Imagine a bacon-wrapped Ferrari. Still not better than our free technical reports.
See all our reports

Git Commands and Best Practices Cheat Sheet

Git Cheat Sheet by RebelLabs

Given the success of both our Java 8 Best Practices Cheat Sheet and our Java 8 Streams Cheat Sheet, it looks like cheat sheets are going to become ‘a thing’ for RebelLabs!

Git cheat sheet

In this post, we’re looking at the most successful source code management tool available today, Git. With every great tool, there is a CLI which compliments all the great features and options, which leads to a vast number of things you need to remember and be expected to recall within a keystrokes notice.

If like me, your memory is as lethargic as an asthmatic ant carrying heavy shopping, you might just need a hand — or in this case, a cheat sheet! Here we’ll bring you a one-page Git cheat sheet rich with the Git commands of champions, the gems that make your SCM a pleasure to work with, the… ok, enough’s enough, let’s get down to business. You can and maybe already have clicked the Git cheat sheet image at the top of this page which provides you with a printable pdf version. If you haven’t, here’s a more conventional button for the less adventurous among you.


Join me on our Git journey as we examine a typical SCM workflow, highlighting some best practices as we go. On this voyage, we’ll cover the commands we feature on the cheat sheet in more detail.

Where shall we start?

Well, we’ll start at the beginning of course! In the beginning, Git created init and clone. Both of which give you a repository in which you can manage your source code. The difference being of course that you would use the init command to create a repository from scratch, whereas you’d use clone to literally clone, or copy an existing repository into the directory you ran the command from. Once this is done, we’re able to start our workflow! Here are the two examples in action, on the ZipRebel project:

$ git init myProject
Initialized empty Git repository in /Users/sjmaple/myProject/.git/

And as a clone:

$ git clone
Cloning into 'ziprebel'...
remote: Counting objects: 94, done.
remote: Total 94 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 94
Unpacking objects: 100% (94/94), done.
Checking connectivity... done.

This cheat sheet is brought to you by XRebel, a tool to remind you about your app performance when you are actually working on it, not later when your clients think it is already slow. If you're working with any Java web applications, you should try it. It might change your attitude towards performance. Try XRebel! this-cheatsheet-is-brought-to-you-by-xrebel


If we were to create a new feature for example, we should consider creating a new branch for all of our feature code. This is an important best practice in my opinion as keeping your new feature code separate from other changes in your master allows you to easily switch back and forth between branches without cross-polluting your code. So how do we create our branches? Well that bit is easy! Simply use the branch command passing in the name you’d like to call it, as follows:

$ git branch feature/unzip

In this case we’ve been very sensible with our naming so it’s clear to read from the branch name that we’re creating the unzip feature for our ZipRebel project. Although there was no feedback from this command, we can view all our branches by using the same command, but without a parameter:

$ git branch
* master

We can see a couple of things. First of all, we see our new branch has been created, and secondly, our active branch we’re working on is master, rather than the new branch. Incidentally, you can view all branches, including remote branches by adding a couple of flags: git branch -av. We want to jump into the feature/unzip branch to begin coding our new feature, so to switch branches we’ll use the checkout command:

$ git checkout feature/unzip
Switched to branch 'feature/unzip'

This will switch our branch and update our working directory should the code bases be different. As we’ve only just created this new branch of course, there are no updates.

Time for a Change

Let’s make a change to our code — first we’ll… whooaooaaaaa there! We’re going to use terminology here which we’ll need to explain and point at a state diagram to understand fully. Check out this image:


Pretty, isn’t it. Files in our working directory that contains all our files can be edited and changed at any time, but that does not change where they sit in the diagram above until you perform a git command on them. To see the state of all the files in your project, use the following command which will soon be engrained in your mind:

$ git status
On branch feature/unzip
nothing to commit, working directory clean

Let’s work on the flow of making a couple of changes and see how this updates our status message. Simply by editing a couple of files and not performing any other command other than a git status gives us the following:

$ git status
On branch feature/unzip
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

	modified:   src/main/java/org/zeroturnaround/ziprebel/
	modified:   src/test/java/org/zeroturnaround/ziprebel/

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

This show us we’ve modified a couple of files but haven’t added them to staging (note that staging is also referred to as the index too) ready for our next commit. We can add our files to the staging, or stage our files, by using the git add command by referencing each file individually, groups of files or adding a wildcard which adds all modified files. We’ll do the latter now:

$ git add .

…to the sound of silence! However running the git status command will show us it succeeded:

$ git status
On branch feature/unzip
Changes to be committed:
  (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)

	modified:   src/main/java/org/zeroturnaround/ziprebel/
	modified:   src/test/java/org/zeroturnaround/ziprebel/

Now we see that git recognizes the modified files as the changes to be committed. Feels good to be on the same page as your version control system, doesn’t it? You’ll see the HEAD token used in the output here. The HEAD is a pointer or reference to the current branch. At this point we could choose to unstage our file by running git reset on a file which keeps changes to that file, make further changes that we can stage, or commit our changes to the local repository. Let’s do the latter:

$ git commit -m "Added unzip capability"
[feature/unzip 05db2cc] Added unzip capability
 2 files changed, 2 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

We could have done both the add and commit in the same command if we knew we’re making a small change and we know there’s nothing else to commit, by running the following command while we had modified files that were not yet in staging:

$ git commit -am "Added unzip capability"
[feature/unzip 8c10510] Added unzip capability
 2 files changed, 2 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

The -a flag will add all tracked files from the working directory into staging before performing the commit. (Note that newly created files in your working directory are untracked until you manually add them). But wait, what does a commit even mean? Well that’s a great question! Essentially a git commit records a snapshot of your changes, marks your name, email address and commit message giving you a commit id. In our case above, we were given ids 05db2cc and 8c10510 for our example commits. These can be used later to troubleshoot, blame or pinpoint moments in time of code. Talking of blame, git blame is a fun command that annotates each line in a file with information about who was last to change each line of code and in which commit etc. This could output a fair bit of text, so consider using a line range -L flag to limit the output to something manageable.

What’s the Difference?

When a file can exist in multiple places with different content, it’s important to understand what has changed between the places. For example, I might want to know what the differences are between my workspace file and my staging file. Well a number of options are available. In fact the diff command is an extremely useful command with many use cases. We’ll cover a few here.

First of all let’s consider you want to compare all changes between your working directory and your staging area. That’s easy! Just call git diff! If you want to compare your staging area with your local repository, you can call git diff --cached. Equally simple. You can even compare files across a couple of commits, by using their commit ids, like this: git diff 05db2cc 8c10510. It’s a powerful tool, so make sure you use git diff --help to view all possibilites to find what’s right for your use case.

Finally, once you’ve completed your feature development in your new branch, you’ll need to merge it back into the main branch. So first of all go to the branch you want to merge your feature branch into. In this case we’ll run git checkout master. Next we call the merge command passing in the branch which we want to merge into our active branch. So we run git merge feature/unzip. All being well, our code will be automatically merged and we don’t have to worry about a single thing! However, life being the pain in the proverbial that it is, our merge might have a conflict that we have to solve! The git status command will help you understand where the conflict exists. If you open the file, you’ll notice some markers: <<<<<<<, >>>>>>>, and =======, that surround the lines that conflict, including the changes that each branch is trying achieve.

Now we’re at a fork in the road. What should we do? Well obviously you write the best code, so you could delete the opposing conflict code keeping your own followed by a new commit into the main branch. Alternatively, although rather unlikely, this other developer wrote better code than you so you might choose their code above your’s before committing. More likely however, you’ll need to create a mutant hybrid of the two changes and check in frankenstein’s monster code into the main branch. In any case you will need to fix the file, and then add and commit the change to enjoy the results of your masterful conflict resolution skills.

Let’s go remote

So far all of our changes, including our repository changes have been local. We haven’t even touched our remote repository or mentioned it even, since our git clone all the way up back at the start of our post. At some stage we’ll need to sync up our local and remote repositories and we have a few commands that can help us achieve this: pull, push and fetch.

Let’s start with what happens if we have an out of date local repository. This can happen if others update the remote repository with new features, bug fixes and code. We want to grab these changes, in fact I wanted to say pull or fetch, but didn’t want to reuse the command names, and update our local repository with the latest and greatest code. The least intrusive way of doing this is by using the fetch command, which grabs all the latest commits from the remote repository and imports them into a remote branch. Note here that it doesn’t add them into a local branch in your workspace. Note that you can view remote branches with git branch -av as mentioned previously. If could merge manually from here if you chose to. Alternatively, instead of using the fetch command, you could call git pull, which performs a git fetch followed by a git merge under the covers. Another trick you can use is git pull --rebase, which performs a git fetch followed by a git rebase. What’s a rebase I hear you cry? It’s a mechanism that allows you to apply your local commits on top of the incoming commits, rather than to have two chains in parallel that need to be merged.

Lastly, the push command is pretty much the opposite of a git fetch. We’re simply transferring commits from our local repository to our remote repository. There’s always the possibility some files can be overwritten here, so be careful!

That’s all folks

I hope you found this git cheat sheet useful and I’d love to hear your git tips and tricks or your favorite git commands! There are many more I’d love to have added into this one-page Git cheat sheet, but it just wouldn’t have then remained a one-page cheat sheet! Tell me in the comments what your most common tips and tricks are.

Print the pdf version of the Git cheat sheet:

Read next:

  • wdarking

    nice, gonna set this as wallpaper

  • How you even work with git if you need cheat sheet for such basic stuff?

  • Simon Maple

    Great! Glad you like it!

  • Simon Maple

    Everyone’s at a different level. If you’re using git every day all the time, I’m sure most of this is engrained in your head. But for those who aren’t as lucky, or if your memory is plain as bad as mine, hopefully it’s of some use to people :)

  • But you wrote Best Practices and haven’t say a word about git-flow

  • Also git rm –cached worth a mention, as you sometimes want to remove files from index, keeping it in working directory. But rm could scare the hell out of you.

  • zeitgeb3r

    git-flow is best practiced for waterfall type releases.
    For continuous delivery or continuous deployment, use trunk driven development, not git-flow, because you want to be able to integrate early and often so that you get that very tight feedback loop when things are not right with the codebase and you want to discover integration problems as soon as possible.

  • Nice cheatsheet, just missing stash and deleting a remote branch. But the latter is probably a safety feature ;-)

  • great Simon. Loved all cheat sheets

  • continuous delivery does not met strong quality standards

  • Thierry Wasylczenko

    Awesome, as always ! Cheers

  • Christophe Hollebeke

    Awesome! Thanks for this useful cheat sheet.