Kerry Buckley

What’s the simplest thing that could possibly go wrong?

Avoiding Merge Commits in Git

5 comments

[Update, 18/8/2008] If you’ve shared the branch with anyone else, or are pushing it to a clone of the repository, do not rebase, but use merge instead. From the man page:

When you rebase a branch, you are changing its history in a way that will cause problems for anyone who already has a copy of the branch in their repository and tries to pull updates from you. You should understand the implications of using git rebase on a repository that you share.


Do you get annoyed by seeing things like this in your git history?

commit a0b46a7c57e37f5dc43373ba9167ad2da32c1ec5
Merge: c2d8046... 73e0e15...
Author: Fred Bloggs 
Date:   Tue Jun 17 17:30:49 2008 +0100

    Merge branch 'master' into new_feature

commit c2d8046c038d47940944e5b343d281b1d0c4d2b3
Author: Fred Bloggs 
Date:   Tue Jun 17 17:30:43 2008 +0100

    Added cool new feature

This happens when you use merge instead of rebase to keep a development branch up-to-date with master. Let’s watch what happens in each case.

The wrong way (merge)

You’re working on a cool new feature in your new_feature branch. You’ve committed two changes, and in the meantime there have been three other changes on master. Here’s the branch visualisation from gitk --all:

Before merge

You use merge to pull in those other three changes to your branch:

$ git merge master
Merge made by recursive.
 file_1 |    4 ++++
 1 files changed, 4 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)

Now what this has actually done is added the changes from master as a new commit in new_feature. You can see this in the history:

myproj(new_feature) $ git log -1
commit cbc97a909641d3c325c6023a2459e556e62182e6
Merge: 024dc64... 0a71c4c...
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:52:48 2008 +0100

    Merge branch 'master' into new_feature

And also in the gitk graph:

After merge to branch

Now let’s say your new feature is all finished, so you merge it into master:

myproj(new_feature) $ git checkout master
Switched to branch "master"
myproj(master) $ git merge new_feature 
Updating 0a71c4c..cbc97a9
Fast forward
 file_3 |    2 ++
 1 files changed, 2 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)

Let’s see what that’s done to the history:

myproj(master) $ git log
commit cbc97a909641d3c325c6023a2459e556e62182e6
Merge: 024dc64... 0a71c4c...
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:52:48 2008 +0100

    Merge branch 'master' into new_feature

commit 0a71c4c90aee5eeb60d15f199c4f8151756a8ae8
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:48:19 2008 +0100

    Third change in master

commit 9970c0b72e7741804fc07bba50450b3d512e5572
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:48:10 2008 +0100

    Second change in master

commit c44af4dee449082adf6741540d2f9e70968cf41e
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:46:33 2008 +0100

    First change in master

commit 024dc64022932a5a7b56c4fd7c7cf4a59d72e825
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:45:15 2008 +0100

    New feature finished

commit eb4f05fb8ef8b93cf639b1e06528ef075f19f323
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:45:01 2008 +0100

    New feature partly done

commit b4ffa1d35f808cc38e5f74fb2592224dd6f0e027
Author: Kerry Buckley 
Date:   Wed Jun 18 18:44:02 2008 +0100

    Last commit before creating branch

Or graphically:

After merge to master

The problem here is that the merge has applied all of the commits which were on new_feature but not on master, including the merge commit. That’s just ugly.

The right way (rebase)

Now, from exactly the same point, we’ll use rebase instead:

myproj(new_feature) $ git rebase master
First, rewinding head to replay your work on top of it...
HEAD is now at a644c41 Third change in master
Applying New feature partly done
Applying New feature finished

Basically, as it says, this has rewound all your changes since the new_feature branch diverged from master, moved the branch point up to the tip of master, then replayed your changes on top. The effect of this is as if you had created the branch from the current latest master, so no separate merge commit is required. Again, gitk --all can confirm this visually:

After rebase

Now merge the changes into master exactly as before:

myproj(new_feature) $ git checkout master
Switched to branch "master"
myproj(master) $ git merge new_feature 
Updating a644c41..d7d2233
Fast forward
 file_3 |    2 ++
 1 files changed, 2 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)

No merge commit in the history this time, and a nice simple graph:

After rebase and merge

So there you have it. No excuse for polluting your history with merges any more!

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Written by Kerry

June 18th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Posted in git

5 Responses to 'Avoiding Merge Commits in Git'

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  1. I’m very wary of rebase – though that’s probably due to ignorance.
    As discussed on my blog, I’ve had some issues with using rebase. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but ended up using merge – and never had a problem since.
    Maybe it’s time for another Kerry Teaches Git session at Osmosoft Towers!? (Worst case, I’ll wait for the next BarCamp… )

    FND

    19 Jun 08 at 12:42 pm

  2. After an enlightening (and patient) explanation from Kerry, I’m starting to see the error of my ways:
    One of my major concerns was that I wanted to preserve my branches’ detailed commit messages.
    However, I’ve realized that’s nonsense; if the commits in the master are less meaningful than more fine-grained ones in the respective branch, then you’re simply Doing It Wrong…

    Nevertheless, it’s still a bit strange that I can’t just keep merging stuff into the master without updating (whether with merge or rebase) the respective branch first:

    git checkout MyBranch
    git commit -a -m “foo”
    git commit -a -m “bar”
    git checkout master
    git merge –squash MyBranch
    git commit -a -m “foobar”
    git svn dcommit
    git checkout MyBranch
    git [merge|rebase] master
    GOTO #2

    FND

    15 Aug 08 at 11:38 am

  3. Kerry, thanks for the detailed exploration. It’s probably my newbieness with git, but I like having the merges in my history – it’s a good reminder of what people have been doing…)

    Jonathan Lister

    1 Feb 09 at 3:26 pm

  4. […] Rebase vs Merge in Git 2. Avoid Merge commit in Git, this one shows very detail about the difference on these two options, and it is the exact problem […]

  5. Hi,

    The purposes of git merge and git rebase are different.

    We use the following to decide merge vs rebase:

    If we’re pulling from remote, we do rebase

    If we’re merging locally we do rebase only if the branch is ahead of remote parent

    And, sometimes we want to know there were merges so we do git merge –no-ff to always force merge commit. This is very usefull in production branches as we know where to revert in case things goes wrong (git tag does the same, I know)

    Nicoletti

    24 Jan 14 at 6:13 pm

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