Git Submodules basic explanation
In Git you can add a submodule to a repository. This is basically a repository embedded in your main repository. This can be very useful. A couple of advantages of using submodules:
You can separate the code into different repositories.
Useful if you have a codebase with big components, you could make a component a submodule. This way you'll have a cleaner Git log (commits are specific to a certain component).
You can add the submodule to multiple repositories.
Useful if you have multiple repositories that share the same components. With this approach you can easily update those components in all the repositories that added them as a submodule. This is a lot more convienient than copy-pasting the code into the repositories.
When you add a submodule in Git, you don't add the code of the submodule to the main repository, you only add information about the submodule that is added to the main repository. This information describes which commit the submodule is pointing at. This way, the submodule's code won't automatically be updated if the submodule's repository is updated. This is good, because your code might not work with the latest commit of the submodule, it prevents unexpected behaviour.
Adding a submodule
You can add a submodule to a repository like this:
git submodule add firstname.lastname@example.org:url_to/awesome_submodule.git path_to_awesome_submodule
With default configuration, this will check out the code of the
awesome_submodule.git repository to the
directory, and will add information to the main repository about
this submodule, which contains the commit the submodule points to,
which will be the current commit of the default branch (usually the
master branch) at the time this command is executed.
After this operation, if you do a
git status you'll see two files in
Changes to be committed list: the
.gitmodules file and the path
to the submodule. When you commit and push these files you commit/push
the submodule to the origin.
Getting the submodule's code
If a new submodule is created by one person, the other people in the
team need to initiate this submodule. First you have to get the
information about the submodule, this is retrieved by a normal
git pull. If there are new submodules you'll see it in the output of
git pull. Then you'll have to initiate them with:
git submodule init
This will pull all the code from the submodule and place it in the directory that it's configured to.
If you've cloned a repository that makes use of submodules, you should
also run this command to get the submodule's code. This is not
automatically done by
Pushing updates in the submodule
The submodule is just a separate repository. If you want to make changes to it, you should make the changes in this repository and push them like in a regular Git repository (just execute the git commands in the submodule's directory). However, you should also let the main repository know that you've updated the submodule's repository, and make it use the latest commit of the repository of the submodule. Because if you make new commits inside a submodule, the main repository will still point to the old commit.
So, if you want to have these changes in your main repository too, you should tell the main repository to use the latest commit of the submodule. Now how do you do this?
So you've made changes in the submodule's repository and committed them
in its repository. If you now do a
git status in the main
repository, you'll see that the submodule is in the list
Changes not staged for commit and it has the text
(modified content) behind it.
This means that the code of the submodule is checked out on a
different commit than the main repository is pointing to. To
make the main repository point to this new commit, you just add
this change with
git add and then commit and push it.
Keeping your submodules up-to-date
If someone updated a submodule, the other team-members should update
the code of their submodules. This is not automatically done by
git pull, because with
git pull it only retrieves the
information that the submodule is pointing to another
commit, but doesn't update the submodule's code. To update the
code of your submodules, you should run:
git submodule update
What happens if you don't run this command?
If you don't run this command, the code of your submodule is checked
out to an old commit. When you do
git status you will see the
submodule in the
Changes not staged for commit list with the text
(modified content) behind it. This is not because you changed the
submodule's code, but because its code is checked out to a different
commit. So Git sees this as a change, but actually you
just didn't update the submodule's code. So if you're working with
submodules, don't forget to keep your submodules up-to-date.
Making it easier for everyone
It is sometimes annoying if you forget to initiate and update your submodules. Fortunately, there are some tricks to make it easier:
git submodule update --init
This will update the submodules, and if they're not initiated yet, will initiate them.
You can also have submodules inside of submodules. In this case you'll want to update/initiate the submodules recursively:
git submodule update --init --recursive
This is a lot to type, so you can make an alias:
git config --global alias.update '!git pull && git submodule update --init --recursive'
Now whenever you execute
git update, it will execute a
git pull and
git submodule update --init --recursive, thus updating all the code
in your project.