Mind-blowing git tips for beginners

954 words, 5 minutes to read

As developers, we all (hopefully) use git. It's not extremely hard nor time-consuming to get started with it and you will surely thank your future self for taking the time to learn it. Ok so that was for the cringy intro.

Now let's get down to business: what I really want to share in this post is a list of tricks I've learned during the past 2 1/2 years of using git. Some of it might seem trivial to seasoned developers but if you're just getting started, stick with me because this might just blow your mind.

The difference between git fetch and pull

git fetch only updates the tracking remote branches. If you actually want to update the local repo, you need to merge the local branch with the remote tracking branch using git merge.

remote branches are prefixed with the name of the remote and a slash: origin/branchname

git pull on the other hand, will execute both commands for you so when you issue a git pull in a branch it will fetch that branch from the remote repo and merge it with yours.

To list all remote trackin branches, git branch -r is your friend.

Merge conflicts

At some point you'll inevitably have to deal with merge conflicts. Essentially what this means is that git noticed a file was modified on both branches and it does not know which version is correct. It leaves it up to you to decide which one you want to push.

if you open the file you will see a HEAD part prefixed with <<<< signs and a second part containing the code on the branch you're trying to merge. Both sections are separated with an equal sign.

The top HEAD section contains the version of the file as it is on your current branch. The other shows you what the code looks like on the branch you're trying to merge from.

To resolve the conflict just delete the part you don't want (Including all the equal signs etc), save the file and commit it again.

Note that as a safety measure it's always good practice to do a git pull to see if you don't have any remaining conflicts. If not you can just push your code and you're all set!

As for the tips:

git merge --abort will clean up the current working directory and go back to the last version before the merge (it pretty much nullfies the merge).

git merge --squash is an interesting one as it will bring the changes you made in the feature branch and create a new commit on your current branch without mixing the two histories.

Dealing with files

Now this one's tricky !

To remove a file from both the working directory and version control, you can use git rm <filename> but if you already deleted a file in the cli like I (and almost everyone) usually do then just run git rm <path to the file> and it will stage it as deleted so you can commit.

But what if you ramrafed (rm -rf) a bunch of files in your working directory? You don't really want to manually stage every file for deletion, do you? (DO YOU ?) So what do you do in that case? Well, you just run git add -u (u for updating the working tree) and all of your deleted files will be staged so you can commit and push.

"What if a man accidentally tracked a file and man doesn't want it deleted from the index ?" I hear you ask with an exquisite South London accent.

Well, my G, just run:

git rm --cached <name of the file>

and you're done. Efficience ting.

Something else that happens quite often is moving/renaming files (which is essentially the same thing on Linux systems, as the path/address of the file changed).

Here's an example: imagine you have a file called index.html that you want to rename to home.html. you can use git mv which takes a source and a destination:

git mv index.html home.html

if you want to move and rename just run

git mv index.html path/to/home.html

However if you moved / renamed the file manually on the command line, running git status will tell you that index.html was deleted and home.html is untracked.

To fix this you will have to run two commands

git rm index.html # aka the file you moved/renamed
git add home.html # aka the file with the new name x path

Running git status again will mark the file as renamed.

Note that this also works if you don't rename the file. For example, if you just want to move index.html to src/index.html. The same command will apply (git mv index.html src/index.html).

The other way of achieving this is:

git add -A

which will pick up the changes and automatically stage them for commit.

So there you go, I hope you learned something useful in this article. If you know other mind-blowing tips and tricks for git, @ me on twitter.