Visualize `git reflog` in a GUI (and put it in context) with SmartGit

Published 2017-09-28, 11:31

Recently I messed up an important git repository that I was working on. I had created some content in a specific file a few weeks ago. After multiple merges, commit squashing, git reset, rebases and other types of history rewrites  I noticed that this content was missing.

Oh-oh, seems what everybody warns you about when rewriting history happened: I lost some stuff.

But lucky for me, git never really deletes anything. Even if you do stupid things, each commit that was there before still is – just orphaned and without a connection to your normal branches.

Unlucky for me the tool to fix this is called git reflog and not supported by my usual git GUIs that I use, SourceTree and GitKraken.

I tried to use git reflog on the command line, but to be honest this didn’t help much. reflog just outputs a list of changes to the repository, and you have to sift through these manually to find the one you are looking for. There is no context which files where changed or what changes to these files were made. (Disclaimer: There probably is a way to work around this with some bash scripts – here or here for example – but I have no idea about how exactly. That’s why I normally use a GUI.) I had no idea when in the last month stuff broke, so I had no idea where to start looking.

After quite some time googling around I (re)found SmartGit.
SmartGit is also a Git GUI and calls itself „Git for Professionals.“. This means it doesn’t look as fancy as SourceTree or Gitkraken (its design reminded me of working in the Delphi IDE back in the day…), but it is indeed powerful. And most importantly, it can visualize lost commits in a way that is useful!

Funny enough this feature is only very lightly mentioned in the documentation, so here is how it works:

How to visualize lost and „orphaned“ commits with SmartGit

We are looking for the „Recyclable Commits“ branch in the „Log“ view: Open the repository in SmartGit, right click on the repository in the „Repositories“ panel,  select „Log“ in the context menu, then in the opened „Log“ view, select „Recyclable Commits“ in the „Branches“ panel additionally to the already selected branch or „HEAD“:

The light orange-dot entries (vs. the bold black-dot ones) are the „orphans“ that are not part of the current tree any more.

You can filter these down by using a „Filter“ input, which optionally can search for File name and even File content! (So I could just type the filename I knew I had put my content into, and look only through these relevant commits – and even search for a few words I knew I wrote about in the file – how awesome is that!)

Important and super useful is that these commits are shown in the context of the current tree, so you can click the individual commits and see the file changes it includes, click the files to see the diff as you normally would. So much easier than on the command line.

After you found the missing commit, either copy the text over to your editor manually or cherry pick that commit with all its changes to your current branch by right clicking on it and selecting „Cherry-Pick…“. Then commit as usual (and dance a bit as you just saved a few days of work).

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