Gitting the commit message right

Gitting the commit message right

It’s not uncommon for a developer to discover that a certain commit message is off the mark and needs revision. Like with most things in Git, this can be achieved in more than one way.

Using `git commit --amend`

The command fires up a message editor with the previous commit’s message as the starting point, instead of an empty one. With the --amend option, the new commit replaces the tip of the current branch. Care should be taken, since all staged contents will be committed after running this command. If a simple message edit is all one has in mind, the index should be empty. However, the working directory might have changes and they will not be affected.

# fires up message editor
git commit --amend

# pass message on command line
git commit --amend -m "New Message"

Using git rebase

If the commit to be fixed is not the most recent one, then one can look to rebase. With rebase :

# get commitId with git reflog
git rebase --interactive 

# alternatively, to edit previous n commits
git rebase -i HEAD~n

This brings up an editor listing all the commits since the mentioned one. Change pick toreword for any of the commits listed. For editing commits beyond the commit message, change to edit.

For each commit that one wants to reword, Git drops into the editor; for every edit, into the shell. After the required changes have been made to a commit :

# to continue editing commits with rebase
git rebase --continue

# OR
git commit --amend

# to abort rebase
git rebase --abort

Pushing changes upstream post edit

Dealing with unpublished changes is easy. A simple git push will be sufficient.

git push  

force push publishes an amended commit that has already been pushed to the remote repo.

git push --force  

Note the two major side-effects of a forced-push :

The remote branch in over-written. All commits to the remote that have not been merged with the local branch will be lost.

The history of the publicly-shared branch will be re-written. This might imply problems for other team-members who have copies of the old commits that have been deleted upstream. Hence, team coordination is important when going through with such a change. See the Recovering from Upstream Rebase section of the manpage on git rebase.


  1. Git Docs: Rebase
  2. Git Book: Rewriting History
  3. Rewriting History with Git Rebase

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