Getting changes from upstream in Git

If you’ve ever clicked the fork button on GitHub, you’ll find yourself with a snapshot of the code. You think about working on the changes for a bit, but you decide to leave it for the afternoon and come back to it later.

Then, you look back at the original repository, and suddenly see that those guys have made some changes, committed them, and pushed them online. You can tell, because it’s right there!

But your copy doesn’t have those changes. What gives?

Two repositories side by side. On the left is the original where maintainers have made a few new commits. On the right hand side is my fork

Here’s an example of where my fork hasn’t yet kept up with the official repo. Note the message on the right: “This branch is 3 commits behind”.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it’s probably a good idea to pull the changes from the original repository before you make your own modifications. I mean, it’s possible to make your own beforehand, but that can make things a lot more messy. Plus, if you want to contribute back to the original project, being able to pull those changes is essential.

So, if you open up your terminal and browse to your copy of the repository, you will discover that it has one remote, like this:

~/my-repo $ git remote

The Git documentation has this to say about a remote:

Remote repositories are versions of your project that are hosted on the Internet or network somewhere. You can have several of them, each of which generally is either read-only or read/write for you. Collaborating with others involves managing these remote repositories and pushing and pulling data to and from them when you need to share work.

The origin repo is most likely to be the master repo from your fork. In order to get our updates, we need to add a remote repository to the configuration so we can pull the changes into our repo:

~/my-repo $ git remote add upstream
~/my-repo $ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)
upstream (fetch)
upstream (push)

You can substitute `upstream` for any name, but it’s always a good idea to use a descriptive name.

Now we’ve done that, we can fetch those new changes, with `git pull upstream master`. The order matters in this case—the first argument (`upstream`) is the remote we want to pull from, and the second (`master`) is the branch that we want to pull into.

You should now have the latest changes to start working on things!

# But I’ve already committed my files!
No need to panic! You just need to pull as you have before. If you’re lucky, the changes made will automatically merge. But you might run into this message:

~/my-repo $ git pull upstream
remote: Counting objects: 3, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
remote: Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
Unpacking objects: 100% (3/3), done.
   5ccaa0e..60e80ce  master     -> origin/master
CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in
Automatic merge failed; fix conflicts and then commit the result.

This can happen if you’ve happened to edit the same file as the others. So you’ll need to resolve this conflict before we can keep going. So if we open up, you’ll see your file, but it has a few extra things:

<<<<<<< HEAD
This is a readme from Megacorp

>>>>>>> 60e80ce224f9e6ebdfc38a9b0182cd1a35bedb4e

The lines from <<<<<<< to ======= refers to the changes that are in your repo, and from ======= to >>>>>>> refers to the changes made upstream.

So, to fix this, we can:

  1. Keep our changes only
  2. Keep the changes from upstream, or
  3. Make a new change entirely

To go about any of these processes, we have to delete a few lines. The markers for one have to go. Say we want to do option 2, and keep only their changes, the modified file would look like this:

This is a readme from Megacorp

Note in this case, Megacorp decided to add an extra line at the end of the document.

Commit our changes, and we’re done!

~/my-repo $ git add
~/my-repo $ git commit -m "Resolve readme conflict with upstream"
[master 4f8c41f] Resolve readme conflict with upstream

Hopefully this has helped with getting your work in!

Other useful links

Here’s some other resources I think will help you resolve your conflicts when pulling in the latest work from a repo:


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