Book Review: Bazaar Version Control

Packt recently published a book on Version Control using Bazaar written by Janos Gyerik. I was curious what the book was like, and they kindly provided me with a digital copy.

The book is split into roughly five sections: an introduction to version control using Bazaar's main commands, an overview of the available workflows, some chapters on the available extensions and integration, some more advanced topics and finally, a quick introduction to programming using bzrlib.

It is assumed the reader has no pre-existing knowledge about version control systems. The first chapters introduce the reader to the concept of revision history, branching and merging and finally collaboration. All concepts are first discussed in theory, and then demonstrated using the Bazaar command-line UI and the bzr-explorer tool. The book follows roughly the same track as the official documentation, but it is more extensive and has more fancy drawings of revision graphs.

The middle section of the book discusses the modes in which Bazaar can be used - centralized or decentralized - as well as the various ways in which code can be landed in the main branch ("workflows"). The selection of workflows in the book is roughly the same as those in the official Bazaar documentation. The author briefly touches on a number of other software engineering topics such as code reviews, code formatting and automated testing, though not sufficiently to make it useful for people who are unfamiliar with these techniques. Both the official documentation and the book complicate things unnecessarily by listing every possible option.

The next chapter is a basic howto on the use of Bazaar with various hosting solutions, such as Launchpad, Redmine and Trac.

The Advanced Features chapter covers a wide range of obscure and less obscure features in Bazaar: uncommit, shelves, re-using working trees, lightweight checkouts, stacked branches, signing revisions and using e-mail hooks.

The chapter on foreign version control system integration is a more extensive version of the public docs. It has some factual inaccuracies; in particular, it recommends the installation of a 2 year old buggy version of bzr-git.

The last chapter provides quite a good introduction to the Bazaar APIs and plugin writing. It is a fair bit better than what is available publically.

Overall, it's not a bad book but also not a huge step forward from the official documentation. I might recommend it to people who are interested in learning Bazaar and who do not have any experience with version control yet. Those who are already familiar with Bazaar or another version control system will not find much new.

The book misses an opportunity by following the official documentation so closely. It has the same omissions and the same overemphasis on describing every possible feature. I had hoped to read more about Bazaar's data model, its file format and some of the common problems, such as parallel imports, format hell and slowness.