This tutorial explains some of the basic use of the git command line client. It does not aim to be a complete tutorial on git but rather a brief introduction explaining some of the issues and showing you how to house your git repository at the VSC. At the end of this text, we provide some links to further and more complete documentation.

Preparing your local machine for using git#

It is best to first configure git on your local machine using git config.

git config --global "Kurt Lust"
git config --global
git config --global core.editor vi

These settings are stored in the file .gitconfig in your home directory (OS X, Linux, WSL). The file is a simple user-editable text file.

Some remarks on accessing a remote repository using command line tools#

Many cloud git hosting services offer a choice between ssh and https access to a repository through the git command line tools. If you want to use one of the VSC clusters for a remote repository, you’ll have to use the ssh protocol.

Https access#

Https access uses your account and password of the cloud service. Every time you access the remote repository, the git command-line client will ask for the password. This can be solved by using a credential manager in recent versions of the git client (1.7.9 and newer).

  • On Windows, the Git Credential Manager for Windows can be used to safely store your password in the Windows credential store.

  • The Apple OS X version of git comes with the credential manager comes with credential-osxkeychain to store your credentials in the OS X keychain. Enable it using git config --global credential.helper osxkeychain

  • There are also various solutions for Linux systems, e.g., using the gnome keyring. To tell git to use it, use: git config --global credential.helper /usr/share/doc/git/contrib/credential/gnome-keyring/git-credential-gnome-keyring This of course depends on the setup of your Linux machine. The program might not be installed or might be installed in a different directory.

  • Various GUI clients may have their own way of managing the credentials.

Ssh access#

The git command line client uses the standard ssh mechanism to manage ssh keys. It is sufficient to use an ssh agent (as you are probably using already when you log on to the VSC clusters) and load the key for the service in the agent (using ssh-add).

Setting up a new repository#

Getting an existing code base into a local repository#

Git stores its repository with your code in a hidden directory.

  1. Go to the top directory of what has to become your repository (most likely the top directory of the files that you want to version control) and run git init This wil create a hidden .git subdirectory with the local repository database.

  2. Now you can add the files to your new repository, e.g., if you want to add all files git add . (don’t forget the dot at the end, it means add the current directory!)

  3. Next you can do your first commit: git commit -m \"Project brought under Git control\"

  4. And you’re done! The current version of your files is now stored in your local repository. Try, e.g., git show git status to get some info about the repository.

Bringing an existing local repository into a cloud service#

Here we assume that you have a local repository and now want to put it into a cloud service to collaborate with others on a project.

You may want to make a backup of your local repository at this point in case things go wrong.

  1. Create an empty project on your favorite cloud service. Follow the instructions provided by the service.

  2. Now you’ll need to learn your local repository about the remote one. Most cloud services have a button to show you the URL to the remote repository that you have just set up, either using the http or the ssh-based protocol. E.g., git remote add origin ssh:// connects to the repository myproject on Bitbucket. It will be known on your computer with the short name origin. The short name saves you from having to use the full repository URL each time you want to refer to it

  3. Push the code from your local repository into the remote repository. git push -u --mirror origin will create a mirror of your local repository on the local site. Use the --mirror option with care, as it may destroy part of your remote repositiory if that one is not empty and contains information that is not contained in your local repository!

You can also use the procedure to create a so-called bare remote repository in your account on the VSC clusters. A bare repository is a repository that does not also contain its own source file tree, so you cannot edit directly in that directory and also use it as a local repository on the cluster. However, you can push to and pull from that repositiory, so it will work just like a repository on one of the hosting services. The access to the repository will be through ssh. The first two steps have to be modified:

  1. To create an empty repository, log in to your home cluster and go to the directory where you want to store the repository. Now create the repository (assuming its name is repository-name): git init --bare repository-name This will create the directory repositiory-name that stores a lot of files which together are your git repository.

  2. The URL to the repository will be of the form vscXXXXX@vsc.login.node:<full path to the repository>, e.g., if you’re vsc20XYZ (a UANtwerpen account) and the repository is in the subdirectory testrepository of your data directory, the URL is So use this URL in the git remote add command. You don’t need to specify ssh:// in the URL if you use the scp-syntax as we did in this example above.

The access to this repository will be regulated through the file access permissions for that subdirectory. Everybody who has read and write access to that directory, can also use the repository (but using his/her own login name in the URL of course as VSC accounts should not be shared by multiple users).

NOTE: Technically speaking, git can also be used in full peer-to-peer mode where all repos also have a source directory in which files can be edited. It does require a good organisation of the work flow. E.g., different people in the team should not be working in the same branch as one cannot push changes to a repo for the branch that is active (i.e., mirrored in the source files) as this may create an inconsistent state. So our advise is that if you want to use the cluster as a git server and also edit files on the cluster, you simply use two repositories: one that you use as a local repository in which you also work and one that is only used as a central repository to which various users push changes to and pull changes from.

As a clone from an existing local or remote repository#

Another way to create a new repository is from an existing repository on your local machine or on a remote service. The latter is useful, e.g., if you want to join an existing project and create a local copy of the remote repository on your machine to do your own work. This can be accomplished through cloning of a repository, a very easy operation in git as there is a command that combines all necessary steps in a single command:

  1. Go to the directory were you want to store the repository and corresponding source tree (in a subdirectory of that directory called directoryname).

  2. You have to know the URL to the repository that you want to clone. But once you know the URL, all you need to do is git clone URL directoryname where you replace URL with the URL of the repository that you want to clone.

Note: If you start from scratch and want to use a remote repository in one of the cloud services, it might be easiest to first a repository over there using the instructions of the server system or cloud service, and then clone that (even if it is still empty) to a local repository on which you actually work.

Working with your local repository#

If you are only using a local repository, the basic workflow to add the modifications to the git database is fairly simple:

  1. Edit the files.

  2. Add the modified files to the index using: git add filename This process is called staging.

  3. You can continue to further edit files if you want and also stage them.

  4. Commit all staged files to the repository: git commit Git will ask you to enter a message describing the commit, or you can specify a message with the -m option.

This is not very exciting though. Version control becomes really useful once you want to return to a previous version, or create a branch of the code to try something out or fix a bug without immediately changing the main branch of the code (that you might be using for production use). You can then merge the modifications back into you main code. Branching and merging branches are essential in all this. In fact, if you use git to collaborate with others you’ll be confronted with branches sooner rather than later. In fact, every git repository has at least one branch, the main branch, as

git status


Assume you want to start a new branch to try something without affecting your main code, e.g., because you also want to further evolve your main code branch while you’re working. You can create a branch (let’s assume we name it branch2) with

git branch branch2

And then switch to it with

git checkout branch2

Or combine both steps with

git checkout -b branch2.

You can then switch between this branch and the master branch with

git checkout master


git checkout branch2

at will and make updates to the active branch using the regular git add and git commit cycle.

The second important operation with branches, is merging them back together. One way to do this is with git merge. Assume you want to merge the branch branch2 back in the master branch. You’d do this by first switching to the master branch using

git checkout master

and then ask git to merge both branches:

git merge branch2

Git will do a good effort to merge both sets of modifications since their common ancestor, but this may not always work, especially if you’ve made changes to the same area of a file on both branches. Git will then warn you that there is a conflict for certain files, after which you can edit those files (the conflicts zones will be clearly marked in the files), add them to the index and commit the modifications again.

When learning to work with this mechanism, it is very instructive to use a GUI that depicts all commits and branches in a graphical form, e.g., the program SourceTree mentioned before.

Synchronising with a remote repository#

If you want to collaborate with other people on a project, you need multiple repositories. Each person has his or her own local repository on his or her computer. The workflow is the simplest if you also have a repository that is used to collect all contributions. The collaboration mechanism though synchronisation of repositories relies very much on the branching mechanism to resolve conflicts if several contributors have made modifications to the repository.

  • To push modifications that you have made in your local repository to a different repository, use git push -u remote_name where you replace remote_name with the shorthand for the remote repository. This process may fail however if someone else had made modifications to the same branch in the repository that you’re pushing. Git will then warn you and ask you to first fetch the modifications that others have made and merge them into your code before trying another pull.

  • The opposite of push is fetch and merge or pull. You’ll need to do this to see and integrate modifications that others have made to the repository. The first step is to update your repository with the contents of the remote repository. Assume the remote repository has the shorthand name origin. git fetch origin will get all the information from the repositiory origin in your local repositiory, but it will not change your work files. If you try git branch -av To get an overview of all branches in your local repository and information about the latest commit for each branch, you’ll see that there might be a number of branches with a name that starts with origin/ in the repository. That means that there were commits in the remote repository that were newer than the data you last synchronised with, and you’ll need to merge them into your working code base. E.g., if you’re working on the branch master and someone else has made changes to that branch also, there will now be a branch origin/master in your repository with a more recent commit. You merge it again into your code with git merge origin/master (and you may have to resolve some conflicts here which you’d have to resolve and commit as before).

  • After a git fetch you may also note that someone else has added a new branch. Assume, e.g., that git branch -av tells you there is now a branch origin/branch3 and that you want to collaborate to that branch also. Before you can do so, you’ll first have to create a local so-called tracking branch, by using git checkout -b branch3 origin/branch3 which will also switch to that branch and update the files in your workspace accordingly, or if you just want to create the tracking branch for later use without switching to it now, git branch branch3 origin/branch3

Further information#

We have only covered the bare essentials of git (and even less then that). Due to its power, it is also a fairly complicated system to use. If you want to know more about git or need a more complete tutorial, we suggest you check out the following links: