First steps with git

2010-10-30 19:47 More posts about svn Hacking git version control Note to Self
A few weeks ago I started to use git not only for tracking changes in my own private repository but also for Mahout development and for reviewing patches. My setup probably is a bit unusual, so I thought, I'd first describe that before diving deeper into the specifc steps.

Workflow to implement

With my development I wanted to follow Mahout trunk very closely, integrating and merging any changes as soon as I continue to work on the code. I wanted to be able to work with two different machines on the client side that are located at two distinct physical locations. I was fine with publishing any changes or intermediate progress online.

The tools used

I setup a clone of the official Mahout git repository on github as a place the check changes into and as a place to publish my own changes.

On each machine used, I cloned this github repository. After that I added the official Mahout git repository as upstream repository to be able to fetch and merge in any upstream changes.

Command set

After cloning the official Mahout repository into my own github account, the following set of commands was used on a single client machine to clone and setup the repository. See also the Github help on forking git repositories.

#clone the github repository
git clone

#add upstream to the local clone
git remote add upstream git://

One additional piece of configuration that helped make life easier was to setup a list of files and file patterns to be ignored by git.

Each distinct changeset (be it code review, code style changes or steps towards own changes) would then be done in their own branches locally. To share them with other developers as well as make them accessible to my second machine I would use the following commands on the machine used for initial development:

#create the branch
git branch MAHOUT-666

#publish the branch on github
git push origin MAHOUT-666

To get all changes both from my first machine and from upstream into the second machine all that was needed was:

#select correct local branch
git checkout trunk

#get and merge changes from upstream
git fetch upstream
git merge upstream/trunk

#get changes from github
git fetch origin
git merge origin/trunk

#get branch from above
git checkout -b MAHOUT-666 origin/MAHOUT-666

Of course pushing changes into an Apache repository is not possible. So I would still end up creating a patch, submit that to JIRA for review and in the end apply and commit that via svn. As soon as these changes finally made it into the official trunk all branches created earlier were rendered obsolete.

What still makes me stick with git especially for reviewing patches and working on multiple changesets is it's capability to quickly and completely locally create branches. This feature totally changed my so-far established workflow for keeping changesets separate:

With svn I would create a separate checkout of the original repository from a remote server, make my changes or even just apply a patch for review. To speed things up or be able to work offline I would keep one svn checkout clean, copy that to a different location and only there apply the patch.

In combination with using an IDE this workflow would result in me having to re-import each different checkout as a separate project. Even though both Idea and Eclipse are reasonably fast with importing and setting up projects it would still cost some time.

With git all I do is one clone. After that I can locally create branches w/o contacting the server again. I usually keep trunk clean from any local changes - patches are applied to separate branches for review. Same happens to any code modifications. That way all work can happen when disconnected from the version control server.

When combined with IntelliJ Idea fun becomes even greater: The IDE regularly scans the filesystem for updated files. So after each git checkout I'll find the IDE automatically adjust to the changed source code - that way avoiding project re-creation. Same is of course possible with Eclipse - it just involves one additional click on the Refresh button.

For me git helped speed up my work processes and supported use cases that otherwise would have involved sending patches to and fro between separate mailboxes. That way work with patches and changeset seemed way more natural and better supported by the version control system itself. In addition it of course is a great relief to be able to checkin, diff, log, checkout etc. even when disconnected from the network - which for me still is one of the biggest advantages of any distributed version control system.

Lance Norskog recently pointed out one more step that is helpful:
You didn't mention how to purge your project branch out of the github fork. From Deleting a remote branch or tag

This command is a bit arcane at first glance… git push REMOTENAME :BRANCHNAME. If you look at the advanced push syntax above it should make a bit more sense. You are literally telling git “push nothing into BRANCHNAME on REMOTENAME”. And, you also have to delete the branch locally also.