Git Merge

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Git Merge

Git has many uses. There is no single iconic, fundamental, task performed by Git. Yet few Git tasks are as important as merging.

Git allows you to merge all or some of the files from one branch with the files from another branch. This means that you cannot understand the materials in this chapter without first understanding Git branching. If you have not done so already, or if you feel you need review of branching, please go back and read that chapter first.

Merge from Branch

Merge from a branch in your repository. For instance, you are in master, and you want to merge the commits that are in working:

  git merge working

Git Overwrite Local Changes

If you want to refresh the entire local repository, overwriting your changes, do this:

git fetch
git reset --hard

Or, you can specify the repository you want to reset from:

git fetch
git reset --hard origin/master

If you have a single file in the local repository that you have edited, and you want to throw away those changes, but keep your other changes, then do this:

git fetch
git checkout origin/master 

Merging Code

If the same file is edited in two different instances of your repository then the two versions of your file need to be merged. Much of the time, Git can merge the two instances automatically. Problems can occur, however, especially if the same line is edited in two different instances of your repository.

NOTE: By two instances of your repository, I mean a scenario like this: one instance might be the your version of your repository at home, and one might be the version of your repository at school. Also consider the case where a team is working together, and team member A and team member B both edit the same file more or less at the same time. If you think about it, you can see that merge conflicts cannot occur if we commit and push our work before we start editing it at a second location. If you push at school before you go home, and pull when you get home, then a merge conflict cannot occur. If team member A pushes his work before team member B pulls and starts editing the shared file, then no conflict can occur. Finally, it is not an error to have a merge conflict. Git is designed to let two people work on the same file at the same time. You just need to understand merge conflicts, and how to resolve those conflicts that Git cannot resolve automatically.

If Git tries to merge versions of your code and cannot do so neatly, you can end up with code that has funny symbols in it, like this:

<<<<<<< HEAD
>>>>>>> 89e8d1f35ea5f393b3e5830d7169e071695b1cca

This means that Git could not cleanly merge two files. Instead, it puts both versions of the disputed code in your file, and leaves it to you to sort it out. In this case you might see a message like this:

$ git pull
remote: Counting objects: 3, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (1/1), done.
remote: Total 3 (delta 2), reused 3 (delta 2), pack-reused 0
Unpacking objects: 100% (3/3), done.
   944f6b5..f290612  master     -> origin/master
CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in
Automatic merge failed; fix conflicts and then commit the result.

When we open up in an editor such as Geany, we might see this:

<<<<<<< HEAD
# Charlie Calvert's Programming 270 Repository
# Charlie Calvert's Prog 270 Repository
>>>>>>> f2906125f41326c09715b178cfc832e0e1ae0800

Here is where I'm putting some of my files from the Prog270 Winter, 2016 class.

This occurs because you had two different versions of README.html that you checked into two different repositories. For instance, you made changes at school, checked them in, then pushed. Then you went home and did not pull the latest changes. Instead, you started making changes at home, checked those in, and tried to push or pull. Suddenly you have two different versions of the same file. They need to be merged, and Git does the best job it can. In this case, that was less than perfect, and you need to edit the file, and merge the two versions yourself. The versions are separated by code that looks like this:

<<<<<<< HEAD
YOUR Version 1 here
YOUR Version 2 here
>>>>>>> 89e8d1f35ea5f393b3e5830d7169e071695b1cca

NOTE: The HEAD is the current version of your repository, and the long string of numbers and letters is the commit ID of some previous version of your repository.

More specifically, in our case, the part of the file with a conflict looks like this:

<<<<<<< HEAD
# Charlie Calvert's Programming 270 Repository
# Charlie Calvert's Prog 270 Repository
>>>>>>> f2906125f41326c09715b178cfc832e0e1ae0800

We can now merge the two instances manually, which means that we can decide which version we want, or we can come up with some third alternative. In this case, I'll merge the lines like this:

# Charlie Calvert's Prog 270 Class Repository

Zooming out to see the entire edited file, it now looks likes this:

# Charlie Calvert's Prog 270 Class Repository

Here is where I'm putting some of my files from the Prog270 Winter, 2016 class.

Note that during the edit I removed the HEAD and funny looking long commit number. They are no longer needed, so I deleted them and came up with a merged copy of the two different versions of the file held in Git.

All is now well. We can add, commit and push/pull, and life returns to normal. It all may seem a bit complicated at first, but frankly, I think that Git chose a simple and intuitive way to handle this whole issue.

Merge Tool

Note that you can also use mergetool to help you with the process of merging two files.

Open up your ~/.gitconfig in Geany:

$ geany ~/.gitconfig

The email, name and push default fields should already be filled out. Add a third item called diff tool and set it to meld. Of course, you can only use meld if you are on a GUI (non-server) instance, and if you have it installed. There are other options you can use, but you will need to research those on your own.

    email =
    name = Charlie on RohanElf
    default = simple
    tool = meld
    tool = meld

To insert the merge tool setting automatically, try:

git config --global merge.tool meld

Or on Windows:

git config --global merge.tool "meld"
git config --global mergetool.meld.path "C:\Program Files (x86)\Meld\Meld\Meld.exe"

NOTE: Besides meld, your options include: opendiff kdiff3 tkdiff xxdiff tortoisemerge gvimdiff diffuse diffmerge ecmerge p4merge araxis bc codecompare emerge vimdiff.

Now, when you hit a conflict, use mergetool:

$ git mergetool


Normal merge conflict for '':
  {local}: modified file
  {remote}: modified file
Hit return to start merge resolution tool (meld):

mergetool will create a file with a name like this as a backup file. Feel free to delete this file if you sure the merge has completed successfully.

Merge Code Example Two {merge-code-two}

Here is a second example of the contents of a file that needs to be manually merged:

<<<<<<< HEAD

        Get User

Login using OpenID

OpenId Image
======= Get User

Login using OpenID

OpenId Image
>>>>>>> 89e8d1f35ea5f393b3e5830d7169e071695b1cca

You can fix all this by editing the files and getting something like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<!-- MidTerm-CanvasGrid  -->
< -- Prog 282                         -->
< -- Spring 2013                      -->
        <title>Get User</title>
    <link href="buttons.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css">

<form method="get" action="/authenticate">
    <p>Login using OpenID</p>
    <img src="../Images/Openid-16x16.gif" alt="OpenId Image" >
    <input name="openid_identifier" />
    <input class="myButton"  type="submit" value="Login" />


The disputed code in a file may be only one line long, as in our first example, or it may be nearly the entirety of a file as it is here. You only need to merge the part that is in dispute.

As a rule, if one part of a file is edited in one place, and a second part of a file is edited in second place, then Git can successfully merge the two versions without producing code like that shown above. However, if the same line, or lines, are edited in two different places (usually by two different people, or the same user in two locations) then there is disputed code that must be merged manually.

When working on these kinds of problems you may see an error message stating that "You may want to first integrate the remote changes before pushing again. See the note about fast-forwards..."

You perhaps understand that the error means that you have to do a git pull, then a git push, in this case.

git pull
git push

You have to do this because the code in the remote GitHub repository is "ahead of" the code in your local repository. In other words, it has changes that have not yet been incorporated into your local repository.

Suppose you and a friend are working on a document called Foo. Your friend has made changes to Foo and checked them in. Now you have your own copy of Foo, and you want to check it in. But if you did that would overwrite his changes. So you have to first pull his changes into your current copy, fix any conflicts that might need to be made after the merge, and then push your copy.

Why is it that you have to perform the merge? Why can't you push your code into the GitHub repository and make the merge there? Because a merge might result in errors. What is in the GitHub repository (the origin) is the canonical version of the code. It should always work. You can't risk creating errors there, but you can risk errors in your local repository. So you pull his changes down, make sure your changes and his changes (the merge) work together, and once you have manually ensured that all is good, then you can push to the main repository.

Copyright © 2017 by Charles Calvert