Learn Git and GitHub


Git and GitHub are some of the most popular tools developers and others use to manage source code and documentation.

For the remainder of this course, we will use Git and GitHub to document what we learn as we proceed to install the following technologies:

  • the Apache2 web server
  • the PHP scripting language
  • the MySQL relational database
  • the WordPress content management system
  • the Omeka content management system
  • the Koha integrated library system


git is a "free and open source distributed version control system." While it is primarily used by software developers, researchers, and others to manage software code and documentation, it is also quite useful for other projects that are text-based. For example, this entire handbook is written in a text-editor, marked up in Markdown, managed using git, and publicly stored on a GitHub repository.


GitHub is a hosting site for projects and repositories managed using git. Other git-based hosting sites exist, such as GitLab, and it is also possible to create self-hosted repositories. GitHub and GitLab provide social features to enhance collaboration on projects. Each service has its own strengths, and these differences largely come into play with more advanced usage of git. The basics among them are the same, though.


Markdown is a simplified and highly versatile markup language. Text marked up with Markdown can be converted to other formats, including HTML, PDF, DOCX, ODT, EPUB, and more. The basic formatting options offered by Markdown include:

  • headings
  • bold
  • italic
  • blockquote
  • ordered lists
  • unordered lists
  • code
  • links
  • images
  • horizontal rule

More formatting options exist and are listed in a helpful cheatsheet.

When you write your documentation, you will mark it up with Markdown. It doesn't require a lot. The majority of the time, I only use the above elements (rarely do I use the images or the horizontal rule elements). Here is an example of a file marked up with Markdown:

# Title

## Subtitle

This is a paragraph. Just add an empty line between
paragraphs to create new paragraphs.

For example, this is the second paragraph. I'm following
this paragraph with an unordered list:

- I can write in **bold** or use *italics*.
- I can add a [link to someplace](https://example.com).
- I can add `code` in a sentence with backticks.
- Next I use a blockquote to **not** quote Benjamin
  Franklin, who it is often attributed to, but to probably
  quote Xun Kuang, a [fourth century Confucian

> Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me
> and I learn. --Not Benjamin Franklin and probably Xun
> Kuang

And finally, a code block starts with three backticks on
their own line, followed by the code (or any kind of
pre-formatted text), followed by three closing backticks on
a their own line.

When you sync your documentation to your GitHub, your Markdown files will automatically be rendered into HTML. To facilitate it, name your files in a systematic way and use the .md file extension. For example, when we install the Apache2 web server, you can name it apache2-documentation.md.


We will be using these technologies for four primary reasons. First, these technologies see widespread usage in the technology sector, and this is true for library specific projects. For example, the software code for the Koha integrated library system is managed with git and stored on GitHub. So is Omeka. WordPress also has a presence on GitHub. Therefore I think it's important to acquire some hands-on experience with git and GitHub because it helps one become part of those communities, even if we have no intention to contribute code to these projects.

Second, we will soon install and configure these projects on our servers, and doing so involves complicated processes. Unlike the commands we have practiced so far, the installation and configuration of these technologies are not everyday tasks. This means that documenting how we install and configure them will help us reproduce the steps at later times. For example, I used to install, configure, and setup Omeka for one of our LIS courses, but I only had to do so once a year. There was no way that I would remember the installation process each year, but by keeping detailed notes, I was easily able to reproduce my steps from the prior year. This saved me tons of time.

Documentation can also serve to enhance our workflows. I was able to use my Omeka notes to create scripts to automate parts of the configuration process. For example, you can read through my scripts for setting up Omeka for LIS 602 on GitHub. Even if you don't code, documentation can still improve your workflows.

Third, the process of documenting a complex series of steps augments learning. It's a way to reflect on our tasks and to develop an eye for detail.

Lastly, I would know so much less than I do about Linux and about all these technologies if I hadn't had access to the documentation efforts that other people have contributed and added to the web. By sharing our notes on GitHub, we contribute back to that ecosystem.

How to Document

The first video for this week covers how I configured git on my Linux server, and how I started using GitHub. While I use git almost everyday, I don't often set up git on a new machine. Therefore, I wanted to show you a live view of the process and a live view of how I document as I work on a process. I hope that by showing you how I document the steps I took to set up git and GitHub, you will see how to adapt a documentation workflow for yourselves.

Setup Git and GitHub

In the process of setting up git and GitHub during the unscripted video, I created a GitHub repo for that documentation. You can see it at: Setup Git and GitHub. Click on the git-github.md file to view the notes. Your task it to repeat the process.