Rebasing without `git rebase`

My git workflow involves creating a lot of short-lived branches (a.k.a. feature branches), switching between them and, sometimes, I need to rebase one of these branches. git rebase is a super useful git command and I recommend everyone to get more familiar with it (take a look at git rebase in depth for instance).

My feature branches usually contain a single commit (of interest) and when there are more commits, my team at $WORK uses the squash and merge button anyway. In other words, I do not care much about the history of a short-lived git branch. Using this approach, executing git rebase is straightforward and there is usually little to no conflict to handle.

That being said, it can be tricky to perform a rebase sometimes (for example, when the main branch has changed a lot after someone ran a code formatter on the entire codebase). Such a situation could also occur when one merges the main branch into the feature branch, resulting in a merge commit like Merge branch 'main' into feature-branch.

Attempting a rebase in these situations will convince a lot of people that git rebase is awful but we can achieve pretty much the same result using a different git command: git merge with the --squash option. Here is how I proceed to rebase a branch named feature-branch without git rebase:

  1. make sure the main branch is up to date locally first:

     $ git checkout main
     $ git pull origin main
  2. “rename” the branch to rebase to feature-branch-2:

     $ git checkout feature-branch
     $ git branch --move feature-branch-2
  3. recreate the branch feature-branch based on the main branch:

     $ git checkout main
     $ git checkout -b feature-branch
  4. git merge the temporary branch with squash:

     $ git merge --squash feature-branch-2
  5. Now, commit and force push feature-branch to update the Pull/Merge Request 🎉 The temporary branch can be safely deleted at this point.

That’s it! Note that some of the commands above could be combined to be more efficient but I do not use this procedure a lot so I do not mind.

Bonus: a few years ago I learned about git commit --fixup so I often pass --autosquash to git rebase (and sometimes --autostash too). Take a look at these options if you do not know about them already :)

Feel free to fork and edit this post if you found a typo, thank you so much! This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Photo used on social media by Yancy Min.


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