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Mike Riley

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Tower Review: Git'ing Around the Easy Way

June 28, 2011

I converted all my own development projects to Git a few years ago and have become well versed in the variety of terminal commands that make Git perform its magic. However, as projects become more complex with multiple repositories, branches, and Git-supported hosting services like Github and Beanstalk, keeping track of and visualizing these details can be challenging at times. And of course, there's a wider base of people who interact with your projects and who have no interest in learning a command line tool, let alone the specific flags needed to participate in a Git version-controlled project.

Fortunately, fournova has created a solution for the OSX platform that is rapidly gaining mindshare among Mac users as the pre-eminent Git GUI front-end tool. And after using Tower, I agree that it makes working with Git repositories a breeze.

Once installed and launched for the first time, Tower confirms the location of your Git installation (Tower does not come with its own copy of Git bundled into the application, but rather relies on Git builds obtained via the MacPorts project or the Git for OSX package obtained from the Google Code website). If you have multiple versions of Git installed, Tower asks which one you want it to use for its front-end integration. Tower can also be called upon from the terminal to add or create new repositories and view a project's history. It can also work with a variety of editors, diff, and merge tools to allow developers to stay within a graphic interface throughout their coding efforts.

Figure 1: RTower can integrate with the command line for faster functionality.

Most importantly, Tower makes creating and managing Git repositories simple. File changes are easily flagged, branches are created and merged with simple mouse clicks, and complex histories can be visualized in seconds. While Tower may not be needed by Git command-line masters, it will be indispensable for content creators, designers, and programmers who want a more approachable, visually interesting interface for their Git repository interactions. Tower not only makes it simple to leverage the power of Git, but it will no doubt further promote Git's adoption by those who wouldn't normally use it (or any modern distributed version control system) because Tower makes working with Git so approachable.

Figure 2: The main window shows current status of files and any differences between versions.

When launched, Tower displays a dashboard of any Git repositories you have allowed it to manage. Adding a new repository is done by simply clicking the large "Add Local Repository," "Clone Remote Repository," or "Create Local Repository" icons on the right side of the dashboard. Users can also create Github and Beanstalk repositories assuming they have accounts with those services. Once a repository has been added to the dashboard, double clicking on it opens up Tower's primary application window.

Figure 3: Tower can work with Git-managed source control services like Github and Beanstalk.

Tower's primary window presents a left pane that lists Git Branches, Tags, Remote repositories, and Stashes; while the center of the window displays typical Git workflow details to facilitate Git masters, branches, and related file modifications, checks, stages, and commits. Clicking on any of these nodes displays date and commit status, prior versions, check-in messages, and relationship to the master branch. For anyone familiar with using Git from a terminal window, learning to use Tower takes only a few minutes. Because of its intuitive layout, Tower achieves the goal of making Git manageable from a clean, attractive graphic user interface.

Figure 4: Tower's graphic interface shows branch and merge histories with ease.

At $59.00 US, Tower is a bit on the expensive side for an OSX-exclusive application. But for those who want an easy, graphically appealing way to deal with complex Git operations, Tower is currently the leader on any platform. If you're a developer whose primary computer is a Mac and want to leverage Git in a beautifully crafted way, give the 30-day free trial of Tower a test drive. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was at how it makes working with Git repositories so much easier.

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