git: Rebase vs. Rebase

For a some time I’ve wondered about git rebase. At some point in the past I’ve realised that there is not one use in git rebase but (at least) two distict ones.

  • On the one hand git rebase is used to rebase a branch onto an updated source branch (source like in origin, not in source code).
  • On the other hand it’s used to rewrite commit history.

What’s rebase?

A rebase makes git rewind your commit history up to a certain point and than re-apply your patches onto another starting point. The starting point depends on the exact type of rebase you do and what you tell git.

Rebase a branch

Why would you want to rebase a branch onto another one and what does it do?

If you have a feature branch and want this to be merged with your master branch you could of course merge it. If you do so and your feature branch is not based of the last commit in master git will create a new merge commit since it has to merge two branches of a tree. If you’d rebase your feature branch onto the tip of master you’d have a linear merge history w/o a merge commit instead.

Rewrite a branch

Why would you want to rewrite your commit history? What if you make mistakes while crafting a new branch? If you’re following common VCS advice you’ll probably commit often. Probably between some mistake you’ve made and the time you did correct it.

Now you’d have your shiny new feature commit and two or more commits w/ bugfixes to your initial commit in this feature branch. Some people prefer to keep the history of their mistakes. Those could just merge this new feature branch into their master branch.

Others prefer to keep their commit history clean (you wouldn’t release a book which includes all mistakes and corrections you’ve made, would you?). Here comes git rebase -i to the rescue. This rebases the current branch onto itself. This may sound a bit silly but it allows you to drop commits or more importantly to combine (squash) commits together!

Where to got from here?

This post wasn’t meant to give a complete introduction to git rebasing. There are plenty of great tutorials out there. I did just want to highlight some points which were important to me.

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