Moving Commits with Git Cherry-Pick

On the weekend, while working on NetNewsWire, I ran into a source-control situation that made me spend a lot of time learning about how to move Git commits from one branch to another.

For whatever reason, I made my changes on the main branch and, once the work was done, I opened a first pull request against the NetNewsWire/main branch. Maurice Parker kindly reminded me that the PR should be opened against the mac-candidate branch, so I closed that PR and took a look at the situation.

Here’s what my fork of the NetNewsWire repository looked like:

“Branch diagram of origin vs. upstream commits for original pull request”

The branch named origin is my fork of the original, upstream, NetNewsWire repo. Here’s what the branch diagram needed to look like:

“Branch diagram of origin vs. upstream commits for required pull request”

Right.

So, here’s something you should know about my experience with Git: so long as I stick to a very simple, branch-commit-merge strategy, everything’s fine. I’ve even figured out how to keep my forked origin updated and in sync with upstream repos, like a good contributor.

But anything more complicated than that? Ugh. 😬

I knew what I needed to do — I had to move my commits from my main branch, in order, onto my candidate branch, and then open a new PR. After spending about a half hour making a good, solid, mess of my fork, I finally stumbled upon the answer: Git cherry-pick.

Like almost anything on the official Git documentation site, I personally find the docs on cherry-picking unhelpful at best, inscrutable at worst — I’m more of a visual person, I guess, so I found this StackOverflow answer to be much more useful in figuring out what it means to cherry-pick a commit in Git.

The process is actually pretty straightforward:

# Switch to the branch you want to move the commits to:
% git checkout mac-candidate

# Cherry-pick each commit, in order, using their commit hash,
# until you've moved them all to the intended branch:
% git cherry-pick 12ab34c

That’s… about it. Like I said, though, I’m a visual person, so I found it helpful to do this in GitKraken (you can use this referral link if you’re interested in trying it out), where I can just right-click on the commit I want to move, choose cherry-pick from the context menu, and watch as it gets applied to my mac-candidate branch. It definitely made it easier to make sure I didn’t miss any commits or screw up the order.

Once that was done, all I had to do was open a new pull request (against the correct branch, this time) and the work was done!

Angelo Stavrow

Montreal, Canada
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Tinkerer with a strong interest for development, of both the personal and software persuasion; easily defeated with spatulas. Equal measures enthusiasm and concern for tech's effect on the world. He/him.