Clean git history - using git fixup commits, aliases and more


Git has many different features that make it convenient to preserve clean version control history and collaborate with others without affecting productivity.

One very useful feature is git –fixup commits that have been there since forever, but not used by many as often as it should.

The main focus of this blog post will talk about some use cases and practical examples of how we use it at work and why it makes the review process much more pleasant.

Additionally, there are some other nice features that can be used in conjunction with git --fixup commits that I’ll briefly cover as well.

As bonus, I’ll also provide some examples, such as:

  • Scripts that I wrote which make it more convenient to use
  • Using git aliases
  • Making some of these commands available through Atlassian’s SourceTree

What is a git fixup commit?

A git fixup commit is a special commit that fixes another commit up the tree.

Git automatically prefixes them with fixup! and then with the same commit message it fixes.

Let’s say we have the following tree:

* 05dcacd - (HEAD -> my_new_feature) F3
* 1a69fa6 - F2
* 744b43b - F1
* a308372 - (master) A3
* 0cd736a - A2
* 4fa144c - A1
* ea977df - * Initial commit

We submit a PR (Pull Request) with the changes made in the my_new_feature branch. Our dear colleague then reviewed it and commented: “Can we please rename this variable to foo?”.

There are different ways to approach this request:

  1. Create a new commit saying: “Rename variable per code review.”
  2. Rebase the commit where this change was first introduced and git push --force
  3. Or, create a --fixup commit

Approaching option [1] will make our git history messy and hard to follow what this new feature branch is introducing. merge-commits solves this problem, however if this pattern continues, the git history will become too noisy and rather confusing.

Approaching option [2] sounds reasonable when working by oneself, but when working with colleagues, imagine there are multiple requests for changes within the same PR. If we git push --force after applying the many changes, it means our colleague will need to do another review iteration, increasing the chances of missing things or potential bugs that were introduced while rebasing.

Approaching option [3] solves options [1] and [2]. How? Incremental changes that can be automatically cleaned up prior to merging.

Let’s say we want to fix the commit: * 744b43b - F1 where the variable that was requested to be renamed was first introduced. The way we would do it, is first making the changes, staging them and then executing the following command:

git commit --fixup 744b43b

The git tree will now look as follows:

* f7b34e7 - (HEAD -> my_new_feature) fixup! F1
* 05dcacd - F3
* 1a69fa6 - F2
* 744b43b - F1
* a308372 - (master) A3
* 0cd736a - A2
* 4fa144c - A1
* ea977df - * Initial commit

All that is left is pushing the changes and attaching a link where our colleague made the comment to the new fixup! commit: * f7b34e7 - fixup! F1.

At this point our colleague is happy with our changes and approves the PR. Prior to merging, we need to clean up the fixup! commits. How do we do this? Using –autosquash by executing the following command:

git rebase --autosquash --interactive a308372

This will bring us into the following interactive rebase mode:

pick 744b43b F1
fixup f7b34e7 fixup! F1
pick 1a69fa6 F2
pick 05dcacd F3

# Rebase a308372..f7b34e7 onto a308372 (4 commands)
# Commands:
# p, pick <commit> = use commit
# r, reword <commit> = use commit, but edit the commit message
# e, edit <commit> = use commit, but stop for amending
# s, squash <commit> = use commit, but meld into previous commit
# f, fixup <commit> = like "squash", but discard this commit's log message

Pay attention to how the --autosquash automatically sorted the fixup! commit under the commit it was fixing and also flagged as fixup, meaning that as soon as we save, the fixup commit will be squashed into its upper commit without changing its commit log message.

As the PR review at this point is approved and the rebase is done, it’s now safe to git push --force and merge it.

This is very useful instead of doing a regular git rebase, as it makes it easier for our colleague to see how we applied the requested changes incrementally.

Taking it a step further using Git Aliases

In some cases it’s not as convenient having to type these commands, especially when there are no aliases for --autosquash or --fixup. Some people end-up using system aliases for their git commands (e.g. gcm for git commit -m). This approach however could potentially collide with other tooling in the system. Git offers the option to create Git Aliases, where it’s still possible to write git commands whilst doing the extra work behind the scene.

In the $HOME directory there should be a file called .gitconfig for git’s global configurations. It’s possible to add aliases by using git config commands (e.g. git config --global alias.fixup 'commit --fixup $1'). Another convenient way is editing the .gitconfig file in a text editor:

	fixup = "!git commit --fixup $1 #"
	fixup-squash = "!EDITOR=true git rebase --autosquash -i $1 #"

Pay attention to the EDITOR=true environment variable before the git rebase --autosquash command. For whatever odd reason; auto-squashing fixup commits don’t work unless the -i flag is passed for interactive rebase mode. This hack essentially bypasses the interactive rebase, so that it will automatically squash the fixup commits without having to do the extra step of exiting interactive mode.

With the new aliases being added, it’s now possible to create fixup commits and auto-squashing as follows:

git fixup 744b43b
git fixup-squash a308372

Note that for the fixup-squash command it is possible to also pass the most recent referenced branch name (I’m intentionally not using the term parent branch, as I’ll explain later why). This saves the extra effort of providing a specific commit hash. For instance if my_new_feature branch started from master, it’s possible to write git fixup-squash master instead.

It would have been nice making the git fixup-squash master command more dynamic by not having to type master, wouldn’t it? We can fake this by trying to get the nearest branch name that resides on a branch other than the current branch. Here is a script I wrote that attempts to retrieve it:

# Attempt to get the nearest local branch name
default_branch=$(git remote show $(git remote get-url origin 2>/dev/null) | awk '/HEAD branch/ {print $NF}')
current_branch=$(git branch --show-current)
if [ "$default_branch" = "$current_branch" ]; then
    printf $default_branch
    parent=$(git show-branch | sed "s/].*//" | grep "\*" | grep -v "$(git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD)" | head -n1 | sed "s/^.*\[//")
    if [ -z "$parent" ]; then
        printf $default_branch
        printf $parent

Now let’s create an alias that invokes this script:

	parent = "!sh ~/.git/ #"
	fixup = "!git commit --fixup $1 #"
	fixup-squash = "!EDITOR=true git rebase --autosquash -i $1 #"

The stackoverflow thread attached in the script clarifies further why there is no such concept of a parent branch in git. This being said, use caution when writing commands such as git fixup-squash $(git parent). I always check the output of the git parent command before executing the more dynamic approach. You may wonder why this dynamic approach is even needed if we can just write the branch name? well, we can create an alias for it too so that we don’t have to provide the additional parameter:

	fixup-autosquash = "!git fixup-squash $(git parent) #"

Then we can just execute git fixup-autosquash and all the fixup! commits will get automagically squashed.

Bonus - additional useful Git Aliases

We have seen above how nice it is automating some of these commands. Here I would like to share some other nice git aliases I often use:

	current-branch = "!git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD #"
	default-branch = "!git remote show $(git remote get-url origin) | awk '/HEAD branch/ {print $NF}' #"
	remote-open = "!open $(git remote get-url origin | sed -E 's/git@github\\.com:(.*)\\.git/https:\\/\\/\\/\\1/') #"
	loge = "!git log --color --graph --pretty=format:'%Cred%h%Creset -%C(yellow)%d%Creset %s %Cgreen(%cr) %C(bold blue)<%an>%Creset' --abbrev-commit #"
	cleaner = "!git clean -xffd; git submodule foreach --recursive git clean -xffd; git reset --hard; git submodule foreach --recursive git reset --hard; git submodule update --init --recursive #"
	tmp = "!git commit -m \"tmp! $1\" #"
	tmp-squash = "!hashes=$(git log $1..HEAD --grep='tmp!' --oneline | cut -d' ' -f1 | tr '\n' ',' | sed 's/.$//') && git-filter-repo --commit-callback \"$(cat ~/.git/ | sed \"s/REPLACE_ME_HASHES/$hashes/\")\" --force #"
	dummy = "!touch $(openssl rand -hex 10); git add .; git commit -m \"$1\" #"
current-branchgets the current branch name
default-branchgets the default remote branch name (assuming there is only one)
remote-openopen a tab to the github’s repository (ssh cloned)
logeshow git logs in a nice visual mode
cleanercleans a repository deeply including its sub-modules or any ignored files
tmpcreates a commit prefixed with tmp! [commit_message] (useful for commits that require alteration prior to merging)
dummycreates a dummy commit for testing purposes

Here are some practical examples:

git current-branch
git checkout $(git default-branch)
git remote-open
git loge
git cleaner
git tmp "Change the dates prior to merging"
git dummy "testing commit"

Atlassian’s SourceTree

I often use SourceTree when doing complex rebasing or just want to have more visuals. I can launch a repository in it by executing from within the terminal the stree command.

Unfortunately SourceTree doesn’t have built-in action for --fixup nor --autosquash commands. Fortunately, we can create Custom Actions by going to Settings > Custom Actions -> Add name the Menu Caption as fixup and then add for Script to run -> git and for Parameters -> fixup $SHA. Now it’s possible to right click any commit -> Custom Actions -> Repository Actions -> fixup and it will pick the SHA from the selected commit.

It’s also possible to do the same for --autosquash by creating another custom action calling it fixup-squash and doing the same as above, just that for Parameters -> fixup-squash $SHA.

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