My new love: Codebase-HQ

I have discovered a great new project management service called Codebasehq.com, which merges Github and Lighthouse with a pleasant and seamless integration.  It answers a lot of my wishes for the features that are needed when dealing with a “whole-project” lifecycle.  I’ll talk about the basic features and subareas of the site, but first I want to highlight what truly makes Codebase a game-changer:

Project management

When you create a project in Codebase, you are given access to a number of critical features that disjointed services like Github and Lighthouse just can’t offer.  To start with, the unified user management is terrific.  If needed, you can get into some very decent ACLs to custom each user’s interaction.  If that’s not important to you, then the standard user setup is fine and the ACLs won’t get in your way.  Each project can also have several repositories, which is great for for when you have separate repos for Rails, design files, data files, etc.  Having your wiki, repos, tickets, and more aggregated into a single unified structure is awesome and really transforms how everyone understands the state of a project.

The individual featuresets that go into creating such great project management are:

Git hosting

Git hosting on Codebase is nearly identical to Github.  And that’s a very good thing.  Repo browsing, navigation, etc is pretty much the same (if not better) and you get the important extras like deploy keys and whatnot.  You can also set a repo to constantly sync/mirror another.  It is missing some of the more flashy Github features, like the forking integration and network/commit graphs, but overall is quite polished and very capable.

Ticketing

Ticketing is similar to Lighthouse in its simplicity.  In some areas its a little less feature rich:  email integration is not so great right now (should get better) and you can’t customize your statuses for tickets.  In other areas it’s vastly superior, especially in the general gestalt of the interface which is much easier to use and navigate.  It is still missing the one feature that I wish all ticketing systems had: a public support interface where non-users can submit and track tickets.  But since no one else offers it either, I can’t complain much. (Tender is getting close, but they’re taking their sweet time and so far I’m not a fan).

Milestones

Pretty much the same as any other milestone system.  It has one KILLER feature though: milestone/branch integration.  If you start off a git branch for your milestone, you can tie them together so you can track commits specific to that milestone. It’s incredible and stands as a great example to what can be done with true integration.

Wiki

Github offers a wiki, but it’s a pain to edit and I generally don’t bother with it.  Especially because for an ‘enterprise’ project, many of the people who need to read the project’s wiki don’t even have github access (or even know what github is).  Codebase’s wiki is more traditional in its setup and works great.

Time tracking

A very nice addition that is important on many many projects.  You might not always need it, but if you do, you’ll love it.  It is simple, straightforward, and works well.  I’d like to see it integrate even more closely with tickets, but otherwise a small to medium sized team will have little to complain about.

Summary

Although both are very similar and center around git repositories, Codebase and Github do not fill the same role.  For your open-source projects, Ruby gems, and such: stick with Github.  The forking/networking features and wide community acceptance make for an unbeatable setup.  But when it’s time to get a whole dev team together on a project, Codebase definitely has the upper hand.  They have a great set of features (and are coming out with more all the time) and the overall integration and polish makes it a joy to work with.  Their pricing is also incredibly good (even if it is in Euros), so please check them out.

Setting up Git and Github on Windows

Recently I’ve needed to set up a number of Windows XP machines with Git and github access.  It turns out this is not an easy problem, certainly not as easy as SVN.  Most of the problem stems from the fact that all transfers/pulls/pushes to github are done through SSH.  So we have two different apps (Git & Putty) trying to work together and it’s just not as clean as on a *nix based system.  But once things are set up, it works very well.  The first time I did it for myself, it was a wild adventure of trying changes to the PATH, environment variables, keys, etc.  Thankfully, I have it down to a quick and fairly painless science, which I present here for anyone else needing help.

  1. You probably already have a github account. If you don’t, sign-up at least for the free account now.
  2. Obtain the necessary software.  Note that we’re using a pseudo-unofficial version that does not require cygwin.  It works great and supposedly will be merged with the official version soon.
    1. MSYS Git – Used here specifically is preview20080413
    2. Putty 0.6.0 – Download the Windows Installer
  3. Install both packages of software.  They are very simple installs and all the defaults work fine.
  4. Generate your key. This is your personal key that will allow you access to github (and you’ll probably want to use it for accessing servers as well. Much better than passwords). If you already have a private key you’d like to use, then open PuttyGen, click the ‘Load‘ button in the middle, and skip to substep #6.
    1. Open PuttyGen, click ‘Generate‘, and follow the instructions to generate randomness
    2. Add some info to the key comment. I like to put my name in addition to the default
    3. Highly Recommended: Add a key passphrase
    4. Click ‘Save Public Key‘. I named my main key ‘key.pub’
    5. Click ‘Save Private Key‘. I named mine ‘key.ppk’ Save this in a SAFE place. If someone gets this file, they have your identity, just like a password!
    6. Right-click on the box at the top labeled Public key for pasting into OpenSSH… and click ‘Select All‘. Then right-click again and select ‘Copy
    7. On the gihub.com site, click ‘account‘ in the upper-righthand corner and paste the public key into the SSH Public Keys box and click ‘Update Keys‘ (is it all making sense so far?)
  5. First tricky step – Setting up your environment variable. This is what allows Git to find your private key and use it to connect to github.
    1. In Windows (XP) Press WindowsKey + Pause/Break or double-click System in the Control Panel
    2. Under the Advanced tab click Environment Variables
    3. Under user variables (the top set) click New. Set the name to GIT_SSH and the value to C:\Program Files\Putty\plink.exe
    4. Click Ok a few times and close out of that junk
  6. Second tricky step – Accepting github’s identity. Whenever you first connect to a server via SSH, you must confirm that the server you are attempting to connect to is the right one. The server will provide a hash string that (in theory) should be validated some other way. In reality, this is just the ‘leap-of-faith’ step. Here’s a great read for more info on this security step.
  1. Open putty
  2. In the Hostname box, type github.com and click Open
  3. You’ll receive a prompt The server’s host key is not cached in the registry. Click Yes then close Putty (don’t bother trying to log in
  4. Github’s host key will now be cached
  • Launch Pageant – This step must be repeated any time you restart your computer. Pageant must be running anytime you want to connect to github! It’s advisable to close it when you’re not using it, as any other program on your computer could use your private key for any purpose while Pageant is running.
    1. Run Pageant (in the Putty directory on the start menu)
    2. In your system tray you now have an icon of a computer with a black top-hat. Double-click it
    3. Click Add Key, find your private key that you saved above and open it. If you password protected it, you’ll enter the password here
    4. Click Ok. Pageant will remain in the system tray ready to provide your private key to Git

    You’re now all set up to use Git! You may interact, upload, download, etc with any private github repositories that you have access to. As long as Pageant is running, you should have no problem with Git BASH or Git GUI. If you ever receive a message that ‘The remote end hung up unexpectedly‘ it means Pageant isn’t running. In theory, Plink/Putty is supposed to prompt you for the key/passphrase if Pageant isn’t there (at least that’s how it works when tunneling SVN), but this doesn’t happen for some reason. If anybody knows the fix, please let me know!