Today I Learned

A Hashrocket project

100 posts about #git

Dropping Commits With Git Rebase

I’ve been warned enough times about the potential dangers of git reset --hard ... that I always second guess myself as I type it out. Is it git reset --hard HEAD or git reset --hard HEAD~?

If the working directory and index are clean, then there is another way to remove commits. A way that gives me more confidence about what exactly is being removed.

Doing an interactive rebase gives you a number of options. One of those options is d (which stands for drop).

$ git rebase -i master

This pulls up an interactive rebase with all commits going back to what is on master — great for when working from a feature branch.

pick 71ed173 Add Create A Stream From An Array as a reasonml til
pick 80ac8d3 Add some clarity by distinguishing var names
d 4f06c32 Add Data Structures With Self-Referential Types as a reasonml til
d 01a0e75 Fix the name of this file

Adding d next to the commits you want to get rid of and saving will drop those commits. The great part is that there is zero ambiguity about which ones are being dropped.

h/t Jake Worth

git merge --squash

Today I learned a new Git command that’s really useful. git merge --squash takes all the changes from one branch and stages them on top of another branch, ready to be summarized.

Here’s a sample workflow:

$ git checkout -b feature-branch

# Make changes across multiple commits
$ echo 1 > 1.txt
$ git add 1.txt
$ git commit -m 'Add first textfile'
$ echo 2 > 2.txt
$ git add 2.txt
$ git commit -m 'Add second textfile'

# Stage all changes on master
$ git checkout master
$ git merge --squash feature-branch
$ git status
On branch master
Changes to be committed:
  (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)

        new file:   1.txt
        new file:   2.txt

# Summarize
$ git commit -m 'Add files 1 and 2'

This is a fast way to boil down a lot of WIP commits from a feature branch into a single commit on master.

Configuring The Pager

When you run Git commands that produce a bunch of output, Git will use a pager to present the content starting at the beginning, rather than spitting it all out to the screen at once. This will almost always come in handy for commands like git-diff and git-log.

By default, Git uses less as its pager.

You can also choose to configure it to something else by updating your git config file or by running the following command:

$ git config --global core.pager 'more'

If you’d like to turn the pager off altogether, set it to a blank string.

$ git config --global core.pager ''


Git Checkout Lines of Code in Vim

Use case: you’ve made a bunch of changes to a file, and want to reset certain lines of the file back to the HEAD commit, while keeping other changes.

To solve this with git-fugitive, view the difference between your working copy and HEAD via :Gdiff . This will open two panes, HEAD (left) and your working copy (right).

Find the lines you want to reset in the working copy. Highlight those lines in Visual mode, and enter :diffget. Your working copy will restore the difference, for just the highlighted lines.

Show The Good And The Bad With Git Bisect

The git bisect command is a powerful tool for tracking down a past commit where something verifiable about the code changed — whether it be visual or functional. After using git bisect to traverse back and forth through your commit history, you may be wondering where things stand.

The git bisect log command will show you each commit that has been inspected and whether you’ve marked it as good or bad.

These records can be handy for double checking your work if you’re worried that you made a mistake along the way.

Show List Of Most Recently Committed Branches

The standard way to list your branches is with the git branch command. If you use branches extensively for feature work and bug fixes, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the list of branches trying to visually parse through them for the one that you had worked on recently.

With the git for-each-ref command, we can produce a better list of branches.

$ git for-each-ref --sort=-committerdate --count=10 --format='%(refname:short)' refs/heads/

The command itself will iterate over all of the repository’s refs and print them out as a list. The --sort=-committerdate option will ensure that list is sorted by refs mostly recently committed to. The --count=10 option limits the list output to 10 refs. The format flag cleans up the output a bit, only showing the shortname of the ref. Lastly, the refs/heads/ argument ensures that only local refs are included in the output, thus ignoring remote refs.

The result is a list of local branches ordered by recency which generally corresponds to relevance.

See man git-for-each-ref for more details.


Hi, Sierra

I recently upgraded my Mac to High Sierra and got this gross message when I tried to use Git:

xcrun: error: invalid active developer path (/Library/Developer/CommandLineTools), missing xcrun at: /Library/Developer/CommandLineTools/usr/bin/xcrun

My machine was expecting Git to be implemented as an Xcode command line tool. To fix the problem, I simply installed Xcode.

xcode-select --install

Include Some Stats In Your Git Log

A simple git log command is going to give you a concise set of information for each commit. Usually it is enough info. When it’s not, git log can provide additional information with the right flags. To include overall and per-file stats on the number of insertions and deletions, use the --stat flag.

$ git log --stat
commit 66e67741a1cd6857a4467d1453c9f17ef5849f20
Author: jbranchaud <>
Date:   Mon Nov 13 21:24:41 2017 -0600

    Add Focus The URL Bar as an internet til                     |  3 ++-
 internet/ | 10 ++++++++++
 2 files changed, 12 insertions(+), 1 deletion(-)

commit 9241e3919ef1e4f68b71a1491d368ae6361084aa
Author: jbranchaud <>
Date:   Sat Nov 11 11:41:40 2017 -0600

    Add Freeze An Object, Sorta as a javascript til                            |  3 ++-
 javascript/ | 44 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 2 files changed, 46 insertions(+), 1 deletion(-)


See man git-log for more details.

Show File Diffs When Viewing Git Log

Include the -p flag with the git log command to include the diffs along with the rest of the information for each commit. Here is an example of running this against my TIL repository.

$ git log -p
commit b9809a329acd8150b2474168f8faaf008f376e35
Author: jbranchaud <>
Date:   Wed Oct 11 07:27:53 2017 -0500

    Add Inline Style Attributes Should Be Camel Cased as a react til

diff --git a/ b/
index c982f8e..6ee7d32 100644
--- a/
+++ b/
@@ -10,7 +10,7 @@ smart people at [Hashrocket](
 For a steady stream of TILs from a variety of rocketeers, checkout

-_574 TILs and counting..._
+_575 TILs and counting..._


See man git-log for more details.

List Commits That Change a File

Today I’m wrapping a PR with a large Git rebase. There are many commits on my branch that change the same file (.circleci/config.yml) and aren’t valuable on their own. In the end, I want them all squashed into a single commit. The challenge is that I changed other files in between; it’s kind of a mess. How can I squash the branch down to something manageable?

One technique is to view just changes to my file:

$ git log --follow --oneline .circleci/config.yml

c9f7108 Try to decode file before unzipping
87c8092 Quick push
327d419 Try this!

Using this list, I can execute a rebase that just squashes the commits that touch the file, leaving everything else intact.

Viewing the Git Leaderboard

Everyone knows that writing code is a competition in which she with the most commits wins. So, obviously, you want to periodically check the leaderboard to see who the 10x developer on the team is.

How do you do that?

git shortlog

This will give you a list of all the contributors to the repository and the number of commits they have made. You can add the -s flag (for ‘summary’) to just see names and numbers.

Once you have acquired the evidence that you are indeed the mythical 10x developer, demand a raise from your employer and threaten to go work for Google if you don’t get it.

If you already work for Google, threaten to, I don’t know, get a job at SpaceX or something.

Skip all changes in this file

git add --patch gives you the opportunity to make a decision on every code change in all files individually, providing you a menu that looks like this:

Stage this hunk [y,n,q,a,d,/,j,J,g,e,?]?

Option d is

d - do not stage this hunk or any of the later hunks in the file

This comes in handy when there is a host of whitespace changes in a file that you don’t want to commit. Just hit d to skip all those whitespace changes and go to the next file.

Rebase Commits With An Arbitrary Command

Interactive rebasing is a powerful way to manage and tend to the history of a git repository. Rewording and squashing commits are fairly common actions. But what if you need to run some arbitrary command against a series of recent commits?

This is where the --exec flag comes in to play.

$ git rebase -i HEAD~3 --exec "git commit --amend --reset-authors -CHEAD"

This generates an interactive rebase file that you can review and save when ready.

pick ea4a215 Add Globally Install A Package With Yarn as a javascript til
exec git commit --amend --reset-author -CHEAD
pick a4f4143 Add Initialize A New JavaScript Project With Yarn as a javascript til
exec git commit --amend --reset-author -CHEAD
pick 2f00aeb Add Default And Named Exports From The Same Module as a javascript til
exec git commit --amend --reset-author -CHEAD

As you can see, the specified command is prepared for execution for each commit involved in the rebase.

h/t Patricia Arbona

List Merged Branches

Today I learned a new Git trick: to show branches already merged into a branch, try this command:

$ git branch --merged master

For an open source project like Today I Learned, this is an interesting way to get a sense of the project.

Allow an Empty Commit

Today my pair did something I’d never seen: create an empty commit. Out goal was to test a third-party integration, but we didn’t have a meaningful change to contribute at the time. In this situation, I think an empty commit is a good compromise, because it’s honest about our intent— to simply kick off a remote process.

Here was the command:

$ git commit --allow-empty

h/t Dorian Karter

Rename A Remote

If you just added a remote (git remote add ...) and messed up the name or just need to rename some existing remote, you can do so with the rename command.

First, let’s see the remotes we have:

$ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)

To then rename origin to destination, for example, we can issue the following command:

$ git remote rename origin destination

See man git-remote for more details.

Create a github repository from the cmd line

In the effort to never leave the command line anything to do with github is always a frustration. The hub command line tool - a tool that augments git with github specific commands - helps out tremendously.

In this case I want to create a github repository to push my code to without opening a browser, going to github, creating a repo, copying the remote address for that repo and then setting up the remote locally.

It can all be done with one step.

hub create "exciting_open_source_tech_repo"

git init must be run first, so that there is a local repo to link to the github repo, but then your good. Start modifying, adding and commiting as you normally would.

Mass-Delete Git Tags

Building off this post:

I’m an advocate of Semantic Version tagging. It communicates to a team about every deploy and makes that rare rollback easier. So when does it not make sense to use a tag?

When you’re the only developer (nobody to communicate with except yourself), and also using a platform like Heroku that tags every release (your tags are redundant). This the case with my blog, so today I set out to delete all my Git tags.

First, delete them remotely (assuming a remote named origin):

$ git tag | xargs git push --delete origin

We also have to delete our local tags, or a tag push with create them again on the remote:

$ git tag | xargs git tag -d

$ git tag now returns nothing, and there are no remote tags.

Cherry Pick A Range Of Commits

Git’s cherry-pick command allows you to specify a range of commits to be cherry picked onto the current branch. This can be done with the A..B style syntax — where A is the older end of the range.

Consider a scenario with the following chain of commits: A - B - C - D.

$ git cherry-pick B..D

This will cherry pick commits C and D onto HEAD. This is because the lower-bound is exclusive. If you’d like to include B as well. Try the following:

$ git cherry-pick B^..D

See man git-cherry-pick for more details.

When Was This File Added to Version Control?

I learned a helpful Git command today. To determine when a file was added to version control, run the following:

$ git log --follow --diff-filter=A <filename>

This returns the Git history, following files through renames, filtering on when a file was added to version control. Here’s the output for the README of ‘Today I Learned’:

$ git log --follow --diff-filter=A
commit 9a7984a48db19489bb4113378298ddaa97121c7a
Author: Jake Worth <>
Date:   Sat Mar 28 12:52:19 2015 -0400

    Add a basic README

Useful for explaining mystery files in the repository 🔎.

Update The URL Of A Remote

I just changed the name of a Github repository. One of the implications of this is that the remote URL that my local git repository has on record is now out of date. I need to update it.

If I use git-remote with the -v flag. I can see what remotes I currently have.

$ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)

Now, to update the URL for that remote, I can use git remote set-url specifying the name of the remote and the updated URL.

$ git remote set-url origin

If I check again, I can see it has been updated accordingly.

$ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)

Accept Your Own Changes During Git Rebase

During a git rebase you may encounter conflicts in files between your current, HEAD, branch and the branch you’re rebasing. Ordinarily, you’ll want to go through each file and individually resolve each conflict to ensure that the proper changes are preserved.

Sometimes, however, you already know that you want to accept ALL the changes in a file on your local branch and discard the other branch’s edits. Instead of opening the file, finding the conflict regions, then making the appropriate changes, you can more succinctly prefer your changes with the following command:

git checkout --ours /path/to/file.js

Conversely, if you want to keep the other branch’s changes, run:

git checkout --theirs /path/to/file.ex

You can also do this for an entire directory:

git checkout --ours /path/to/dir/
git checkout --theirs . # Current working directory

When you [re]open the conflict files, you’ll see that your preferred branch’s changes have been written and the other branch’s have been discarded.

After you’ve finished, stage the the conflict files, and continue your rebase:

git add /path/to/conflict_file.rb
git rebase --continue # or --skip

Show commits in the order they were committed

When reviewing a series of commits its sometimes helpful to review them in the order they were committed.

By default, if you pass a range to git show, like git show HEAD..master (assuming you are on a different branch and master is ahead by a number of commits) the commits will be shown in the order of most recent to least recent.

To view the commits in least recent to most recent order use the --reverse flag:

git show HEAD..master --reverse

Submit a pull request from the command line

Github offers a git extension for augmenting the git command line tool with github specific functionality. This extension is called hub.

hub adds the git alias pull-request to git. This alias/command creates a pull request from the current branch to master by default:

git pull-request

Additionally, you can specify which branch would be the base with the first argument and which branch would be the head with the second argument, like so:

git pull-request devolop feature/add_colors

Grep For A Pattern On Another Branch

Git has a built-in grep command that works essentially the same as the standard grep command that unix users are used to. The benefit of git-grep is that it is tightly integrated with Git. You can search for occurrences of a pattern on another branch. For example, if you have a feature branch, my-feature, on which you’d like to search for occurrences of user.last_name, then your command would look like this:

$ git grep 'user\.last_name' my-feature

If there are matching results, they follow this format:

my-feature:app/views/users/show.html.erb:  <%= user.last_name %>

This formatting is handy because you can easily copy the branch and file directive for use with git-show.

See man git-grep for more details.

Viewing A File On Another Branch

Sometimes you want to view a file on another branch (without switching branches). That is, you want to view the version of that file as it exists on that branch. git show can help. If your branch is named my_feature and the file you want to see is app/models/users.rb, then your command should look like this:

$ git show my_feature:app/models/users.rb

You can even tab-complete the filename as you type it out.

See man git-show for more details.


Git Garbage Collection - optimize local repository

As you work with git a lot of garbage gets accumulated in your .git folder such as file revisions and unreachable objects.

On large repositories and long running projects this negatively affects both operating performance and disk space utilization.

To clean up the garbage git provides a command:

git gc

This will not impact the remote repository and will only optimize the local copy so it is safe to run on any git repo you might have. (In fact this operation is already run for you automatically after some git commands that leave behind too many loose objects)

If you want a deeper cleaning (which you should every few hunderd changesets or so), run:

git gc --aggressive

This will take longer but will provide better results.

To learn more:

git help gc

What Changed?

If you want to know what has changed at each commit in your Git history, then just ask git whatchanged.

$ git whatchanged

commit ddc929c03f5d629af6e725b690f1a4d2804bc2e5
Author: jbranchaud <>
Date:   Sun Feb 12 14:04:12 2017 -0600

    Add the source to the latest til

:100644 100644 f6e7638... 2b192e1... M  elixir/

commit 65ecb9f01876bb1a7c2530c0df888f45f5a11cbb
Author: jbranchaud <>
Date:   Sat Feb 11 18:34:25 2017 -0600

    Add Compute md5 Digest Of A String as an Elixir til

:100644 100644 5af3ca2... 7e4794f... M
:000000 100644 0000000... f6e7638... A  elixir/


This is an old command that is mostly equivalent to git-log. In fact, the man page for git-whatchanged says:

New users are encouraged to use git-log(1) instead.

The difference is that git-whatchanged shows you the changed files in their raw format which can be useful if you know what you are looking for.

See man git-whatchanged for more details.

Clean untracked files in Git

Given I am a developer
And I am working on a new branch in an existing project
And during one of my commits I introduced a few files/folders
And those files/folders are untracked (in .gitignore)
And those files/folders are automatically generated (e.g. node_modules/ webpack_bundle.js)
When I switch back to the main branch
Then I see those files
And I don’t want to…

If you find yourself in the above situation, you may want to clean your untracked files. Git provides a command for that: git clean.

This command comes with a way to see which files/folders are going to be deleted (DRY RUN):

git clean -n

You may notice that the above command does not show any untracked directories. To add directories to that list use the -d switch:

git clean -dn

Alternatively you may choose to only remove files/dirs that are in .gitignore with the -X option:

git clean -X -dn

If you are ready to take action use the -f switch and remove the -n switch:

git clean -fd

Filter Your Git Diffs

Sometimes reading a git diff can be a big task. Imagine working through a big file cleanup, removing and modifing hundreds of files, and one of those modifications had an undesireable side effect. How can we filter the noise to find the problem?

git diff has a --diff-filter flag for this purpose. The specific command I used today was:

$ git diff --diff-filter=M HEAD~5 > changes.txt

This showed only modified files over the previous five commits, excluding thousands of deleted references. By directing the output to a file and visually scanning, I quickly found the problem— a forced redirect to HTTPS on the development server.

See git diff --help for more info.


One of my favorite developer-to-developer communication tools is :Gbrowse, provided by vim-fugitive. This command opens your current Vim buffer, or a line or range, in the hosting provider specified by your remote. It’s irreplaceable for quickly sharing code worthy of discussion.

Take this command to the next level with :Gbrowse! which puts the URL your browser would open into your paste buffer. From there, paste away into your project management tool or chat client, getting everybody on the same (web)page.

Commit Message Templates

We set something up on a recent project that I really liked.

In the midst of writing a bunch of tests, I realized I was starting every commit message with Test, followed by a description of the feature. Test login, Test that bots are redirected, etc. Typing the same word over and over is redundant, and it adds up quickly.

We paused and set up a commit template for the project.

Here’s the file we made (~/.git_commit_template.txt):


And the command in the project directory:

$ git config commit.template "~/.git_commit_template.txt"

Our next commit message started with Test, so we just used CTRL-A to jump to the end of the sentence and start filling it in.

This does more than just save keystrokes. It reminds us that we have a format we want to stick to, and helps keep our commit message more uniform.

This could also be set globally, if you have a format you prefer to use on every project.

git difftool

You’ve likely used git diff to see changes between your commits and your working tree, etc, but you can also use git difftool to open up the diff in your editor. In vim, this will open the original file in one pane, and the diff in another.

May require some config.

Checking Commit Ancestry

I have two commit shas and I want to know if the first is an ancestor of the second. Put another way, is this first commit somewhere in the history of this other commit.

Git’s merge-base command combined with the --is-ancestor flag makes answering this question easy. Furthermore, because it is a plumbing command, it can be used in a script or sequence of commands as a switch based on the answer.

Here is an example of this command in action:

$ git merge-base --is-ancestor head~ head && echo 'yes, it is'
yes, it is
$ git merge-base --is-ancestor head~ head~~ && echo 'yes, it is'

In the first command, head~ is clearly an ancestor of head, so the echo command is triggered. In the second, head~ is not an ancestor of head~~ so the return status of 1 short-circuits the rest of the command. Hence, no echo.

See man git-merge-base for more details.


List Different Commits Between Two Branches

There are times when I want to get a sense of the difference between two branches. I don’t want to look at the actual diff though, I just want to see what commits are on one and the other.

I can do just this by using the git-log command with a couple flags, most importantly the --cherry-pick flag.

To compare the feature branch against the master branch, I can run a command like the following:

$ git log --left-right --graph --cherry-pick --oneline feature...branch

This lists commits with the first line of their messages. It also includes either a < or > arrow at the front of each commit indicating whether the commit is on the left (feature) or right (master) branch, respectively.

Note: you can use more than branches in a command like this. Any two references will work. You can just use two SHAs for instance.


You Can Git Push to an SSH Alias

When we are using Git via ssh, we can take full advandage of our ssh conveniences.

So, lets say we have some ssh coniguration in our .ssh/config

Host til-production
  Hostname 11.22.333.44
  User ubuntu

Now we ssh into our server and create a bare repository.

ssh til-production
mkdir ~/til
cd ~/til
git init --bare

Then back on our local machine, instead of adding a remote with:

git remote add production ubuntu@11.22.333.44:til

we can simply:

git remote add production til-production:til

It’s a little bit less to think about.

h/t @vidalekechukwu

Clean your Working Tree, Interactively

git clean is a great command. It’s the best tool in the box for wiping out untracked junk files from your working tree.

This command has a noteworthy optional flag, -i, for interactive mode. This gives you the option to clean everything, select by number, ask each, and more. I see it as the reverse of git add -p— we get granular control over what stays and what goes.

More context with git diff

So if you want to see more (or less) context when running a git diff command you can use -U<number_of_lines>.

Here it is a regular git diff (3 lines as default):

vnegrisolo@home:~/my-app(master)% git diff
index modified: app/jobs/github/sync_organization_job.rb
@ sync_organization_job.rb:24 @ module Github
      organization.login       = data['login']
      organization.description = data['description']
      organization.avatar_url  = data['avatar_url']
-      organization.user        = @user
+      organization.user        = user
      recursive_sync(organization) if @recursive

Now just showing the changed lines:

vnegrisolo@home:~/my-app(master)% git diff -U0
index modified: app/jobs/github/sync_organization_job.rb
@ sync_organization_job.rb:27 @ module Github
-      organization.user        = @user
+      organization.user        = user

Finally with 5 lines of context instead of 3:

vnegrisolo@home:~/my-app(master)% git diff -U5
index modified: app/jobs/github/sync_organization_job.rb
@ sync_organization_job.rb:22 @ module Github
      organization = Organization.find_or_initialize_by(github_id: data['id'])

      organization.login       = data['login']
      organization.description = data['description']
      organization.avatar_url  = data['avatar_url']
-      organization.user        = @user
+      organization.user        = user
      recursive_sync(organization) if @recursive

Diffing With Patience

The default diff algorithm used by Git is pretty good, but it can get mislead by larger, complex changesets. The result is a noisier, misaligned diff output.

If you’d like a diff that is generally a bit cleaner and can afford a little slow down (you probably can), you can instead use the patience algorithm which is described as such:

Patience Diff, instead, focuses its energy on the low-frequency high-content lines which serve as markers or signatures of important content in the text. It is still an LCS-based diff at its core, but with an important difference, as it only considers the longest common subsequence of the signature lines:

Find all lines which occur exactly once on both sides, then do longest common subsequence on those lines, matching them up.

You can set this as the default algorithm by adding the following lines to your ~/.gitconfig file:

    algorithm = patience

or it can be set from the command line with:

$ git config --global diff.algorithm patience


h/t Josh Davey