GitHub Introduces Codespaces and Discussions and More Security Features

At GitHub Satellite 2020, GitHub announced two new features meant to bring developer collaboration to a new level: Codespaces, which provide a complete, ready-to-use dev environment within GitHub, and Discussions, aimed to enable the creation of knowledge bases in a threaded Q&A format. Additionally, code scanning for vulnerabilities is now integrated within GitHub main interface, and secret scanning is extended to private repositories, too.

Codespaces gives you a fully-featured, cloud-hosted dev environment that spins up in seconds, directly within GitHub, so you can start contributing to a project right away.

At the heart of Codespaces lies Visual Studio Code running in your browser, so you get code completion, extensions, code navigation, and the rest of Visual Studio Code features you are used to.

Microsoft, that bought GitHub in 2018, has been offering a similar product to GitHub Codespaces since last year, originally called Visual Studio Online and recently renamed to Visual Studio Codespaces. GitHub Codespaces product lead Matt Colyer confirmed on Hacker News that GitHub worked with Visual Studio Codespaces team inside Microsoft to create a fully GitHub-native experience around the same underlying technology.

As to what GitHub Codespaces could change in development workflows, several developers expressed their view on Hacker News that it will make contributing minor fixes and improvements to open-source projects much easier. It is indeed the case that GitHub includes a “dumb” text editor that can be used to edit files, but this is clearly not the same as spinning up a full coding environment when it comes to less than trivial code changes. Other developers pointed to the recent improvements in Visual Studio Code to enable remote development capabilities as an interesting scenario that could open up for GitHub Codespaces as well.

GitHub Codespaces is available in limited beta now and will be provided at a pay-as-you-go pricing once generally available.

GitHub Discussions appear very similar to Issues and Pull Requests on the outside, but they aim to go beyond the linear structure of the latter by supporting a threaded questions and answers format. According to GitHub, this should make it easier to organize an otherwise unstructured conversation and build a persistent knowledge base.

Confirming the strict relationship between Issues and Discussions, GitHub enables to convert back and forth between the two formats.

GitHub Discussions sparked some comments about it being a competitor to sites like Stack Overflow or Reddit forums. While it is certainly true that building a Q&A knowledge base for a project could overlap to some extent with those and other Q&A sites’ mission, it should not go unnoticed that Stack Overflow and Reddit are both centered around a global reputation mechanism that is not present in GitHub Discussions and that is key to build community trust.

As a final note, GitHub also announced GitHub Private Instances to give enterprises a private, fully-managed instance to match their security and compliance requirements.

Private Instances provides enhanced security, compliance, and policy features including bring-your-own-key encryption, backup archiving, and compliance with regional data sovereignty requirements.

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