Version control with Git has become a “commodity” by now: virtually every software project today uses Git, and virtually every developer knows Git to some extent. This explains why I sometimes hear the following question when I talk about what I do for a living: “A desktop client for Git? Why would I need that? I can do that on the command line!“
If I’m lucky, I have a computer next to me when that question hits me. And instead of producing a wordy answer, I do a couple of things in Tower, our desktop client for Git.
Anyone who’s ever performed an “Interactive Rebase” is amazed by how easy that is in Tower: you simply drag and drop to combine commits or reorder them. And anyone who hasn’t yet used “Interactive Rebase” – because it was too complicated and clunky to use on the command line – now understands that it’s a very valuable tool.
Or I might make a mistake: accidentally deleting a branch or messing up a merge in a terrible way. And I’ll simply hit CMD+Z, like I would in a text editor, to undo the mess I just made.
People then start to realize that the real question is not: “Can I get by using Git on the command line?” The more important questions are:
- Can I use all of Git’s power? (Even the advanced features that might be hard to use, but that can be very valuable…)
- Can I work with Git in a productive way? (Not having to look up parameters, not spending too much time on my workflows…)
- Can I work with Git in an easy way? (Without having to think about it too much…)
We – a small team of just 9 people – have spent the last 10 years answering those questions by building Tower.
How to Undo Mistakes
One of Git’s greatest features is that it allows you to undo almost anything. However, it requires quite some experience to know how exactly to undo your particular kind of mess: a failed merge has to be cleaned up differently than a deleted branch!
After working on this for a long time, Tower now allows you to undo virtually anything – simply by pressing CMD+Z! (Note: the “Undo” feature is a quite recent addition and first available in the Mac version of Tower. It will soon come to Windows, too).
No matter if you messed up a merge, inadvertently deleted a branch, discarded a valuable local change, published a branch on a remote too soon, or simply committed something that you shouldn’t have – your lifesaver is as simple as “CMD+Z”, and it’s always available.
The Power of Interactive Rebase
Interactive Rebase is a wonderful example of Git’s more powerful features. It allows you to…
- edit old commits (both their messages as well as their changesets!)
- combine multiple commits into one
- reorder commits
- …and even delete commits you don’t need anymore!
All of these can help a lot to keep a code base clean and structured. But being a very powerful tool, Interactive Rebase is also an example of a Git feature that is quite complicated to use!
Many beginners are scared away by this complexity – meaning that, of course, they will miss out on the benefits of the feature! Many experienced developers know and use Interactive Rebase; but since the feature is hard to use, it costs them a lot of time and/or they make mistakes from time to time.
Knowing this, we had two goals for integrating Interactive Rebase into Tower: on the one hand, we wanted to reduce as much of its complexity as possible. And on the other hand, we wanted to make the feature easily accessible.
The result is that Interactive Rebase is now integrated right into the “Commit History” and accessible via simple drag & drop and menu options:
Countless developers that wouldn’t have used Interactive Rebase at all on the Command Line are now using it on a daily basis in Tower.
Almost independent of its size, working in a code base means spending a lot of time searching: for example for a certain branch (out of lots of branches) or a certain file (out of lots of files).
Tower allows you to do most of your daily tasks without sifting through data – and even without taking your hands off the keyboard. The “Quick Action” dialog takes almost any input and allows you to simply act on it:
- Give it a branch name and it will offer to do a checkout.
- Give it a file name and it will offer to show it in the File History.
- Give it a commit hash and it will offer to show that commit’s details.
Being able to perform many tasks right from the keyboard, without having to search and sift through loads of data, can make life as a developer a lot easier.
Solving Conflicts with Confidence
Everyone hates that moment when a merge (or rebase) stops and leaves you with a bunch of conflicts 😱 Multiple questions then quickly enter the poor programmer’s mind:
- What are my changes? What are someone else’s?
- What actually happened?
- Why me?
While, admittedly, Tower cannot answer all of those questions, it offers a special “Conflict Wizard” that helps make the situation much more understandable:
You can easily see where changes came from and can solve the conflict simply by choosing which version to go with (or jump into a dedicated merge tool). It makes things a lot easier when merge conflicts are visualized in this way, instead of being an abstract mess.
Becoming More Productive
When building and improving Tower, we’re always striving to make things easier for our users – and to make them more productive. Let’s take some examples of where this shows in Tower:
- No More Passwords, Tokens, SSH Keys: You can easily connect your GitHub / GitLab / Bitbucket / Azure DevOps accounts with Tower. Once connected, you never have to wrestle with passwords, authentication, tokens, usernames, and SSH Keys anymore. Cloning and interacting with a remote repository, then, is a matter of just a click.
- Single-Line Staging & Discarding: There’s a golden rule in version control: when you make a commit, you should only include changes from a single topic (and not mix multiple topics in a commit, thereby making it extremely hard to understand what actually happened). With the ability to stage / unstage / discard individual chunks and lines from your changes, Tower enables you to create granular, precise commits.
- A New Diff Viewer: In a very recent update, we gave our internal Diff Viewer a complete overhaul. It now highlights inline changes, allows you to show/hide whitespace changes, can display the complete file, and is completely customizable with themes!
- Automations for the Boring Stuff: Tower takes care of much of the grunt work around Git. To take just two examples: neither do you have to regularly fetch new updates from the remote, nor do you have to remember to stage uncommitted changes before pulling/switching branches/merging… Tower does that automatically for you.
When I think about the favorite applications I use myself, they all have some things in common: they make life easier for me, they make me more productive, and they enable me to do advanced stuff that I’d have a hard time doing without them. I’m glad and grateful that many of our users consider Tower to be one of their favorite apps!
If you want to give Tower a try, just download it from our website and test it 30 days for free. And if you are a student or teacher, you can use Tower for free!