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What is Mercurial

Mercurial is a distributed source control management tool for developers. Designed to handle projects of any size, it offers an intuitive interface and is easy to learn. Better yet, Mercurial is free, and an ideal solution for anyone using versioned files. This open source distributed version control system was initially designed for larger projects, which seemingly puts it outside the scope of designers and independent web developers.

However, Mercurial has branched from there. Today, small development teams, designers and web developers have embraced Mercurial’s extreme speed and have embraced the effort by the creators to build this software with the most important feature being performance.

In fact, the focus on performance is so important that in no accident, the every name “mercurial” is an adjective that is defined by Merriam-Webster as “having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury” and “characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood.” It’s a bit of a misnomer as Mercurial is actually very controlled and quick, but could hardly be called unpredictable.

A Powerful Source Control Option

Source control, or version control, monitors the changes made to a file or set of files. Developers and Web designers might use source control to access earlier versions of projects, and revert to them if necessary. Traditional source control uses a client-server architecture, and one central server for storing project revisions.

Distributed source control, like Mercurial, gives each developer a local copy of the whole project history. The difference lies in the systems' efficiency. With a traditional program, developers risk overwriting each other’s work, because they only have snapshots of the most recent version. A distributed system allows every developer to view the entire repository.

Easy to Learn

Affectionately referred to by its user base as ‘hg’ – the scientific notation for the element mercury, it is well-regarded as an excellent platform. Mercurial has all the features and functions in the most common platforms with the twist of performance while still incorporating intuition and ease of use. The complete suite of Mercurial functionality can be learned or explored in just about a day, especially for those that are disciples of and experienced in other platforms.

Not only is the distributed source control more efficient, but it implements a kind of backup plan. If one of the participating servers dies, the repositories can provide a copy. Further, developers have an easier time collaborating remotely. Mercurial's distributed architecture makes branching, merging, and committing affordable and fast.

Mercurial is not only extremely fast and scalable, it is a very simple system to run and learn, which makes it very appealing to many developers. It has functions that are similar to other Control Version Systems (CVS), but there aren’t as many functions to learn altogether.

As with other CVS systems, Mercurial focuses on maintaining a single copy of source code files and records of all the changes from the team working on it. If a developer is looking for a particular version, the CVS is able to recreate the file by reconstructing the recorded changes that make up that particular version that the developer requires. Contributors can commit changes when desired, merging the changes into a common directory.

Mercurial also comes out of the box with a stand-alone Web interface and extensive documentation on understanding Mercurial if you have been using another system. One thing to note is that Mercurial is so streamlined and efficient that the community that supports it is not as active as other competitive platforms like Git. Mercurial developers tend to work swiftly on the projects that they have and that is a testament to the efficiency of the product.

In order to make Mercurial independent of any one platform, it is written in the Python programming language, with a small portion of it written in C. This way, most major platforms can give a binary release. Mercurial is an open-source, extensible application. You may write your own extensions, activate the official ones included with the system, or download some from the wiki.

Hosting Repositories

You can select free or paid Mercurial hosting from a wide range of providers. Some things to consider are how many developers you need to include, other collaborative services you use, and the size of your repositories.

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