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How To Use the GitLab User Interface To Manage Projects

Posted Nov 13, 2013 243.4k views Git


GitLab is a great way to manage git repositories on a centralized server. While solutions like GitHub are a great option for many projects, they do not fit every team's needs. GitLab gives you complete control over your repositories and allows you to decide whether they are public or private for free.

DigitalOcean has a GitLab one-click install image that allows you to easily deploy a GitLab server on a VPS instance. You can set up GitLab on DigitalOcean here.

In this guide, we will explore the GitLab interface so that you can configure the environment, upload your projects, and invite and manage users. We will assume you've gone through the installation procedure and can log into your GitLab instance.

How To Configure Your User Profile

Before you get started using GitLab to handle your projects, it is a good idea to get your profile set up correctly. This will not only help your teammates identify you, it is also where you can manage your interface and the way that you connect to projects.

Begin by clicking on the "Profile settings" button in the upper-right corner:

DigitalOcean GitLab profile settings button

The initial screen will allow you to change the name and email associated with your account. You can also link your social media accounts, write a short bio, and upload a picture of your choice.

If you would also like to change your username, click the "Account" tab at the top. Here you can adjust the username that your repositories will be stored under. You will also have access to your access token:

DigitalOcean GitLab account settings

The other item that you definitely want to look into is the "SSH Keys" tab. In this tab, click the "Add SSH Key" button.

Here, you can add the SSH key that you will use to communicate with the server through git. Multiple keys can be added for each user. Add your SSH key and click "Add Key":

DigitalOcean GitLab add SSH key

This is also a good opportunity to change the application and code preview themes, if you so desire. Click on the "Design" tab. You can choose from five application themes and four popular code preview themes:

DigitalOcean GitLab design tab

How To Manage Users and Groups

GitLab gives you the tools to manage projects, users, and groups from one screen. Access it by clicking the "Admin area" button in the top-right corner:

DigitalOcean GitLab admin area button

The interface is divided into six sections: projects, latest projects, users, latest users, groups, and stats. The main points of contact that we will be using are the projects, users, and groups.

Create a New User

Currently, there is only a single user and no projects of groups. Let's start by creating a demonstration user that we can use later. Click on the "New User" button in the middle column:

DigitalOcean GitLab new user button

We will need to fill out the regular contact details. When you are done, click the "Create User" button at the bottom:

DigitalOcean GitLab create user

You will be taken to the new user's account page. An email with an initial password will be sent to the account email.

Create a New Group

Let's add a new group now. Click on the "Admin area" button again in the top-right corner. Click the "New Group" button in the right column:

DigitalOcean GitLab new group button

The only thing you need to do to create a group is fill out a name and description. Click the "Create group" button:

DigitalOcean GitLab create group screen

The group will be created and you will automatically be added to the group as an owner. Let's add our demonstration account to this group as well.

Search for the second username in the box titled "Add user(s) to the group:". You will need to choose an access level for the user as well. For an explanation of the different permission levels available on your GitLab, go here:


This is also available as a link in the box under "Read more about project permissions here".

For now, it doesn't matter which level you choose. Click "Add users into group" to add their access:

DigitalOcean GitLab add users to group

If you would like to change a user's permission level, you can add the user again with the new permissions. It will update accordingly.

Initialize a Project

Now, we can initialize a project. Return to the admin dashboard by clicking on the "Admin area" button as before. Click on the "New Project" button on the left side:

DigitalOcean GitLab new project button

You can also get to this area by clicking on the "New project" button in the top navigation bar:

DigitalOcean GitLab top new project button

Pick a name and a namespace. A namespace is who will own the project. We will give the group we created ownership of our project. You should also fill out a description and choose whether the repo should be public.

It is also possible to import a repository from another site. You can click the "Import existing repository" link to get access to this functionality.

DigitalOcean GitLab create project

You will be taken to a page that will show you how to clone the project to your local computer, or push a local project to your new repository on GitLab.

You will be given a repository link that you can use to clone the repository and share with group members (or other people if it is public).

DigitalOcean GitLab initial project

If you follow the instructions, you should be able to push your first commit to your GitLab repository.

Manage Projects with GitLab

We will add a sample project to our GitLab repository so we can see some of the features available when a project has a history and many commits.

Go through the procedure to create a new project. Call it "Rails". This time, click "Import existing repository" link. We will be using Michael Hartl's Ruby on Rails tutorial sample application.

In the Import existing repo field, type:


Click "Create project".

View Project Code

You should be taken to the project's landing page. Click on the "Files" tab to see the actual repository files:

DigitalOcean GitLab repo files

Click on the "Gemfile" file. As you can see, there is great syntax highlighting included for recognized languages:

DigitalOcean GitLab gemfile

If your project has multiple branches, you can change the branch view by clicking on the master drop-down and switch to a different branch:

DigitalOcean GitLab switch branch

Review Commits

Click on the "Commits" tab to see the list of commits for the current branch:

DigitalOcean GitLab commit history

You can click on any commit to see the diff that was produced by the commit. If you would like to see the entire project at any commit point, click the "Browse Code" link associated with that commit:

DigitalOcean GitLab browse code

To see the diff between two commits, you can click the "compare" tab at the top. If we type the name of one of the commits in the left-hand box (in this case, we'll use e3c055dff), we can get a complete diff between the two:

DigitalOcean GitLab commit diff

Graphic Representations of your Project

You can view your project graphically in two different ways.

First, if you click on the "Network" tab, you can see a commit tree of your project. This allows you to see branches, merges, and commits. It will use the user's picture next to each commit as well, for easy identification:

DigitalOcean GitLab commit tree

The other way to get a graphical picture of your project is with the "Graphs" tab. You will see a large graph with the number of the project's commits vs time displayed. Below it will be a matching graph for each contributor:

DigitalOcean GitLab commit graph

You can select a portion of the project graph and the user's graphs will adjust accordingly. You can also choose to display additions or deletions instead of commits through the drop-down menu.


There are other tools included within GitLab that you should check out if you plan on using it with a team. This includes an embedded wiki for each project, an issue tracking system, and merge requests. For sharing small pieces of code outside of any specific project, GitLab also has snippet support.

For most teams, a properly configured GitLab will be more than adequate to handle projects. It provides simple user control and easy project creation and sharing. Explore the interface to see if it could be an easy solution for your project.

By Justin Ellingwood


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