Git & Source Control

Guidelines for using Git source control Edit

Table of Contents

  1. Naming branches, commits, and pull-requests
  2. Force Pushing
    1. To Master
    2. To Your Own Branch
    3. To Someone Else’s Branch
    4. To A Merged Branch
    5. To Remove Sensitive Data
  3. Commit messages
    1. Content
      1. Example
      2. Links to issue trackers
    2. Tense
    3. Structure
      1. Example
    4. Recommended blog posts on this topic

Naming branches, commits, and pull-requests

We orchestrate most of our work using a ticketing system (Jira). Assuming a ticket ID’d AB-123 and titled “Install the Mr Fusion”,

Rationale: having a consistent convention enables integrations. For instance, the above ensures that commits and PRs are reported into Jira, making it possible for someone to traverse links to read a story’s implementation instead of searching.

Note that git-whistles will do most of this for you: naming the branch right, the PR when issuing it, and even pasting the ticket description into your PR for better reviewer comfort!

Force Pushing

Force pushing is one of the destructive functions of git in that it unconditionally overwrites the remote repository with whatever you have locally, possibly overwriting any changes that a team member has pushed in the meantime.

You may want to amend or squash commits to keep a clean history, but know that this is a nice to have, and shouldn’t be used when it will inhibit others to continue working uninterrupted.

When force pushing always use --force-with-lease to ensure there are no remote changes you may destroy by accident.

Remember, when performing destructive commands that effect remote: Communication is key.

To Master

Never. This is something that should never be done by anyone. Master should always be protected from force pushing and this should never be removed. If you need to undo something that is in master revert commits that are causing you issues and pr them in.

To Your Own Branch

Yes. If no one else is working on it and you created the branch then force push at will. If someone has come and asked you if they can add something to your branch then check with them before force pushing anything.

To Someone Else’s Branch

Sometimes. Talk to them about this before modifying their branch to ensure you know the full situation before force pushing.

To A Merged Branch

Never. Force pushing a branch that has been merged to a branch that has a large exposure (for example staging or master) is not recommended. Merging to that branch again will be messy and problematic, and force pushing the branch with exposure will be even more so.

To Remove Sensitive Data

Yes. If sensitive data has been pushed by accident (private keys, stats or other company secrets) force push in accordance with the other rules (where possible) to expunge them from git history. Know that any information pushed should be deemed compromised and that anyone with a checkout of the code may retain a copy on their machine and any third parties (Github, Travis etc) whom might have caching that keeps the data alive. Notify senior staff of the issue and coordinate with them to get it sorted.

Commit messages

Writing good commit messages is important. Not just for yourself, but for other developers on your project. This includes:


A good commit message briefly summarises the “what” for scanning purposes, but also includes the “why”. If the “what” in the message isn’t enough, the diff is there as a fallback. This isn’t true for the “why” of a change - this can be much harder or impossible to reconstruct, but is often of great significance.


ABC-123: Set cache headers


ABC-123: Set cache headers

IE 6 was doing foo, so we need to do X.
See for more details.

A link to a ticket in an issue tracker should not be seen as an alternative to writing a commit message.

While a link can add some extra context for people reviewing a pull-request, the commit message should stand on its own. There’s no guarantee that the link will continue to work in the future when someone is looking through the commit history to understand why a change was made.


Write commit messages in the present tense. This follows the Git conventions (matching messages generated by commands like merge and revert). It also makes more sense when it’s quoted in a revert commit. So for example “Fix bug” and not “Fixed bug”.


Commit messages should start with a one-line summary no longer than 50 characters. Various Git tools (including GitHub) use this as the commit summary, so you should format it like an email subject, with a leading capital and no full stop. For example:

AB-123: Leverage the best synergies going forward

You should leave a blank line before the rest of the commit message, which you should wrap at around 72 characters: this makes it easier to view commit messages in a terminal.


Taken from Tim Pope’s guidelines.

Capitalized, short (50 chars or less) summary

More detailed explanatory text, if necessary. Wrap it to about 72 characters or so. In some contexts, the first line is treated as the subject of an email and the rest of the text as the body. The blank line separating the summary from the body is critical (unless you omit the body entirely); tools like rebase can get confused if you run the two together.

Write your commit message in the present tense: “Fix bug” and not “Fixed bug.” This convention matches up with commit messages generated by commands like git merge and git revert.

Further paragraphs come after blank lines.

  • Bullet points are okay, too
  • Typically a hyphen or asterisk is used for the bullet, preceded by a single space, with blank lines in between, but conventions vary here
  • Use a hanging indent