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Git Reset Like a Pro



In this comprehensive guide, we dive into the intricate world of git reset, a powerful tool in the Git version control system. We’ll explore its various use cases, demystifying the command and its options to empower developers with the confidence to harness its full potential. Whether you’re correcting a commit, managing branches, or tidying up your repository, understanding git reset is key to navigating these scenarios with expertise.

Image: Git Reset Like Pro

Git’s reset command can be intimidating, but with the right knowledge, it becomes an indispensable part of your development toolkit. We’ll break down each reset option, providing real-world examples and scenarios where each is most effective. By the end of this article, you’ll not only grasp the technicalities of git reset but also appreciate its strategic value in managing your codebase.

Understanding Git Reset

Git reset is a fundamental command in the Git version control system, offering the flexibility to undo changes in a repository’s history. This command is crucial for maintaining a clean and accurate project history, an essential aspect of efficient team collaboration and project management in software development.

In the realm of version control, git reset plays a pivotal role. It allows developers to revert to previous states of their code, effectively erasing recent changes while keeping the work intact. This capability is particularly useful for correcting errors, adjusting commits before sharing them, or undoing changes that no longer align with a project’s direction.

There are three primary types of resets in Git: –soft, –mixed, and –hard. Each serves a distinct purpose:

Understanding these types of resets and their implications is key to mastering Git and maintaining a robust version control process.

Illustration of a Git Reset

Visualizing the effects of a git reset operation can be crucial for understanding how it alters the commit history in a Git repository. Below are PlantUML diagrams that represent the state of a Git repository before and after using git reset [option].

Before git reset [option]

This diagram illustrates the repository’s state before executing the git reset. It shows HEAD pointing to the latest commit, “Commit B”.

Figure 1. The state of the repo before the reset

Also available in: SVG | PlantText

After git reset [option]

The following diagram demonstrates the state after the reset. HEAD is now pointing to “Commit A”. The status of changes from “Commit B” will depend on the reset option used (–soft, –mixed, or –hard).

Figure 2. The state of the repo after the reset

Also available in: SVG | PlantText

These diagrams provide a clear and concise visual representation of the impact of git reset on a repository, offering a better understanding of how different options affect the commit history and the working directory.

Git Reset Soft

The –soft option in git reset is a subtle yet powerful tool. It allows you to undo commits on your current branch, but keeps your changes staged (in the index) and your working directory untouched. This is ideal for scenarios where you want to redo your last commit with additional changes or adjustments.

Example Scenario

Imagine you’ve just committed changes to your branch, but realize you forgot to include a file or need to make a minor tweak. Instead of creating a new commit for these changes, you can use git reset –soft to rewind to the state just before your last commit.

Code Snippet

git commit -m "Initial commit"
# Oops, need to add a change
git reset --soft HEAD~1
# Make your changes and then recommit
git commit -m "Revised commit"

In this example, git reset –soft HEAD~1 takes you back one commit (to Commit A), but keeps the changes of Commit B in the staging area. You can then make any additional changes and recommit, effectively rewriting Commit B.

What git status might look like after a git reset –soft

After executing a git reset –soft, the git status command provides insights into the current state of your working directory and staging area. Let’s consider an example where you had committed changes (in Commit B) and then performed a git reset –soft HEAD~1. Here’s how the output of git status might look:

$ git status
On branch master
Your branch is behind 'origin/master' by 1 commit, and can be fast-forwarded.
  (use "git pull" to update your local branch)

Changes to be committed:
  (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)

        modified:   file1.txt
        modified:   file2.txt
        new file:   file3.txt

Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)


In this output:

This status report is a clear snapshot of your repository post-reset, showing that while the last commit was undone, all changes from that commit are ready to be re-committed.

Git Reset Mixed

The –mixed option in git reset is the default reset behavior. It rolls back the commit history to a specified commit but leaves the changes from the undone commits in your working directory as uncommitted, unstaged changes. This is particularly useful when you need to modify the last few commits or consolidate them into a single commit.

Practical Example and Code

Suppose you have made several commits but later decide to combine these changes into a single commit for better organization.

git commit -m "Commit A"
git commit -m "Commit B"
# Realizing changes should be combined
git reset --mixed HEAD~2
# Changes from Commit A and B are now unstaged
# Make adjustments if needed and commit
git commit -m "Combined Commit"

Git Status Example After git reset –mixed

After executing git reset –mixed, the git status command will show something like this:

$ git status
On branch master
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git restore <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

        modified:   file1.txt
        modified:   file2.txt

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

In this example, file1.txt and file2.txt represent the changes from the undone commits (Commit A and B). These files are now unstaged and appear in the “Changes not staged for commit” section. You can stage and commit these changes as you see fit.

Git Reset Hard

The –hard option in git reset is the most forceful. It not only reverts the commit history to a specified commit but also discards all changes in the staging area and working directory. This is useful when you need to completely discard all recent changes and return to a clean, previous state of the project.

Real-world Example and Code Demonstration

Suppose you’ve made several commits or changes that you now wish to entirely discard. The git reset –hard command can be used to revert your project back to a clean state.

git commit -m "Commit A"
# Realizing all subsequent changes should be discarded
git reset --hard HEAD

This command resets your repository to the state it was in at “Commit A”, erasing all changes and commits made after it.

Git Status Example After git reset –hard

After executing git reset –hard, the git status command typically shows a clean working directory with no pending changes. For example:

$ git status
On branch master
nothing to commit, working tree clean

In this output, “nothing to commit, working tree clean” indicates that there are no staged or unstaged changes in the repository, reflecting the thorough nature of the –hard reset.

Advanced Scenarios

Partial Resets

Partial resets in Git allow for more granular control by letting you unstage specific files or directories while keeping others intact. This is particularly useful when you want to split a large commit into smaller, more focused ones or when only certain changes need to be reverted.


To unstage a specific file from the last commit:

git add file1.txt file2.txt
git commit -m "Add multiple files"
# Decide to unstage file2.txt
git reset HEAD file2.txt

This leaves file1.txt staged and file2.txt unstaged.

Reset in Branching and Merging

git reset is also a vital tool when dealing with branches and merges. It can be used to undo a merge or changes brought into a branch, allowing you to manage your branch strategy more effectively.


To undo a merge:

git merge feature-branch
# Realizing the merge was premature
git reset --hard HEAD~1

This command reverts the branch to the state before the merge, effectively undoing it.

Best Practices and Tips

When to Use Each Reset Type

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Git Reset

In Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the nuances of git reset and its various options – –soft, –mixed, and –hard – is essential for effective version control and project management. Each reset type serves distinct purposes, from minor commit tweaks to complete reversal of changes.

Embrace best practices such as choosing the right reset type for the situation, avoiding irreversible actions on public branches, and regularly committing to facilitate easier reversals. Remember, while git reset is powerful for local changes, public history alterations should be approached with tools like git revert.

For developers, mastering git reset enhances your ability to manage code efficiently, correct errors swiftly, and maintain a clean project history. It’s a testament to the flexibility and control Git offers, empowering you to handle your repositories with confidence and expertise.

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