Dotfiles digest: git

There has been a slight buzz of git related content lately. From Scott Chacon’s So you think you know Git to Julia Evans’ article on Popular git config options. Both are very much worth your time if you use git somewhat often. I use git almost every day and I think it’s really great (Survivorship bias? Never heard of it), so this feels like great timing to make a post annotating my own configuration, which I have checked in to my dotfiles repository.

The point of this “series” (if I ever do another one!) is to document some of the choices I have made in configuring tools I use regularly. Both for my own benefit (some of these options were set a long time ago) and for beginners who are looking for a good starting point in their config. I like to keep my custom configuration pretty small.

It’s also a pretty good motivation to keep my dotfiles clean and checked in. 😬

Global configuration

This is $HOME/.config/git/config. It’s common to use $HOME/.gitconfig too, but I think this is a bit neater because I use multiple configuration files. More on that below.

	name = Adrian Göransson

Well, that’s just me!

	ch = checkout
	ci = commit
	df = diff
	l  = log
	ph = push
	pl = pull
	sh = show
	st = status

	rb  = rebase
	rbi = rebase -i --keep-base

	f  = fetch
	fa = fetch --all

	r  = reset
	rh = reset --hard

	dfst = diff --stat

Okay, something more substantial! These are some of my most commonly used commands, which is why I’ve configured aliases for easier use. I prefer configuring these aliases in git as opposed to having shell aliases for every subcommand like gl or gph. Using g as an alias for git is plenty enough for me.

Most of these aliases are pretty basic. fetch --all fetches from all remotes if you have multiple configured. Rebase with --keep-base may not be very common though, so let me try to explain what it does!

Rebasing with --keep-base

Some familiarity with rebasing is assumed here, otherwise check out the git book chapter on rebasing. With that out of the way, let’s consult the manual.

”[--keep-base] is useful in the case where one is developing a feature on top of an upstream branch. While the feature is being worked on, the upstream branch may advance and it may not be the best idea to keep rebasing on top of the upstream but to keep the base commit as-is.”

I think this is a pretty good explanation actually! For a bit more in-depth with visualizations, expand the section below.

More on git rebase --keep-base

You have a feature branch creatively named feature that continues from main on commit E. You create a couple of commits and push your changes for review by your team. The simplified commit graph looks like this.

      A---B---C feature
D---E main

While you wait for your code to get reviewed, you start working on something else. While you were developing feature, commits F and G were merged to main, resulting in the following graph.

      A---B---C feature
D---E---F---G main

After some time, your feature branch has been reviewed and you want to make changes in response. You might find yourself in a place where you want to rewrite the commit history (in your feature branch, don’t do this on a shared branch like main!), in which case you would use rebase. In this case, we are editing commit B, creating B₂ in its place.

However, as your main has advanced, rebase will try to create this graph.

              A---B₂---C feature
D---E---F---G main

If commits F and G happen to conflict with your work, you will get to handle those as well as the potential conflicts that you may have created going from B₂C. That can get really messy. If you have to go several rounds of review and main keeps advancing, this can get frustrating quickly. What you probably would want to do instead, is use --keep-base, yielding this graph.

      A---B₂---C feature
D---E---F---G main

In my experience, the conflicts towards the merge target are best handled when the code has passed review and you are ready to merge. Only then do you merge to main, handling the potential conflicts during the merge, instead of during rebases.

      A---B₂---C feature
     /          \
D---E-----F------G main

In my team, we have moved away from editing commit history and force pushing during review, and are instead using fixup! commits to mark where history is going to get rewritten once the branch passes review. To do so with less effort, I have used git-fixup and git-absorb.

Returning to dotfiles

	verbose = true

Commit with verbose mode is really nice. Your commit message editor gets populated with the about-to-be-committed diff as a comment, giving you a last look at what is being committed.

	format = ssh
	gpgSign = true
	gpgSign = true

Always sign commits and tags. The few times I have used GPG it has always been a hassle, but no more with SSH keys!

	defaultBranch = main

When creating a new git repository, use main as the default branch name.

	date = local

Show datetimes in my local time zone, instead of the timezone of the committer/author.

	sort = version:refname

Change the sort order of git tag to sort tags numerically and respect version numbers. This way, v10 comes after v9 instead of v1.

A short example from one of my repositories.

default  |  version:refname
v0.1.0   |  v0.1.0
v0.1.1   |  v0.1.1
v0.1.10  |  v0.1.2
v0.1.11  |  v0.1.3
v0.1.2   |  v0.1.7
	sort = -committerdate

Sort the output of git branch to show most recently committed to branches first.

	enabled = true

I had heard tales of rerere (REuse REcorded REsolution) for a long time as an invaluable tool to manage conflicts, but never bothered to read more about it and discarded it, thinking it was something I had to learn and/or remember to do manually. Turns out, after watching Scott Chacon’s presentation, it was none of those things! Basically, with rerere , git remembers how you have handled a conflict earlier and tries to apply that same resolution again if it can. This is a life saver if you, like me, often use rebase to clean/rewrite your local history. In those cases, one small conflict can stack up and become something that you have to solve when reapplying every commit.

	path = config.local

Last, but not least, the [include] directive! Having your dotfiles checked in to version control can pretty quickly get messy, since you may want to set options that should only apply on a certain device. For me, I have different SSH keys on my work laptop, and repository-specific configuration as well, which doesn’t make much sense on any of my other devices, or in version control. Sure, sophisticated tools to manage your dotfiles (or even just git branches) may solve this for you, but I appreciate the simplicity of just chucking things into a plain git repository.

I do this with device-local files. With git, that means using [include]. Basically, I have a separate git config file called config.local that git will try to load. If the file doesn’t exist, git won’t complain, so it’s safe to keep the directive even on devices where you don’t have a local configuration file.

Local configuration

So how does it look? Here’s an excerpt:

	signingKey = ssh-ed25519 [...]

[gpg "ssh"]
	# $HOME does not work, so this is OS-specific :(
	allowedSignersFile = /Users/adrian/.ssh/authorized_signatures

	diff = riff
	show = riff
	log = riff

[includeIf "hasconfig:remote.*<organisation>/**"]
	path = work.local

Here we see the aforementioned SSH key configuration. I also use the excellent riff as a pager to highlight diffs. The reason that I have it configured in config.local is that git doesn’t play very nice if the configured pager is not installed, so I prefer to set this option when I know the command is available.

And finally, the powerful includeIf directive, which lets me conditionally load another config file based on various conditions. In this case a remote URL! Basically, when I git clone <work repo>, the repository is already configured to use the configuration in work.local as defaults. Pretty useful if you have a bunch of microservice repositories.

Right now, mine is pretty boring:

    email = <work email>

Because it is of great annoyance to me when I try to commit something in a new repository and git hits me with this:

Author identity unknown

*** Please tell me who you are.


  git config --global ""
  git config --global "Your Name"

to set your account's default identity.
Omit --global to set the identity only in this repository.

Maybe I’m just a very easily annoyed person, I don’t know!

Wrapping up

I hope that this post can be of use to someone, either a beginner or someone who just hasn’t thought about their git configuration for some time. With an actively maintained project like git, cool new features are introduced quite frequently. It’s easy to miss out.

Until next time!