Image represents a media kit with boilerplate, logos and more


source code management: developer's guide

Source code management (SCM) streamlines software development by organizing changes to code, ensuring accountability and efficiency throughout the process. Teams can collaborate seamlessly, enabling concurrent work on projects and effortless integration of contributions, ultimately enhancing productivity and project outcomes.

Table of Contents

Any modern software developer would agree that source code management (SCM) is essential to their workflow. 

Effective management of your source code is non-negotiable—especially if you’re on a team—because modern software development projects are growing more complex and modular. 

Done correctly, source code management makes it easier for you to track how your program code evolves over time. That way, you can better collaborate with others, and even roll back code when you’ve introduced bugs. 

Without effective source code management, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of headaches.

In this post, we'll explore the basics of source code management - why it's so important, and how it transforms the way software engineers collaborate on software projects.

What is source code management?

Source code management involves tracking and managing changes to software code. Its goal is to bring order and efficiency to the software development life cycle (SDLC). 

SCM helps you manage changes to source code over time, recording every modification and allowing you to trace it back to its author and origins.

A source code management system is designed to facilitate collaboration among development teams. It allows multiple contributors to work on the same project simultaneously without interfering with each other’s progress. It provides features like branching and merging, which let developers work on separate parts of a project at the same time. When they're ready, the system combines their changes into a single source code base.

Along with facilitating collaboration, an SCM tool provides a history of code changes, which is extremely helpful for debugging. The historical perspective also gives you what you need to identify when and why changes were made. You can also roll back to previous versions if something goes wrong.

When software engineering teams adopt SCM practices, their productivity improves. It reduces code conflicts and maintains a high standard of code integrity.

Why is source code management important?

Source code management is fundamental in modern software development for several reasons. First, it enhances team collaboration by allowing multiple programmers to work on the same project simultaneously without overwriting each other's contributions. Today’s developers work in fast-paced environments, and their teams might be dispersed across time zones around the world. SCM helps coordinate their work amidst that challenge.

Because Source code management preserves change history, it serves as a safety net for your codebase, facilitating troubleshooting and bug fixes. Developers can use this to review previous versions of the code and understand how current issues may have come about. 

Source code management also streamlines the development process by helping with the management of project complexities, ensuring consistency across different versions of the product.

Finally, source code management encourages code quality and stability by automating several aspects of the development workflow. For example, source code management can automate code merges, team notifications, and the generation of release notes or changelogs. Some SCM systems also integrate with CI/CD pipelines to help automate software builds, testing, and deployment. Automation brings consistency and reduces the likelihood of human error. With SCM in place, code quality goes up.

What are source code management best practices?

If you’re a developer who wants to get the most out of source code management, what are some things you can do? Here are some best practices that will help promote efficiency and reliability throughout the software development process.

  • Version control (or source control): source code management helps you maintain a detailed log of all changes made to the source code. This practice is essential. It not only aids with troubleshooting and understanding how your project evolved, but it also ensures that every team member is aware of the modifications and their impact.
  • Regular commits: Get in the habit of making small, frequent updates to your source code repository rather than large, sporadic ones. Small changes are easier to test, and when your changes break something, it’s easier to determine why. Making smaller, regular commits will prevent the integration headaches often associated with merging significant differences. Write descriptive and helpful commit messages. This practice also helps maintain a clear and manageable change history.
  • Branch management: Use a branching strategy to help manage different development activities that are happening simultaneously (which is a typical scenario for all team-based development). Whether it's developing new features, fixing bugs, or experimenting with new ideas, branches allow these activities to proceed in parallel and then help to resolve conflicts.
  • Code review: Implement a process for peer review before merging changes into your main branch. This can significantly improve code quality, and it will build a culture of collaboration among team members. Code reviews help catch issues early and encourage knowledge sharing across the team.
  • Automated testing: When automated testing is a part of your SCM process, you can catch errors early, reducing the chances of bugs making it to production. Make this a part of your continuous integration (CI) pipeline to ensure that testing is never forgotten. You don’t want changes to break existing functionality.

What are the benefits of source code management?

Source code management offers lots of benefits. Generally speaking, your technical handling of code and your code quality will improve immediately. Quite quickly, however, you’ll also see how SCM boosts overall team productivity and project success. Here are some additional benefits:

  • Enhanced collaboration: Branching and merging capabilities facilitate better teamwork. 
  • Improved traceability: Change-tracking capabilities make it easier to trace back any issues to their source.
  • Risk reduction: When code changes break the application, change histories enable easy rollbacks, providing guardrails for your software release process.
  • Faster release cycles: Efficient branching and change integration improve your development and deployment velocities.

What is the difference between source code management and version control?

While often used interchangeably, source code management and version control are distinct concepts. While both are important to software development, let’s briefly clarify the key differences between the two terms.

Version control is a component of source code management that specifically deals with tracking and managing changes to software code. It deals with tracking code versions, reverting code to a previous state, and comparing changes over time. Version control systems like Git, Subversion (svn), CVS, and Mercurial are focused on this aspect of SCM.

Source code management, on the other hand, is broader in scope. It includes version control but also integrates other aspects of the SDLC, including tasks like issue tracking, project management, and artifact management.

What are source code management tools?

Source code management tools help your team track revisions, manage branches, merge changes, and facilitate effective collaboration among team members. They also integrate seamlessly into your development environment, allowing you to track changes in the local copy on your machine and synchronize with a remote git repository for team collaboration.

Ultimately, source code management tools are critical for maintaining a healthy, manageable codebase. To complement SCM tools, developers also look to tools for enhancing code quality and ensuring that the codebase remains clean and maintainable. 

Sonar and source code management

In this regard, Sonar offers these tools to help developers:

  • SonarLint: An IDE extension that helps developers detect and fix quality issues in real time, while they are writing code. SonarLint promotes continuous improvement of code quality directly in the development environment, where it’s easiest to address issues.
  • SonarCloud: Aimed at projects hosted in cloud-based SCM like GitHub, Bitbucket, or GitLab. SonarCloud automatically analyzes code to detect bugs, vulnerabilities, and code smells. It works well with all popular CI/CD pipelines and DevOps platforms, making it a valuable tool for maintaining high standards of code quality in fast-paced development settings.
  • SonarQube: An on-premise tool that continuously inspects code quality across all your projects. SonarQube integrates with existing workflows and SCM tools to provide detailed feedback on code quality and security vulnerabilities.

While these tools each focus on different stages of the development process, they share a common goal: encouraging and maintaining high-quality code. Their integration into your team’s SCM approach helps ensure that your software not only works well but also adheres to quality standards.

A source code management (SCM) system is an indispensable part of modern software development. By effectively managing changes to the codebase, SCM tools help streamline development processes, enhance collaboration among team members, and maintain high standards of code quality and consistency.

Tools from Sonar work alongside SCM tools to further enhance the quality and security of your code. To learn more, start using our tools for free today.