring in various automation capabilities, saving essential time spent with manual efforts like constant pull requests. The way it will work is simple. Users will be able to automate the entire workflow effortlessly by setting up rules which in turn will be activated by defined intents. GitButler aims to simplify the process even more by offering a range of commonly used templates, ready to be employed as-is or modified to fit individual requirements.

Final thoughts

While GitHub has several years under its belt as one of the must-have tools for version control and collaborative software development, the emergence of GitButler represents the continuous evolution in addressing developers’ needs. GitHub’s extensive suite of features, including project planning tools, AI-powered code editing, and automated workflows, significantly enhance the software development process. GitButler, on the other hand, brings in a layer of advanced automation and ease.

However, as GitButler is still being worked on, the valid question is: will they spend valuable resources in creating a stand-alone Git client, or will they focus on creating a product, in the form of a third-party app, that works in conjunction with GitHub?  The answer is yet to be seen, but no matter what form it will take, the fact that it emphasizes on the automation of tasks post-coding and pre-review will allow developers to focus more on coding rather than the associated operational tasks.

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