Git for version control

5 minute read

Git is a great version control tool. It allows you to keep a history of your code, sync your project online and collaborate with others.



  • configurations
    git config --global "your name"
    git config --global ""

  • initiate a git repository:
    cd into the directory where you want to initiate a git repository, and use git init

  • chech status of current repository: git status.
    It reports which branch you are on, what files are changed, and which files are not tracked.

  • track a file:
    If you want to keep track of the changes in file_A, use git add file_A.

  • rename or move a file:
    git mv old_file new_file

  • remove a file: git rm filename
    with this command the file is removed both in repository and in file system.
    If you just want to remove it from repository, but keep the file in system (simply untrack), use:
    git rm --cached filename

  • check the changes in file with last staged version: git diff filename
    changes are marked with + or -

  • show your commit history: git log

    • git log --graph show commit tree
# show latest n commits
git log -n
# simplified log
git log --oneline
git log --oneline  [--decorate]
  • use .gitignore to specify files to be ignored
    Usually this kind of files are product files, including but not limited to:

    • image files
    • pdfs
    • compiled code
    • system files


  • commit changes:
	git commit -a -m "commit message" #commit all changes in repository   
	git add changed_file1 changed_file2 # add files to staging area
	git commit -m "commit message" # commit changes in staging area
  • git show: can be used to show various objects
    eg: git show HEAD —– show most recent commit

  • change file back to its older version.
    git checkout HEAD filename
    change file back to its version in HEAD. Can replace head with other commits. Without specification of filename, the whole repository will be rewired.

  • move current branch to a specified commit (first 7 digits, shown in git log):
    git reset commit_id

    See a discussion of git reset and git checkout: reset and checkout.


save new commits after git checkout
once you use git checkout commit_id, your head is detached, and you are not on any branch anymore (or you are on an anonymous branch). You can still stage and commit changes, but they won’t show up on branch master.

To be able to keep those changes, you can do:

# put current changes in a branch: new
git checkout -b new
# merge new with master
git checkout master
git merge new  # may have to manually adjust conflicts

see illustration save commits after git-checkout.


Branching of git is good for modulized work. Assume you have some intermediate product, and you are going to add another feature to it. It’s good practice to open up a new branch new_feature, work on that branch until your new program passed all kinds tests, and then you can safely merge the new_feature branch back to your master branch.

This way if anything horrible happens to your new_feature code, you can always return to your master branch without worrying that your intermediate product is also messed up.

  • check which branch I’m currently on: git branch

  • add a new branch: git branch new_branch_name

  • switch branch: git checkout branch_name

  • merge a new branch to master branch: git merge branch_name

  • delete a branch: git branch -d branch_name


With git remote you can freely transport your own git repository or copy others’ git repository.

  • clone git from remote_repository and put under folder clone_name:
    git clone remote_repository clone_name
    will automatically give the remote repository a name origin

  • show current remotes: git remote -v

  • add a new remote under name remote_name:
    git remote add remote_name url

  • rename a current remote:
    git remote rename cur_name new_name

  • change url of a current remote:
    git remote set-url remote_name new_url

  • get most recent update from remote (saved in origin/master branch) : git fetch origin

    If you want to move to the downloaded branch, use git checkout -- track origin/master

  • push a branch in your repository to a remote repository:
    git push remote_name branch_name
    which pushes branch_name onto remote_name


Git can make life easier when you are doing collaboration work with other people. You may have a shared repository on Github, and each of your pull the repository to your local laptop, and work on different branches. Here’s how you contribute to the online repository:

  • On master branch, git fetch and git merge (= git pull) changes from the remote

  • Develop the feature on your_branch and commit your work.
    • after your code is ready, you can push your branch (or take a git diff file) to the online repo for code review
  • Switch back to master, git pull from the remote again (in case new commits were made while you were working)

  • git merge <your_branch> to add your code to repo

  • Push your branch up to the remote for review

At step 3 you can have a problem: after you make changes, the remote repository may have changed (maybe your collaborator has updated it). So git pull would fail in this case, unless you resolve the fatal file differences. git mergetool becomes very handy for this purpose (link).


  • Commit references
    • Previous Movements
      • HEAD
      • HEAD@{3}: where your head was 3 moves ago
      • head movements are listed in git reflog
    • Parents
      • HEAD^ = HEAD^1
      • HEAD^^: first parent of first parent
      • can be used with any commit as well, eg <commit_name>^2
      • ***^2 only works with merge commits, where there are two parents
    • Ancestors
      • HEAD~: first parent
      • HEAD~~: first parent of first parent
      • HEAD~{5}: ….
    • Double dot: range selection
      • master..your_branch
      • git log master..your_branch: all commits reachable on your_branch but not on master
  • git grep string:
    search for string in git repository. This is extremely useful when you want to change the name of certain functions or variables, as you can locate which files contain the things you wanna change.

  • git commit --amend:
    modify the most recent git commit message



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