A Git Walkthrough

We’ll do a walkthrough on git.


An alternate walkthrough is provided by the Software Carpentry lesson Version Control with Git and it is highly suggested that you work through that on your own.

There are a few ways in which we can use git. We’ll start by assuming that we are the only developer on a project and learn the basics and then we’ll see how to share what we’ve done locally and remotely using GitHub.


You should create a GitHub account. Pick a username that is professional and meaningful.

Our goal here is to create a project (we’ll call the directory project/) and have git keep track of the files and changes to our project.

  1. First create a project directory with some basic content:

    mkdir project
    cd project
    echo "this is the start of my awesome new project" > README
  2. Now let’s tell git that we want to track this directory.

    git init

    If you do ls it will look like nothing has changed, but this command created a .git/ sub-directory in our project, which you can see by doing:

    ls -a
  3. The version of git on the MathLab computers is old, and it will create a default branch named master. This has been deprecated and the community is moving to the name main for the default, so we’ll change this now:

    git checkout -b main

    We’ll talk about branches in a bit. Just note that with a recent version of git, this command would be unnecessary.

  4. At this point, we haven’t told git about any of our files. To tell git to track the file README we do:

    git add README
    git commit README


    When you commit, and editor window will pop up asking you to make a commit message. This is where you describe the change so “future you” or someone else can understand why the change was made.

    We set our default editor to nano, so type in your message, save the change with ^O, and then exit with ^X.

    We can now ask git the state of our project with

    git status

    You should see something like:

    On branch main
    nothing to commit, working tree clean

    We can also see our log message:

    git log

    The output will look like:

    commit 2001a0e996110926a576dcb5fc13fc8022864d0b (HEAD -> main)
    Author: Michael Zingale <michael.zingake@stonybrook.edu>
    Date:   Sun Jan 30 13:11:24 2022 -0500
        my first change

    But should show your name, and the long string of numbers of letters are commit on the first line will be different. We’ll call the string the hash. More on that later…

  5. Now let’s modify the file

    Open the file with nano and add a second line of text:

    nano README

    Here’s my file:

    cat README
    this is the start of my awesome new project
    this is now under version control!

    What does git think about our changes?

    git status

    you should see something like:

    On branch main
    Changes not staged for commit:
      (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
      (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)
            modified:   README
    no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

    This is telling you that you have local changes but you haven’t yet told git to care about them.

    Let’s add the changes:

    git add README

    and now git status will show something like:

    On branch main
    Changes to be committed:
      (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
            modified:   README


    What is add really doing?

    Git has a concept call the staging area. When we add a file, git puts the changes into the staging area. We can add multiple changes via separate git add invocations, and git will accumulate these in the staging area.

    Once we do git commit, git will record the all of the changes that are staged into a “commit”.

    To have git track these changes, we can now just do:

    git commit

    Notice that we didn’t specify the file here – all the changes that were staged were part of that commit.

    If we now do git log, we’ll see that there is a second commit in our project, and it has a different unique hash:

    commit 78b6925752e8388dddb3d65b6355bfeeb87b87a7 (HEAD -> main)
    Author: Michael Zingale <michael.zingake@stonybrook.edu>
    Date:   Sun Jan 30 14:23:09 2022 -0500
        make some modifications
    commit 2001a0e996110926a576dcb5fc13fc8022864d0b
    Author: Michael Zingale <michael.zingake@stonybrook.edu>
    Date:   Sun Jan 30 13:11:24 2022 -0500
        my first change

This repo now captures the state of our project. Next we’ll see how to use branches to help our development process.


We learned:

  • git init

  • git add

  • git commit

  • git status

  • git log