Adopting GitFlow As My Branching Model

A couple of months ago I noticed SmartGit, my preferred git management tool, had a  GitFlow button in the toolbar when I updated to the latest version.   Curious I decided to explore and a month later I was using GitFlow as my branching model for most of my Store Locator Plus code repositories.  While there are lot of arguments for and against the GitFlow model, just like any other code-related topic these days, I figure using a widely-accepted model was better than continuing with my own ad-hoc branching model.    At the very least I can tell new developers on the team “we use GitFlow” and they can “Google it” to learn more.
SmartGit GitFlow Button 2017-05-23_08-43-57
 GitFlow makes it very easy to start a feature/hotfix/support update and merge it back into the develop (our previous prerelease) branch as well as publishing releases and ensuring the updates are ported to master and develop.   It is even easier with SmartGit as I can click a buton to start a feature and click it again whent he feature is done.    Same for starting and deploying releases.    Anything I can do with one mouse click versus a dozen or two keystroke-click combinations is an efficiency gain.   I prefer being efficient whenever possible.
Below is my summary of how I view the model and how I’m using it.

The Short Notes On Branches

develop = completed stuff ready for other dev (was our prerelease)
master = the final production version
features = a new feature/patch that will go into a later develop release.  When you “finish” a feature using a GitFlow tool it will auto-merge to develop.  Fast forward or merge commit style depends on how you configure your GitFlow tools.
release = a new release candidate branch.   When you think develop is ready you bump versions in the product and start a release branch.   This tells developers “this is in testing and we think it is ready for production”.
There are other branches as well but I rarely use them.  They are the hotfix and support branches which you can read about on a lot of other GitFlow blogs.    hotfix bypasses the feature/develop/release merging-and-overhead and applies a code branch directly to master when finished, which then also pushed back to develop.

A Simplified Work Flow

Your existing codebase has a master branch in production.   Your develop branch is aligned and ready for new work.

You start a new feature or patch.   You create a feature branch usually named feature/super-cool-new-thing.   When you’ve completed the code and it looks stable you finish the feature.    GitFlow will merge this with your local develop.     No conflicts or other issues?  Push it.   The rest of your dev team has a new reference point for your upcoming release.

Start a release when you are done coming up with super cool new features.    When you start a release GitFlow will create a new branch named release/<version>.   If you’ve had prior release branches and tags GitFlow will see this and bump the next minor or point release.  If not you’ll need to name your first release.  Convention is to use the major.minor.point-release version format.

Put the release into production after testing.   When you finish a release, GitFlow will merge this with master, tag the commit with the version of that release, and make sure the develop branch is updated with any code changes that may have happened during testing/production.

Seems simple, but I quickly found a corner case that did not seem to be addressed.  What do you do when your release branch testing uncovers a bug?

My patch Branch

One of the complaints about GitFlow is what do you do when your code is ready for testing and find a bug.   The branch model does not clearly define the methodology and in this vacuum a lot of people have shared their opinions and many have tried to fill that void.  There were no methodologies that I came across that I really liked, so I created my own (which I’m sure someone else has done already).

After I start a new release branch I run through a series of tests.    Sometimes the tests fail and I need to update the code.    What do you do now?  Start a new feature branch?  It is not really a feature.  It also makes it very hard to see what “feature” is needed to get the release into production versus a feature you (or some other developer) has started for a different future release.    The bigger the team the more problematic this becomes.

In order to increase visibility for the team lead that is managing the repository I introduced the “patch” branch.  Patch branches in my branch model are specifically for code changes to be rolled directly to the release (and back to develop) branches.    It is the equivalent of a hotfix that goes on release instead of master.

While this is not a standard GitFlow model and thus I don’t have a one-button-click way to start and finish a patch release in SmartGit, the nomenclature “standard” keeps us all on the same page.

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