Git Tip of the Day – recover lost commits

Today’s tip will be a little different. I found an interesting information about recovering lost commits in the Pro Git book. And because this book is under CC BY-NC-SA licence, I’ll copy the whole section (slightly modified) here. No sense in re-writing it. Of course the license still applies for that text below.


At some point in your Git journey, you may accidentally lose a commit. Generally, this happens because you force-delete a branch that had work on it, and it turns out you wanted the branch after all; or you hard-reset a branch, thus abandoning commits that you wanted something from. Assuming this happens, how can you get your commits back?

Here’s an example that hard-resets the master branch in your test repository to an older commit and then recovers the lost commits. First, let’s review where your repository is at this point:

$ git log --pretty=oneline
ab1afef80fac8e34258ff41fc1b867c702daa24b modified repo a bit
484a59275031909e19aadb7c92262719cfcdf19a added repo.rb
1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9 third commit
cac0cab538b970a37ea1e769cbbde608743bc96d second commit
fdf4fc3344e67ab068f836878b6c4951e3b15f3d first commit

Now, move the master branch back to the middle commit:

$ git reset --hard 1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9
HEAD is now at 1a410ef third commit
$ git log --pretty=oneline
1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9 third commit
cac0cab538b970a37ea1e769cbbde608743bc96d second commit
fdf4fc3344e67ab068f836878b6c4951e3b15f3d first commit

You’ve effectively lost the top two commits — you have no branch from which those commits are reachable. You need to find the latest commit SHA and then add a branch that points to it. The trick is finding that latest commit SHA — it’s not like you’ve memorized it, right?

Often, the quickest way is to use a tool called git reflog. As you’re working, Git silently records what your HEAD is every time you change it. Each time you commit or change branches, the reflog is updated. You can see where you’ve been at any time by running git reflog:

$ git reflog
1a410ef HEAD@{0}: 1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9: updating HEAD
ab1afef HEAD@{1}: ab1afef80fac8e34258ff41fc1b867c702daa24b: updating HEAD

Here we can see the two commits that we have had checked out, however there is not much information here. To see the same information in a much more useful way, we can run git log -g, which will give you a normal log output for your reflog.

$ git log -g
commit 1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9
Reflog: HEAD@{0} (Scott Chacon <schacon@gmail.com>)
Reflog message: updating HEAD
Author: Scott Chacon <schacon@gmail.com>
Date:   Fri May 22 18:22:37 2009 -0700

    third commit

commit ab1afef80fac8e34258ff41fc1b867c702daa24b
Reflog: HEAD@{1} (Scott Chacon <schacon@gmail.com>)
Reflog message: updating HEAD
Author: Scott Chacon <schacon@gmail.com>
Date:   Fri May 22 18:15:24 2009 -0700

     modified repo a bit

It looks like the bottom commit is the one you lost, so you can recover it by creating a new branch at that commit. For example, you can start a branch named recover-branch at that commit (ab1afef):

$ git branch recover-branch ab1afef
$ git log --pretty=oneline recover-branch
ab1afef80fac8e34258ff41fc1b867c702daa24b modified repo a bit
484a59275031909e19aadb7c92262719cfcdf19a added repo.rb
1a410efbd13591db07496601ebc7a059dd55cfe9 third commit
cac0cab538b970a37ea1e769cbbde608743bc96d second commit
fdf4fc3344e67ab068f836878b6c4951e3b15f3d first commit

Cool — now you have a branch named recover-branch that is where your master branch used to be, making the first two commits reachable again. Next, suppose your loss was for some reason not in the reflog — you can simulate that by removing recover-branch and deleting the reflog. Now the first two commits aren’t reachable by anything:

$ git branch -D recover-branch
$ rm -Rf .git/logs/

Because the reflog data is kept in the .git/logs/ directory, you effectively have no reflog. How can you recover that commit at this point? One way is to use the git fsck utility, which checks your database for integrity. If you run it with the --full option, it shows you all objects that aren’t pointed to by another object:

$ git fsck --full
dangling blob d670460b4b4aece5915caf5c68d12f560a9fe3e4
dangling commit ab1afef80fac8e34258ff41fc1b867c702daa24b
dangling tree aea790b9a58f6cf6f2804eeac9f0abbe9631e4c9
dangling blob 7108f7ecb345ee9d0084193f147cdad4d2998293

In this case, you can see your missing commit after the dangling commit. You can recover it the same way, by adding a branch that points to that SHA.


Enjoy!

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Git Tip of the Day – recover lost commits

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