Getting Started with Git

There are a lot of pages on the web dedicated to Git, this page just shows a few random bits of information which might or might not help you getting started.

Git is a distributed version control system (DVCS) and it’s great!

That’s about all I’m gonna say about it in general, if you want to read more about it, have a look at the links at the end of this page.

Cloning a Repository

To obtain the contents of a remote repository, you have to clone it. For example, to clone the repository where this very page was created from, do:

git clone

This will create a directory named like the repository (in this case homepage/).

cd homepage

Checking the Status

At any time, you can get the current status of your files with:

git status

Here you will see if there are changes to any files of the repository and if there are local files which are not yet part of the repository (see below for how to add files).

Getting Recent Changes from the Server

If the repository on the server changed since you cloned it, you can get up to date with:

git pull

But be aware that if you made changes to your local files, this may lead to conflicts. It’s a good idea to always commit before pulling (see below how to commit changes).

Initial Setup

Before you make your first commit, you should set up a few things (you have to do this only once):

git config --global "Your Name"
git config --global

You may also want to set your favorite editor:

git config --global core.editor "gvim --nofork"

To enable colors in git log et al.:

git config --global color.ui auto

And, if you want, you can set a few aliases for your convenience:

git config --global alias.s "status --short"
git config --global alias.c "checkout"

git config --global "log --oneline --graph --decorate"
git config --global alias.lola "log --oneline --graph --decorate --all"

With these aliases, you can use git s to get a short status display (one line per file) and you can use git c mybranch instead of the significantly longer git checkout mybranch. I find myself using checkout very often, so git c saves a lot of typing.

If you type git lola, you’ll see a nice and colorful ASCII display of the previous commits and their tree structure.

All these options are stored in ~/.gitconfig (or somewhere else depending on your operating system). You can also store settings on a per-project basis. Just drop the --global option and the settings will be stored for your current Git repository in .git/config.

Command Line Prompt

When working with branches, it is crucial to know the currently active branch. To show the current branch in the command line prompt, put this at the end of your ~/.bashrc (or wherever else you store settings for your shell):

# add git branch to prompt
PS1="${PS1%'\$ '}"'$(__git_ps1 " (%s)")'"\$ "

You’ll also see an asterisk, e.g. (master *), if your working directory is dirty, i.e. if you have local changes which are not yet committed.

Committing Changes

Any new files have to be added to Git control before you can do anything with them:

git add myfile.txt

Once you have done some changes, you can make a commit:

git commit -a

Here, your favorite text editor will be opened and you can (and should!) enter a commit message, describing the changes you have made. After you save the file and close the editor, the commit will actually be created.

A commit message should have a short (no more than 50 characters) one-line summary in the first line, then a blank line and then a more detailed description. Have a look at this note about commit messages.

Remember, a commit is a local operation in Git, so nothing was transferred to the server yet.


add before commit, staging area, local commits

Pushing Your Changes to the Server

After one or several commits, you can push everything to the server:

git push

If you created a new online repository and cloned the empty repository, you have to use this command the first time to set up the master branch:

git push origin master

After that, git push will suffice.

Creating and Switching Branches

But you probably don’t want to do that yet. You’re probably not quite sure yet if your changes are OK and you would like to wait with pushing them to the master branch. Probably you would like your colleagues to have a look at your changes first.

That’s where branches come into the picture.

To see what branches you already have, type:

git branch

You’ll probably get something like this:

* master

This means you have only one branch which is called master. This is typically the default branch and most repositories have it but it is just a branch as any other branch. The asterisk marks the currently active branch. You should also see this in your prompt if you did what I suggested in Command Line Prompt.

You can switch between branches with git checkout. But you don’t have another branch to switch to … so let’s create one:

git checkout -b fix-typo

The option -b combines creating a branch with directly switching to the newly created branch.

Your local files didn’t actually change by switching to the new branch because for now, the branches fix-typo and master are just two different names for the same thing. But if you now start committing changes, these commits will end up in the fix-typo branch while the master branch will remain unchanged.

Let’s check our branch-related situation:

git branch

Which produces something like this:

* fix-typo

Now you can actually change something and then commit your changes:

git commit -a


more about branches?

Merging Branches


more information about merging and potential merge conflicts


git mergetool is really useful!

Setting up Vim + fugitive as mergetool:

git config --global mergetool.fugitive.cmd 'gvim -f -c "Gdiff" "$MERGED"'
git config --global merge.tool fugitive

On macOS, you can use FileMerge (you need to have Xcode installed):

git config --global merge.tool opendiff


more advertisement for Vim and fugitive!

More Aliases

Once you’ve worked some time with Git, you will realize that there are a few commands that you use very often. It’s easy to create aliases that make you type less.

I, for example, often use git rebase and afterwards I want to ensure that a fast forward merge is done (instead of a separate merge commit). Therefore, I have to type git merge mybranch --ff-only, which is quite long and tedious to type. With the following alias, I can reduce this to git ff mybranch:

git config --global alias.ff "merge --ff-only"

Sometimes, after a git fetch or git remote update, I want to fast-forward my local branch to its newly fetched remote branch. With my previous alias, I could do git ff origin/mybranch. This is still too long, and Git should be able to automatically figure out which is the correct remote branch. With the following alias, the command is reduced to git ffu:

git config --global alias.ffu "merge --ff-only @{upstream}"

I seldom use git pull, because if there are new commits on both upstream and locally, a merge commit will be created automatically. And I don’t like that. To avoid a merge commit and to only actually merge if a merge commit can be avoided (i.e. if a fast forward merge is possible), we can again use the option --ff-only. With the following alias, I only have to type git pff:

git config --global alias.pff "pull --ff-only --prune"

The additional --prune option is very handy because it removes the remote branches which were deleted on the server (which is not done automatically).

Ignoring Local Files


.gitignore, global ignore file with core.excludesfile, reference to


You can set per-file (or per-path) attributes if you create a file named .gitattributes, for example like this:

*.bib diff=bibtex
*.cpp diff=cpp
*.h diff=cpp
*.htm diff=html
*.html diff=html
*.java diff=java
*.php diff=php
*.py diff=python
*.rb diff=ruby
*.tex diff=tex
*.pbxproj binary

GUIs for Git

There are many GUIs for Git to choose from; I personally like gitg (available as Debian package with the same name) most but there are many more available (see

Getting Help

To get help just use:

git help

You’ll get something like this:

The most commonly used git commands are:
   add        Add file contents to the index
   bisect     Find by binary search the change that introduced a bug
   branch     List, create, or delete branches
   checkout   Checkout a branch or paths to the working tree
   clone      Clone a repository into a new directory
   commit     Record changes to the repository
   diff       Show changes between commits, commit and working tree, etc
   fetch      Download objects and refs from another repository
   grep       Print lines matching a pattern
   init       Create an empty Git repository or reinitialize an existing one
   log        Show commit logs
   merge      Join two or more development histories together
   mv         Move or rename a file, a directory, or a symlink
   pull       Fetch from and integrate with another repository or a local branch
   push       Update remote refs along with associated objects
   rebase     Forward-port local commits to the updated upstream head
   reset      Reset current HEAD to the specified state
   rm         Remove files from the working tree and from the index
   show       Show various types of objects
   status     Show the working tree status
   tag        Create, list, delete or verify a tag object signed with GPG

See 'git help <command>' or 'git help <concept>' to read about a specific
subcommand or concept.

Public Git Hosting Sites

There are several free Git hosting services available, for an overview visit


I probably should write about these, too:

  • pushing and pulling branches
  • adding remotes
  • merging
  • rebasing
  • interactive rebasing
  • cherry-picking
  • git stash