Forking vs. Branching in GitHub
Forking makes my version of the project more isolated from the original one because I don’t have to be on the collaborators list of the original project. Since we’re developing a project in house, there is no problem in adding people as collaborators. But, we’d like to understand if forking a project would make merge changes back to the main project harder. That is, I wonder if branching makes keeping the two projects in sync easier. In other words, is it easier to merge and push changes between my version of the main project and the main project when I branch?
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You cannot always make a branch or pull an existing branch and push back to it, because you are not registered as a collaborator for that specific project.
Forking is nothing more than a clone on the GitHub server side:
- without the possibility to directly push back
- with fork queue feature added to manage the merge request
You keep a fork in sync with the original project by:
- adding the original project as a remote
- fetching regularly from that original project
- rebase your current development on top of the branch of interest you got updated from that fetch.
The rebase allows you to make sure your changes are straightforward (no merge conflict to handle), making your pulling request that more easy when you want the maintainer of the original project to include your patches in his project.
The goal is really to allow collaboration even though direct participation is not always possible.
The fact that you clone on the GitHub side means you have now two “central” repository (“central” as “visible from several collaborators).
If you can add them directly as collaborator for one project, you don’t need to manage another one with a fork.
The merge experience would be about the same, but with an extra level of indirection (push first on the fork, then ask for a pull, with the risk of evolutions on the original repo making your fast-forward merges not fast-forward anymore).
That means the correct workflow is to
git pull --rebase upstream (rebase your work on top of new commits from upstream), and then
git push --force origin, in order to rewrite the history in such a way your own commits are always on top of the commits from the original (upstream) repo.
- Git fork is git clone?
- Pull new updates from original Github repository into forked Github repository
It has to do with the general workflow of Git. You’re unlikely to be able to push directly to the main project’s repository. I’m not sure if GitHub project’s repository support branch-based access control, as you wouldn’t want to grant anyone the permission to push to the master branch for example.
The general pattern is as follows:
- Fork the original project’s repository to have your own GitHub copy, to which you’ll then be allowed to push changes.
- Clone your GitHub repository onto your local machine
- Optionally, add the original repository as an additional remote repository on your local repository. You’ll then be able to fetch changes published in that repository directly.
- Make your modifications and your own commits locally.
- Push your changes to your GitHub repository (as you generally won’t have the write permissions on the project’s repository directly).
- Contact the project’s maintainers and ask them to fetch your changes and review/merge, and let them push back to the project’s repository (if you and them want to).
Without this, it’s quite unusual for public projects to let anyone push their own commits directly.
Here are the high-level differences:
- Keeps branches separated by user
- Reduces clutter in the primary repository
- Your team process reflects the external contributor process
- Makes it more difficult to see all of the branches that are active (or inactive, for that matter)
- Collaborating on a branch is trickier (the fork owner needs to add the person as a collaborator)
- You need to understand the concept of multiple remotes in Git
- Requires additional mental bookkeeping
- This will make the workflow more difficult for people who aren’t super comfortable with Git
- Keeps all of the work being done around a project in one place
- All collaborators can push to the same branch to collaborate on it
- There’s only one Git remote to deal with
- Branches that get abandoned can pile up more easily
- Your team contribution process doesn’t match the external contributor process
- You need to add team members as contributors before they can branch