Git Commit messages

Any software project is a collaborative project. It has at least two developers, the original developer and the original developer a few weeks or months later

—Peter Hutterer <>

The difference between a tolerable programmer and a great programmer is [...] whether they can communicate their ideas. By persuading other people, they get leverage. By writing clear comments and technical specs, they let other programmers understand their code, which means other programmers can use and work with their code instead of rewriting it. Absent this, their code is worthless.

—Joel Spolsky <>

What does a good commit message look like?

Scope: Subject line in imperative tense and less than 50 chars

Body text with why we needed to do this,
how this works at a high level
and any side-effects we know of or predict.
Do not exceed 72 chars on these lines, because 4 chars indent, will
catch you a lot.

[tags for closing bugs etc.]

The rules for git commit messages

  1. Put a subject line as the first line, followed by a blank line then the body.

    Git grew out of the Linux Kernel Mailing List

The two rules not to break:

Never have two lines of text at the top. Always have one line then blank line and body, or one line only.

Never exceed 72 chars per line.

The one rule to rarely break:

Always have 50 chars in the subject line

For your own sanity, make your project history clear, your documentation good.

Business justification: good code practises save time and money.

Commits and User Stories

My view is that in an Agile environment, User Stories should be about the same size as a commit. That is if there is a User Story:

2014.32.16 (16th sprint backlog item in 32nd sprint in 2014)

As the Sales Manager, in order to motivate my team,
the weekly sales report must be ordered by total revenue
in USD.

Then I should expect to see a commit history like:

$ git log --pretty=format:"%s"
reporting: Order RW23 (weekly sales) by total rev USD
reporting: Add function to convert sales.revenue to USD
externalapis: Store daily GBP -> USD conversion rates
reporting: Clean up code to PEP8 standards

Here I can see that I had to clean up the code in area of reporting, then store a GBP to USD conversion rate, add in a function to do the actual conversion and then change report RW23 to be ordered differently.

I would further expect these commit messages to reference 2014.32.16 such as

fixes: 2014.32.16
rel: 2014.32.16
rel: 2014.32.16
rel: 2014.32.16

Preferred workflow

  • Integration Manager (or pull-requests)

Breaking Changes into different commits

The ideal is to use git add -p. This should be done once or twice by everyone. Then stop being a masochist and use git gui which allows you to choose line by line which parts go into the next commit and which wait.

Very very useful. There are many other tools for doing this but git gui is fone.

(Just be aware to always pick the right - and + changes in one go. Unless you know what you are doing)

Git is not a backup

I am guilty of this almost constantly.

I am weening myself off this habit by backing up all my development dirs via tarsnap.

(Actually I may have to stop this to overcome EU data protection laws, and rsync to a Dutch backup location)