What Exactly is GitHub? The Popular VCS


As a budding web developer, you may already be familiar with GitHub as a tool for storing code on the internet. It’s an important part of the work routine of a modern web developer.

You can use it for anything from free cloud storage for your projects to showing your code to potential employers interested in evaluating your coding talents. But it’s crucial to ask “What is GitHub?” because it’s so much more than just an online code repository.

In fact, it’s a tool that individual developers and teams use all over the world to work on nearly any project they can think of. GitHub makes use of “Git,” a version control program (more on that later) that you can download and install on your local development workstation.

This write-up assumes you are familiar with the notion of Git, which is a separate piece of software from GitHub. While GitHub is an online software repository, Git is a version control system. Both are leading tools in their respective categories.

GitHub offers a number of unique features that have helped it become immensely popular in recent years. It’s more than just storage; it’s an entire ecosystem with a complex social networking component that allows individual developers to work in line with multiple teams on various projects. To better understand GitHub, let’s first understand version control systems and Git.

What is Version Control?

Version control is a method of managing different versions of your codebase, as the name implies. To help you learn more about version control systems in web development, we’ll give you a fast overview here. To begin, consider this question: “Why would you have many versions of the same code?”

How Does Version Control Work?

Consider how you feel while you’re playing a video game. You’re about to enter a difficult dungeon from which you most probably won’t be able to exit until the boss is defeated. Obviously, you should save your game before entering the dungeon in case the boss proves to be too difficult to defeat and you become trapped in the dungeon indefinitely.

If the boss proves to be too difficult, simply load the version of your game from before you entered the dungeon, and you’ll be free to level up. For developers and development teams, this is analogous to a version control system or VCS.

Let’s imagine you’re working on an app with a team and you’re given the duty of adding a unique feature to it. Rather than implementing the feature on the main branch (which may possibly bring the entire program down if something goes wrong), you create a “clone” of the application and start working on it.

You ask your teammates to review your code once you’ve finished developing the functionality. You can safely “merge” your unique feature branch back into the main branch if they give you the “OK.”

When numerous developers are working on the same program, it’s not uncommon for them to be working on the same file. This can cause issues when merging the files back together because it’s impossible to tell which version is the correct one. When this happens (and it does, sadly), a solid version control system, like Git, may make the process run more smoothly.

A Git Refresher

Git is a version control program that you may install and use on your computer. When you get your file structure to a point where you wish to “save” it, you utilize it to take snapshots (“commits”) of it (eg. after building a new feature, after fixing a bug, after adding third-party software, and so on).

You may use Git to construct branches (as described above), resolve conflicts between various versions of files, and integrate with GitHub to publish your snapshots (commits) to your team (or the world).

This is usually done via the command line, although a Graphical User Interface (or “GUI” for short) can also be used. However, it’s usually assumed that you can traverse Git from the command line, so if you’re interested in adding this crucial tool to your toolbox, you should jump right in!

What is GitHub? Key Features and Functions

So, what exactly is GitHub? GitHub is more than just a cloud-based repository for code. It’s a project collaboration tool that’s utilized by both local and remote teams. Keep in mind that projects aren’t always about software! Now, let’s talk about some of the most important features of GitHub:

1) Repos

Anyone can create repositories (or “repos” for short). Typically, a single repo is used for a single project. By default, GitHub repositories are open to the public. Nonetheless, users can choose to make their projects private for a modest price if they don’t want the public to have access to them.

The owner of the repo has control over who can access or copy the code in this situation. Public repositories, on the other hand, are open to the public and can be seen and copied by anybody.

However, the administrator of the repository must first approve any changes made to the original codebase. So don’t worry—unless you give them special access, no one can edit your repository projects!

2) Branches

When someone (typically a team member) wants to make changes to a GitHub repository, they establish a distinct “branch,” which is simply a copy (okay, it’s not exactly a copy… Git’s way of storing files is more efficient, but we may think of it as a copy) of the current version—usually referred to as the “master branch”—in most circumstances.

In this new branch, the developer will work on the feature until it is finished. The developer will then “commit” (or save a snapshot of) the code in the new branch, and then issue a “pull request,” which basically informs the rest of the team that the feature is complete and ready for code review and, eventually, merging into the main branch.

The new code can be reviewed by team members (another useful technique to assure good code quality), and then the merging can be approved by the administrator. After that, the code will be merged into the main branch, and the feature branch will be removed. GitHub is used for everything!

3. GitHub is a Social Media Platform…for Developers

Because GitHub is so collaborative by nature, it’s no wonder that one of its most prominent features is its extensive social networking component. Users can add photos and biographies, follow other users and “like” their projects, and, of course, join teams, or “organizations,” whose leaders can impose fine-grained control over the access of individual project collaborators.

GitHub vs GitLab

You might have also heard about GitLab. After all, both seem so familiar. Both GitHub and GitLab are – kind of – online software repositories but with different modi operandi.

While GitLab is meant for entrepreneurs and managers, GitHub is for developers, newcomers and experienced alike. Also, GitHub prioritizes speed while GitLab has a focus on reliability. Nonetheless, the most important difference between the two is that GitLab is a DevOps-ready tool that comes with powerful built-in CI/CD capabilities.

For a detailed comparison, between the two popular online software repos, check out this detailed GitHub vs GitLab comparison.


Many businesses utilize GitHub for a variety of reasons, so getting to know it is critical. So there you have it: a basic introduction to GitHub. It is a valuable tool whether you’re working on personal projects alone or as part of a team developing large enterprise applications.

You can use GitHub to store your code and show off what you’ve done if you’re alone. Moreover, you can use it to get ideas from other people’s projects and even fork (clone) projects that you’d like to expand on and contribute to, or break off and start working on your own. The possibilities are endless!

The online software development collaboration tool not only facilitates collaboration in teams by minimizing disagreements and improving code quality, but it also helps to simplify the complexity of several developers working on multiple files at the same time.

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