Since in cvs the norm is to checkout whole directory trees, cvs update is the way you find out if anyone has checked stuff in on to of you.
In particular its a good idea to run cvs update on your checked out files before running the cvs commit.
The release command is used only to tell cvs you are no longer interested in the part of the repository you checked out.
CVS release will alert you to whether you have left any modified files in your local working directory, and then confirm the release.
The cvs add command tells CVS to add the given file to its list of files that should be tracked in the working directory.
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The conflict lies between the rows of greater than and less than signs.
If you confirm, it will make a note in the history file.
Note, the CVS release command is not used to put files into the repository like the phonetically similar CMS replace.
This page outlines some of the common CVS commands as they may be used in the SLAC ESD Software Group.