Revisiting my opinion of GitHub — How do you branch a readonly repository?

I have expressed before quite a bit of discontent of GitHub before, regarding the way they continue suggesting people to “fork” projects. I’d like for once to state that while I find the fork word the wrong one the idea is not too far from ideal.

Fast, reliable and free distributed SCMs have defined a new landscape in the world of Free Software, as many probably noted already; but without the help of GitHub, Gitorious and BitBucket I wouldn’t expect them to have made such an impact. Why? Because hosting a repository is generally not an easy task for non-sysadmins, and finding where the original code is supposed to be is also not that easy, a lot of times.

Of course, you cannot “rely on the cloud” to be the sole host for your content, especially if you’re a complex project like Gentoo, but it doesn’t hurt to be able to tell users “You want to make changes? Simply branch it here and we’ll take care of the management”, which is what those services enabled.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, it happened more than once before that I was in need to publish a branch of a package whose original repository was hosted on SourceForge, or the GNOME source , where you cannot branch it to make any change. To solve that problem I set up a system on my server to clone and mirror the repositories over to Gitorious; the automirror user is now tracking twelve repositories and copying them over to gitorious every six hours.

As it happens, last night I was hacking a bit at ALSA — mostly I was looking into applying what I wrote yesterday regarding hidden symbols on the ALSA plugins, as my script found duplicated symbols between the two Pulse plugins (one is the actual sound plugin the other is the control one), but ended up doing general fixing of their build system as it was slightly broken. I sent the patches to the mailing lists, but I wanted to have them available as a branch as well.

Well, now you got most of the ALSA project available on Gitorious for all your branching and editing needs. Isn’t Git so lovely?

Before finishing though I’d like to point out that there is one thing I’m not going to change my opinion on: the idea of “forking” projects is, in my opinion, very bad, as I wrote on the article at the top of the page. I actually like Gitorious’s “clones” better, as that’s what it should be: clones with branches, not forks. Unfortunately as I wrote some other time, Gitorious is not that great when it comes to licensing constraints, so for some projects of mine I’ve been using GitHub instead. Both the services are, in my opinion, equally valuable for the Free Software community, and not only.

Update (2017-04-22): as you may know, Gitorious was acquired by GitLab in 2015 and turned down the service. This means that all the references are totally useless now. Sorry.

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