lacie.jpgOne of the problems as a webmaster turned web publisher comes when you start needing other people to access and work on your site.
If you have traditionally kept all your files on your own machine, happily FTP’ing them up to your own web server, you have a problem to overcome. It’s partly technical but can be psychological too.
How do you move to a group web development process?
It’s ok if you are all in the same location, you can setup a network and take it in turns to work on the files. The reality of many web publishers these days however is being constantly ‘on the move’, and working with developers in different countries.

It turns out that the programmer’s source control system of choice Subversion is a great tool for managing the source files of websites (PHP, HTML files etc), keeping them in a central location and allowing access easily over HTTP from a wide range of client applications.
If you have a web server Subversion can be installed under a sub directory or sub domain, and used as an HTTP file server that you check-out areas of your site, work on those files locally, and then upload them back into the server when you are done. Someone else or you then FTP’s them into to the public part of the web server.
The process goes like this…

  • You keep all your ‘local’ files on the remote web server in a ‘repository’
  • Using any computer, you ‘check out’ a complete copy of the site (or a portion of it) so the files are on your machine locally
  • You work on those files, edit them as needed
  • Once a day (recommended), you ‘commit’ your changes to the repository and make a little comment about the changes you made
  • If multiple people are working on the same site, someone is designated as the person who merges any conflicting changes from separate people working on the same file. You can also learn to do this yourself too without much difficulty and often this process isn’t even needed.
  • The next time you want to work on the files, you simply ‘update’ your local copy rather than checking out an entire copy of the site. This means that only those files which have changed on the server are downloaded to your machine and replaced.

I strongly recommend Subversion to any serious web publisher as a means to centralize their source files in a highly scaleable fashion. With your site files in Subversion an enterprise-scale team could work on your site if it grew to that size. Any team could take over control of it and have a comprehensive record of past development.
There’s a bit of a learning curve, but not too much if you understand the process above. Furthermore, if you use a tool like Eclipse (free and recommended), with the Subclipse plug-in, you will have a Dreamweaver like tool for both checking in and out source files, as well as editing them.
It has been really difficult for me to give up on my old Dreamweaver / FTP ways, but now that it’s done I feel a huge weight of relief. Other people (developers, designers) can now easily access the source files and work on them. A simple and effective recording system keeps a useful file of site development.
I also don’t have to worry that I am carrying around all our websites in a pocket LaCie drive anymore.

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