Life With Pull Requests

I've been party to a number of discussions with folks contributing to pull-request-based projects on Github (and other hosts, but mostly Github). Because of Git's innate flexibility, there are lots of ways to work with pull requests. Here's mine.

I use a couple of naming conventions here that are not stock git:

  • origin is the repository to which you publish proposed changes, and

  • upstream is the repository from which you receive ongoing development, and which will receive your changes if they are accepted.

One-time setup

Do these things once, when starting out on a project. Keep the results around for later.

I'll be referring to the original project repository as upstream and pretending its push URL is UPSTREAM-URL below. In real life, the URL will often be something like

Fork the project

Use the repo manager's forking tool to create a copy of the project in your own namespace. This generally creates your copy with a bunch of useless tat; feel free to ignore all of this, as the only purpose of this copy is to provide somewhere for you to publish your changes.

We'll be calling this repository origin later. Assume it has a URL, which I'll abbreviate ORIGIN-URL, for git push to use.

(You can leave this step for later, but if you know you're going to do it, why not get it out of the way?)

Clone the project and configure it

You'll need a clone locally to do work in. Create one from origin:

git clone ORIGIN-URL some-local-name

While you're here, cd into it and add the original project as a remote:

cd some-local-name
git remote add upstream UPSTREAM-URL

Feature process

Do these things for each feature you work on. To switch features, just use git checkout my-feature.

Create a new feature branch locally

We use upstream's master branch here, so that your feature includes all of upstream's state initially. We also need to make sure our local cache of upstream's state is correct:

git fetch upstream
git checkout upstream/master -b my-feature

Do work

If you need my help here, stop now.

Integrate upstream changes

If you find yourself needing something that's been added upstream, use rebase to integrate it to avoid littering your feature branch with “meaningless” merge commits.

git checkout my-feature
git fetch upstream
git rebase upstream/master

Publish your branch

When you're “done,” publish your branch to your personal repository:

git push origin my-feature

Then visit your copy in your repo manager's web UI and create a pull request for my-feature.

Integrating feedback

Very likely, your proposed changes will need work. If you use history-editing to integrate feedback, you will need to use --force when updating the branch:

git push --force origin my-feature

This is safe provided two things are true:

  1. The branch has not yet been merged to the upstream repo.
  2. You are only force-pushing to your fork, not to the upstream repo.

Generally, no other users will have work based on your pull request, so force-pushing history won't cause problems.