[This is the extended version of a post I originally published on my personal blog a while ago.]
Since working at Nokia I have the pleasure to work with a ‘Distributed Version Control System’. As I have used mostly perforce before the switch was both a blessing and a curse.
I have to admit that I had massive problems to get used to it in the beginning. But by now git and me are BFFs … at least until random shit starts to happen again :). Yeah, I know that this is mostly mine fault and not git’s, but it is so damn easy to do something wrong. Git is far away from a submit-and-run VCS like perforce, but that is a fair price for the fact, that you can now branch whenever you want without days of integration pain. Instead of going into detail about DVCS, I just want to give you a collection of (hopefully) useful tips when working with git.
Your Safety net, the reflog
Especially new git-users manage to get into seemingly fucked-up situations where voodoo is the only way out. Most of the time these are just small annoyances, but it can get a pretty big annoyance when you realize that your work of the last 4 hours is gone. Fortunately, it is not that easy to lose data with git.
git reflog is here to safe your butt in case of emergency.
The ‘reflog’ lists every action you did which modified the HEAD. Every entry also has its SHA printed, so you can checkout to this SHA or view the change with git show. Even if you accidentally reseted your HEAD a few commits backwards or removed some commits with git rebase -i which you want to get back again, you still can use reflog to restore your changes.
Submit only a parts of your changes
Have you ever wished to submit only a part of your changes? I bet you did. It is not that uncommon to work on Feature X, while some panicked guy shoots around the corner and starts to babble something like ‘Help … 100% reproducible crash … we’re doomed … no one can work … do something’. After looking into the horrible crash you know how to fix it and realize that you have 10 modified files with lots of changes … and you need to touch one of the files to fix this gruesome crash-bug. With P4 you now have to find a way to get this bug fixed without interfering too much with your current work. If you’re lucky, your IT already updated P4 so you can Shelve your stuff, do the fix and continue working on your feature. With no shelf-support, doing the fix on another programmers machine is most of the time the easiest way.
With git, you use the command git add -p and that solves your problem. It allows you to select change-by-change which modification should be included in the commit. That way, you select only that one fix out of all the other changes you made which are not related to that commit. You just have to use git add -p and it will ask you for every change in every file if you want to include it in your commit or not.
Save the history, with rebase
As your local repo is basically a branch of the remote repo, the default behavior of git pull is a merge. There is nothing really wrong about this, but if you work on larger projects with lots of contributors, this makes your history really hard to read.
You can avoid this quite easily by using rebase instead: git pull –rebase.
The main difference is the way the merge happens. With rebase, your commits are ‘removed’, the remote changes are applied and after that your changes are applied on top of the remote changes. This preserves a linear history and makes it human readable again.
Interactive Rebase FTW!
The interactive rebase allows you to modify already committed changes. Let’s say you are prototyping something. Instead of waiting for a good state to commit your changes, you can commit as often as you want. When you are ready to push, you can do the interactive rebase and put commits together, remove them completely or change the commit messages.
So, you have been prototyping a feature and realized that you need to refactor a bit of old code in this process. Let’s assume you have now 5 small checkins. 2 changes are small refactoring and the other 3 are iterations of the feature you are prototyping. You realize that it would make more sense to have only 2 commits. One for the refactoring, and one for your feature.
# you need to tell interactive rebase in which commits you are interested in
# ( in our case these are the last 5 commits )
$ git rebase -i HEAD~5
This will put you into the rebase mode, where you can select what you want to do with these changes.
pick 5c6bb74 some refactoring
pick 91dbdfa other refactoring
pick 3080d61 iteration 1
pick 4e4f56a iteration 2
pick 1890f70 iteration 3
# Rebase a37f00c..1890f70 onto a37f00c
# p, pick = use commit
# r, reword = use commit, but edit the commit message
# e, edit = use commit, but stop for amending
# s, squash = use commit, but meld into previous commit
# f, fixup = like "squash", but discard this commit's log message
# x, exec = run command (the rest of the line) using shell
# If you remove a line here THAT COMMIT WILL BE LOST.
# However, if you remove everything, the rebase will be aborted.
You can now alter the changes. In this case we want to group them and change their
commit messages. The result could look like this:
reword 5c6bb74 some refactoring # changes the commit message
fixup 91dbdfa other refactoring # groups this commit with the previous
reword 3080d61 iteration 1 # changes the commit message
fixup 4e4f56a iteration 2 # groups this commit with the previous
fixup 1890f70 iteration 3 # groups this commit with the previous
After you have done this, you will be prompted for the commit messages of the two rewords. When finished, you have only two commits left and they have the proper change description. You can now push this without having a bad conscience. This is how the history now looks like:
$ git log
Author: Martin Zielinski
Date: Thu Jul 7 23:50:14 2011 +0200
Author: Martin Zielinski
Date: Thu Jul 7 23:49:22 2011 +0200
refactoring old code
Git in a Dropbox
That one is pretty obvious, but extremely useful, especially for private projects. You can push your local repo to your Dropbox and it automatically gets synced with all the PCs you are using Dropbox with.
# go to your Dropbox and create your project directory
$ cd ~/Dropbox
$ mkdir my_project
$ cd my_project
# now initialize your git repo with
$ git --bare init
# As you have your remote-repo prepared, go to your local repository.
$ cd ~/dev/my_project
# First, you need to introduce the remote location to git
# this adds the specified path as the remote named 'origin'
# but you could as well name it 'Dropbox' or 'whatever'
$ git remote add origin file:///home/user/Dropbox/git/my_project
# git is set up, so push it to the remote ( 'origin' or whatever
# name you have used ).
$ git push origin master
Done, you know have your repo on your Dropbox. If you are on another PC and want to
access it, just clone it from there, and you are set. You can use this like you would
use any git-server.