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Version control for articles and blog posts

Posted in Development and Git

I recently refactored my website with Eleventy, a static site generator. I’ve been using GitFlow and semantic versioning which has been great for general development but has felt a bit off for publishing articles.

This was never an issue when using a CMS, as the content was all dealt with by logging in and adding a blog post/article. Code—and therefore version control—free. But a CMS comes with its own draw-backs; I’ve written about how a databaseless workflow has improved my previously messy writing process, and this newest development represents another jump in efficiency!

Publishing an article with GitFlow

Here’s the process for creating and shipping a new feature with GitFlow:

  1. Create a feature/feature-name branch from develop
  2. Do the work
  3. Push the branch to the remote
  4. Raise a pull/merge request
  5. Merge the work into develop on the remote
  6. Pull develop locally
  7. Create a release branch
  8. Update changelog, version number, and tag branch
  9. Push the release to the remote
  10. Raise a PR/MR
  11. Merge the work into master on the remote
  12. Pull master locally
  13. Merge master into develop locally
  14. Push develop back up to the remote

That’s great for design refinements, code refactors, and other new features as steps 1 to 6 are usually repeated several times and bundled together as a single release, meaning steps 7 to 14 only happen once in a while. But it’s a lot of work just to publish an article, let alone several in one week…

When I was working on the rebuild of my site I would bundle a few feature updates with an article and release them together, but I recently reached a point where I’m happy to stop development for a while, so releasing articles in that same way suddenly felt very odd.

If we’re versioning our articles, there’s the question of how; the way I version is with major, minor and patch, where the first number in the *.*.* sequence is major, the second minor and the third patch.

  1. Major updates is for something big – a wholesale refactor, rebrand, etc.
  2. Minor is something obvious by nothing major like a rearranged homepage layout, the introduction of a secondary, supporting brand colour, etc.
  3. A patch is a small code refactor or a small feature that’ll go, for the most part, unnoticed: rewording some paragraph content,

Is an article a minor change or a patch? Maybe it’s neither…

Is an article a feature?

If I was changing a header or any other content on the site, I’d cut a relase. Why? Because it’s design. I’m a big advocate of content design, so rewording an introductory paragraph or the text on a button is definitely design work – it can have a profound (or subtle) effect on how users interact with a website.

But repeating content that fits inside a template, like articles, resources, testimonials and so on, isn’t design. It’s editorial.

How should things change?

So we’re agreed that repeating content like articles or blog posts shouldn’t adhere to the normal GitFlow process. But what process should we be following?

Let’s take a quick diversion into hotfixes. Hotfixes aren’t features, so they don’t follow the same feature/release process; instead, they’re quick bug fixes for something that has already been built. This is the process:

  1. Create a hotfix/hotfix-name branch from master
  2. Make the fix
  3. Push the branch to the remote
  4. Raise a PR
  5. Merge the work into master on the remote
  6. Pull master locally
  7. Merge master into develop locally
  8. Push develop back up to the remote

No versioning, tagging or updating of the changelog as it’s a fix for something that went out on a previous release. It’s taken from and merged straight back into master.

To me, this is how easy adding an article should be.

My solution

  1. Create an article/article-name branch from master
  2. Add the article into the codebase
  3. Push the branch to the remote
  4. Raise a PR
  5. Merge the work into master on the remote
  6. Pull master locally
  7. Merge master into develop locally
  8. Push develop back up to the remote

This way, like a hotfix, publishing an article is independent of any other features that are being worked on and releases that might be made.

One thing to note, I still prefer to create a PR as they allow an easy revert if things go awry, and keep a nice audit trail on Github.

So for me, GitFlow is now GitFlow+, consisting of features, hotfixes, releases and articles!

Accessibility in your inbox

I send an accessibility-centric newsletter on the last day of every month, containing:

  • A roundup of the articles I’ve posted
  • A hot pick from my archives
  • Some interesting posts from around the web

I don’t collect any data on when, where or if people open the emails I send them. Your email will only be used to send you newsletters and will never be passed on. You can unsubscribe at any time.

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