Terminology and Commands

Terminology and Commands#

This section gives a high-level introduction to Git and GitHub terminology and commands.

More details resources include Atlassian Github tutorials , GitHub help, and Git documentation.




A name for a series of commits. See Branches.


Copy of a repository in GitHub. See Forks.

pull request (PR)

A request to compare and merge code in a GitHub repository. See Pull Requests.


A branch is a series of commits that allows you to separate the code development from the main code. There is a good description of what Git branches are and how they work here. Understanding this takes a little study, but this pays off by making Git’s behavior much less mysterious. The short, practical version is that a branch is a name for a series of commits that you want to group together, and keep separable from other series of commits. From Git’s perspective, the branch is just a name for the first commit in that series.

It is recommended that you create new branches on which to develop your work, and reserve the “main” branch for merging in work that has been completed and approved on GitHub. One way to do this is to create branches that correspond directly to issues on GitHub, and include the issue number in the branch name.


A fork is a copy of a repository, in the GitHub shared space (a copy of a repository from GitHub down to your local disk is called a “clone”). In this context, that means a copy of the “idaes-dev” repository from the IDAES organization (IDAES/idaes-dev) to your own user space, e.g., myname/idaes-dev). The mechanics of creating and using forks on GitHub are given here.

Pull Requests#

A fundamental procedure in the development lifecycle is what is called a “pull request”. Understanding what these are, and do, is important for participating fully in the software development process. First, understand that pull requests are for collaborative development (GitHub) and not part of the core revision control functionality that is offered by Git. The official GitHub description of pull requests is here. However, it gets technical rather quickly, so a higher-level explanation may be helpful:

Pull requests are a mechanism that GitHub provides to look at what the code on some branch from your fork of the repository would be like if it were merged with the main branch in the main (e.g., idaes-pse/idaes-dev) repository. You can think of it as a staging area where the code is merged and all the tests are run, without changing the target repository. Everyone on the team can see a pull request, comment on it, and review it.

Git Commands#

The Git tool has many different commands, but there are several really important ones that tend to get used as verbs in software development conversations, and therefore are good to know:


Put a file onto the list of “things I want to commit” (see “commit”), called “staging” the file.


Save the changes in “staged” files into Git (since the last time you did this), along with a user-provided description of what the changes mean (called the “commit message”).


Move local committed changes to the GitHub-hosted “remote” repository by “pushing” them across the network.


Update your local files with changes from the GitHub-hosted “remote” repository by “pulling” them across the network.

Note that the push and pull commands require GitHub (or some other service that can host a remote copy of the repository).