Vikesh Tiwari

Git. Play. Love.


What this post is about

  • It is a tutorial for beginner to intermediate git users on advanced git topics and practices.
  • It is a practical.

What this post is NOT about

  • It is not philosophy or theory. (I will not be discussing the pros and cons of merge and rebase. You all can fight that battle elsewhere.)
  • It is not super complex or overly achaic.
  • It is not preachy. (see the first point)
  • It is not in any way exhaustive. This is a list of git commands, tips, tricks and tools I personally find useful and use it nearly every day.

This is a series of things I often discover people struggle with, don’t know how to do, or have bizarre work arounds to get this information. You may know some or all of these already. But these are the things I learned while working on open source projects and contributing to other’s repository. I hope you find something in here and I hope it saves you time. NOTE: I use homebrew in Mac OS and default shell in Ubuntu system. I know 90% of you reading this probably use bash.

Ok let’s get started!

Shortcut for creating a new branch and switching to it

git branch foobar && git checkout foobar
git checkout -b foobar   #same as above command

Change your editor for commit messages

git config --global core.editor 'subl -w' # Sublime
git config --global core.editor 'mate -w' # TextMate 
git config --global core.editor vim # The Lord's way
git config --global core.editor emacs # Insanity

Diff between remote local

git status 
On branch test_branch 
Your branch is ahead of 'origin/test_branch' by 1 commit. (use "git push" to publish your local commits) 
nothing to commit, working directory clean 
git diff # returns nothing because there is nothing different between our locals 
git diff vicky002-git # same exact thing as above. git-talk here refers to your local 
git diff vicky002/vicky002-git  # diffs between remote and current local branch 
diff --git a/foo.txt b/foo.txt 
index 257cc56..5716ca5 100644 
--- a/foo.txt 
+++ b/foo.txt 
@@ -1 +1 @@ 
$ git diff vicky002/vicky002-git vicky002-git # diffs between remote and specified local branch 
diff --git a/foo.txt b/foo.txt 
index 257cc56..5716ca5 100644 
--- a/foo.txt 
+++ b/foo.txt 
@@ -1 +1 @@ 

“But vicky, this seems unnecessary. I can clearly see in git status that I have a commit that’s not pushed yet.” You’re correct! This isn’t world’s greatest use-case example. However, I use this most often when I need to see what changes might be incoming or to diff between my branch and master. If you’re working on a feature branch for few days, and want to see a diff between your feature branch and master doing git diff master feature_branch will only show you diff between your local copy of master and feature_branch. What you need to do in this situation is this -> git fetch origin && git diff origin/master feature_branch. The fetch is important here. NOTE: If you’re unclear on the difference between fetch and pull I highly recommend you take 15 minutes and read up on it.

How to check out a file from one branch into another

git checkout -b madness 
Switched to a new branch 'madness' 
echo 'Say Hello to Vicky!' > vicky002.txt 
cat vicky002.txt 
Say Hello to Vicky! 
git add --all && git commit -m 'Added vicky002.txt' 
[madness 728f16f] Added vicky002.txt 
1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) 
create mode 100644 vicky002.txt 
git checkout -b not_funny 
Switched to a new branch 'not_funny' 
echo 'Vicky this is not funny at all!' > vicky002.txt
cat vicky002.txt 
Vicky this is not funny at all!
git add --all && git commit -m 'Added vicky002.txt' 
[not_funny 6fea3ec] Added vicky002.txt 
1 file changed, 1 insertion(+), 1 deletion(-) 
git show madness:vicky002.txt # Prints the contents of vicky002.txt from branch madness  
git checkout madness -- vicky002.txt # Checks out madness' version of vicky002.txt to branch not_funny # This is a perfect example of the insanity of git. You use : to show between branches but -- to checkout. 
cat vicky002.txt # now this branch's vicky002.txt is the same as madness' Say Hello to Vicky!

Combine multiple shorthand flags into one

git commit -n -m 'This is a commit message.' 
git commit --no-verify --message='This is a commit message.' 
git commit -nm 'This is a commit message.' # This is the same as the above two!

Combine paragraphs from the commandline with you commit message!

git commit -m Hello -m is -m it -m me -m you\'re -m looking -m for\? 
git log -1 # Using -Number limits the log to that number of commits. 
commit facbbb49d88182b50d8383323acae6696e33ff63 
Author: Vikesh Tiwari <> 
Date: Sun Jan 24 19:12:44 2016 -0700 

Also, notice you don’t to use a string for your commit message if you escape. Not really useful, just fun to point out.

Stashing with a message and stashing untracked files

At the beginning of this I said I wasn’t going to preach. I lied. Always stash with a message. Just do it.

git checkout -b pikachu
Switched to a new branch 'pikachu'

echo 'lightning bolt' > attacks.txt

git status --short
?? attacks.txt

git stash save --include-untracked 'Creating attacks file for Pikachu.' # Shorthand for --include-untracked is -u
Saved working directory and index state On pikachu: Creating attacks file for Pikachu.
HEAD is now at 33b6d46 Bug fix for pokemon scapers.

git checkout master
Switched to branch 'master'
Your branch is up-to-date with 'origin/master'.

git stash list
stash@{0}: On pikachu: Creating attacks file for Pikachu.

git stash show # In general this command isn't very useful. Just show's a diff of lines changed. But it's particularlly useless at this point. It doesn't show anything because attacks.txt isn't tracked by git. Git can only tell you information about things it has been told to track.

git stash pop && git add --all && git commit -m 'Initial commit of attacks.txt for Pikachu.'

echo 'shock' >> attacks.txt
git diff
diff --git a/attacks.txt b/attacks.txt
index e8eb403..4642b97 100644
--- a/attacks.txt
+++ b/attacks.txt
@@ -1 +1,2 @@
lightning bolt

git stash save 'added shock to the list of attacks'
Saved working directory and index state On pikachu: added shock to the list of attacks
HEAD is now at 97921a2 Initial commit of attacks.txt for Pikachu.

git stash show 'stash@{0}' -p # NOTE: the -p argument is short for --patch
diff --git a/attacks.txt b/attacks.txt
index e8eb403..4642b97 100644
--- a/attacks.txt
+++ b/attacks.txt
@@ -1 +1,2 @@
lightning bolt

By default git stash does not stash untracked files. Throw a -u on the end. Also, git stash list shows your stashes, however the default message it saves with it is the message of the latest commit and the branch you stashed it on. This is… super unhelpful. Make sure to add save to your git stash command and follow it with a message. You’re really smart. You’re also busy and you will totally forget what the hell is in your stashes if more than say 15 minutes pass. I promise you. Then when you come in the next day and run git stash list and see a list of stashes with commit messages that have nothing to do with the work in the stash you’ll want to scream.

Getting your stashed stuff!

git stash apply stash@{3} will apply fourth (it’s zero-indexed) stash’s content to your current branch and the stash will remain in the stash list. However, git stash pop stash@{3} will remove the fourth stash from the list moving all stashes after it up one on the index. pop is probably what you most often want, but it’s also more dangerous for obvious reasons. If you would rather use apply you can safely run git stash drop stash@{3} after you’re cool with getting rid of that stash. With git stash list the stashes reindex after you remove a stash.

Let’s say you have three stashes. If you try to do something like this git stash drop stash@{1} && git drop stash@{2} this will fail because the stash at index 2 is now at index 1 after having dropped the stash at index 1. When removing multiple stashes remove from the highest numbered index on down or… just be really really careful.

Clean up after yourself with git rebase – interactive

When you work on a project or contributing to others code. At the end of the features and fixes, you’ll have tons of shitty commits. It’s just the way things work. When I was working on Apple’s Swift repository I made lot of changes and made tons of commit. Developers and owners always ask to squash all your commits into one. Those commits aren’t going to be helpful to anyone once this is merged to master. And some day if they find a bug and have to do a git blame and see that vicky002 committed this code six months ago with the commit message “WIP. Fixed shit.” they are going to (rightfully) curse my name. Lets not be that person. Lets use interactive rebase.

git rebase --interactive 
branch_you_want_to_rebase_against_typically_master # That's it! You can also use the shorthand -i flag.

This is very, well, interactive mode. Git really holds your hand and gives you lots of nice messages. When you run that git will open your text editor and have a list of all of the commits on your branch that are not on the branch you’re rebasing against.

# Rebase c4758c3..c4758c3 onto c4758c3 (1 command(s))
# Commands:
# 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
# These lines can be re-ordered; they are executed from top to bottom.
# If you remove a line here THAT COMMIT WILL BE LOST.
# However, if you remove everything, the rebase will be aborted.
# Note that empty commits are commented out

See all that lovely help from git? There’s not much more I can add here. You literally just follow along and git tells you what to do. I bring this up entirely because people seem to rarely use it.

Interactively add your changes to the commit stage

git add --patch

Note — this only works with files that are already being tracked by git. It does not work with untracked files. Split is super powerful and conveinent. If it gets really hairy you can use e to manually edit the hunk.

From the help:

Stage this hunk [y,n,q,a,d,/,e,?]? 
y — stage this hunk 
n — do not stage this hunk 
q — quit; do not stage this hunk or any of the remaining ones a — stage this hunk and all later hunks in the file 
d — do not stage this hunk or any of the later hunks in the file 
g — select a hunk to go to / — search for a hunk matching the given regex 
j — leave this hunk undecided, see next undecided hunk 
J — leave this hunk undecided, see next hunk 
k — leave this hunk undecided, see previous undecided hunk 
K — leave this hunk undecided, see previous hunk 
s — split the current hunk into smaller hunks 
e — manually edit the current hunk 
? — print help

When doing a comparison make sure you’re comparing against the latest remote version with fetch

git diff master # diffs current branch against your local copy of master
git diff origin/master # will probably do the same thing as above in *most* scenarios.
git fetch origin && git diff origin/master # diffs current branch against what is *truly* on remote master

Squash your commit if the branch is truly a mess

If your branch’s commit history is a complete mess but you know you want what is there currenlty another branch (most likely master) – squash is your friend.

git commit -m 'hey'
[new_branch bacb008] hey
1 file changed, 10 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

git checkout master
Switched to branch 'master'

git merge new_branch --squash
Updating 051c56b..bacb008
Squash commit -- not updating HEAD           | 20 ++++++++++++++++++--
awesometextfile.txt |  3 +++
2 files changed, 21 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

git branch --merged # To list local branches that have not been merged run --no-merged
* master

git branch -d new_branch
error: The branch 'new_branch' is not fully merged.
If you are sure you want to delete it, run 'git branch -D new_branch'.

git branch -D new_branch
Deleted branch new_branch (was bacb008).

Vicky, what if I want just a single commit from one branch into another branch?

git checkout branch_you_want_to_move_commit_to && git cherry-pick 240982d 
# You don't need the full sha, just enough that git understands it.

This can be a tad dangerous. Specially –git will assign a new sha to the cherry-picked commit. Which means git will now have record of two sha’s with the same exact changes. Proceed with caution.

Vicky, what if I want to figure what commit broke my favourite fature?!

Bisect is your friend! (Seriously the doc is worth reading!)

 git bisect start
 git bisect bad # without passing a SHA it uses HEAD
 git bisect good SHAofLastGoodKnownCommit
 # At this point git takes over and tells you how many rivisions to test. Through a series of good and bad confirmations it will then tell you the bad commit.
 # Shoot off an email or slack message to the author with the commit sha or fix yourself if you're confident of the intended change in the commit or if you're the author

More diffing!

$ git diff ref1:path/to/file1 ref2:path/to/file2 
$ git diff origin/master -- [path/to/file] # Much simpler if you're diffing the same file at the same path.

Reset can be gentle too, you know

If there is a commit you just flat out don’t want to have and want to fix it and it has not been pushed to the remote branch yet use reset — soft

git reset --soft HEAD~1


Git is a tool. It is a means to an end. Not the end. Mastering your tools is a essential in becoming a better and more efficient programmer. However, use whatever you feel more comfortable with. If you are happy with your GUI Git applications of choice then use it. Occassioanly though these apps cause problems and you gotta jump into the commandline and get your hands dirty.


Wait, wait.. How do I..?

If you have any more questions, or suggestions, add them in comments. I’ll get back to you.