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Recovering from an unsuccessful Git rebase

Rebasing in Git can be a powerful tool to streamline commit history and keep your project’s timeline clean and organized. However, it’s not uncommon to encounter issues during the rebasing process that cause you to panic.

Identify the problem

Before you begin the recovery process, you need to determine exactly what went wrong with the recovery. The most common problems include conflicts, unexpected changes, or accidental termination of the rebasing process. Understanding the problem helps you choose the appropriate recovery strategy.

Abort the rebase

If you’re in the middle of a rebase gone wrong, you must cancel it.

Open your terminal and run the following command:

$ git rebase --abort

This command resets your repository to the state it was in before the rebase attempt, preserving your original commits.

Resolve conflicts

In many cases, if the rebase isn’t successful, there will be conflicts between your changes and the changes in the branch you’re rebasing to. Git pauses the rebase process and prompts you to resolve these conflicts manually.

Use the git status command to determine which files have conflicts. Open each conflicted file in your code editor and resolve the conflicts by selecting the desired changes. After you resolve all conflicts, add the files to the staging area:

$ git add <file1> <file2> ...

Once you’ve resolved all conflicts, proceed to rebase by running this command:

$ git rebase --continue

Recover lost commits

If you accidentally aborted the rebase or encountered other problems, such as a hard reset or a detached HEAD, you need to restore lost commits. Git keeps a reference log (called a reflog for short) of recent branch history that you can use to recover lost commits.

To view the reflog of your branch, use:

$ git reflog

Identify the entry where the rebase failed, and note the commit hash. Then reset your branch to that commit:

$ git reset --hard <commit-hash>

This action returns your branch to the state it was in before you started the rebase.

Backing up your work

Before you start the restore process, create a backup branch to back up your current work. In this case, if the restore process goes wrong, you can always return to your previous state without losing your changes.

To create a backup branch, run the following command:

$ git checkout -b backup-branch

Consult documentation and online resources

If the issues you face with your rebase are unique or particularly difficult, don’t hesitate to consult the Git documentation or search online for solutions. The Git community is huge and chances are someone has already encountered a similar problem and is sharing their solution.

Websites like Stack Overflow, the official Git documentation and various Git-focused forums can be valuable resources for finding answers to your specific rebase problems.

Seek help from peers

Contact your colleagues or other developers. Share your problem with them and they may give you insights or suggestions you have not thought of yet.

Learn from your mistakes

Take the time to analyze the cause of the problem and figure out how to avoid it in the future. Git can be very complex, but solving these challenges makes you become a more proficient user.

Recovering from an unsuccessful rebase in Git is a task that any developer may encounter at some point. By following these steps, you can regain control of your project and get back on track. Identify the problem and use the tools and resources available to overcome the obstacle. Git is a powerful version control system and with practice, you’ll get better at dealing with the rebase challenges.

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash


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