gitcli - git command line interface and conventions
This manual describes the convention used throughout git CLI.
Many commands take revisions (most often "commits", but sometimes
"tree-ish", depending on the context and command) and paths as their
arguments. Here are the rules:
o Revisions come first and then paths. E.g. in git diff v1.0 v2.0
arch/x86 include/asm-x86, v1.0 and v2.0 are revisions and arch/x86
and include/asm-x86 are paths.
o When an argument can be misunderstood as either a revision or a
path, they can be disambiguated by placing -- between them. E.g.
git diff -- HEAD is, "I have a file called HEAD in my work tree.
Please show changes between the version I staged in the index and
what I have in the work tree for that file". not "show difference
between the HEAD commit and the work tree as a whole". You can say
git diff HEAD -- to ask for the latter.
o Without disambiguating --, git makes a reasonable guess, but errors
out and asking you to disambiguate when ambiguous. E.g. if you have
a file called HEAD in your work tree, git diff HEAD is ambiguous,
and you have to say either git diff HEAD -- or git diff -- HEAD to
When writing a script that is expected to handle random user-input, it
is a good practice to make it explicit which arguments are which by
placing disambiguating -- at appropriate places.
Here are the rules regarding the "flags" that you should follow when
you are scripting git:
o it's preferred to use the non dashed form of git commands, which
means that you should prefer git foo to git-foo.
o splitting short options to separate words (prefer git foo -a -b to
git foo -ab, the latter may not even work).
o when a command line option takes an argument, use the sticked form.
In other words, write git foo -oArg instead of git foo -o Arg for
short options, and git foo --long-opt=Arg instead of git foo
--long-opt Arg for long options. An option that takes optional
option-argument must be written in the sticked form.
o when you give a revision parameter to a command, make sure the
parameter is not ambiguous with a name of a file in the work tree.
E.g. do not write git log -1 HEAD but write git log -1 HEAD --; the
former will not work if you happen to have a file called HEAD in
the work tree.
ENHANCED OPTION PARSER
From the git 1.5.4 series and further, many git commands (not all of
them at the time of the writing though) come with an enhanced option
Here is an exhaustive list of the facilities provided by this option
Commands which have the enhanced option parser activated all understand
a couple of magic command line options:
gives a pretty printed usage of the command.
$ git describe -h
usage: git describe [options] <committish>*
--contains find the tag that comes after the commit
--debug debug search strategy on stderr
--all use any ref in .git/refs
--tags use any tag in .git/refs/tags
--abbrev [<n>] use <n> digits to display SHA-1s
--candidates <n> consider <n> most recent tags (default: 10)
Some git commands take options that are only used for plumbing or
that are deprecated, and such options are hidden from the default
usage. This option gives the full list of options.
Options with long option names can be negated by prefixing --no-. For
example, git branch has the option --track which is on by default. You
can use --no-track to override that behaviour. The same goes for
--color and --no-color.
Aggregating short options
Commands that support the enhanced option parser allow you to aggregate
short options. This means that you can for example use git rm -rf or
git clean -fdx.
Separating argument from the option
You can write the mandatory option parameter to an option as a separate
word on the command line. That means that all the following uses work:
$ git foo --long-opt=Arg
$ git foo --long-opt Arg
$ git foo -oArg
$ git foo -o Arg
However, this is NOT allowed for switches with an optional value, where
the sticked form must be used:
$ git describe --abbrev HEAD # correct
$ git describe --abbrev=10 HEAD # correct
$ git describe --abbrev 10 HEAD # NOT WHAT YOU MEANT
NOTES ON FREQUENTLY CONFUSED OPTIONS
Many commands that can work on files in the working tree and/or in the
index can take --cached and/or --index options. Sometimes people
incorrectly think that, because the index was originally called cache,
these two are synonyms. They are not -- these two options mean very
o The --cached option is used to ask a command that usually works on
files in the working tree to only work with the index. For example,
git grep, when used without a commit to specify from which commit
to look for strings in, usually works on files in the working tree,
but with the --cached option, it looks for strings in the index.
o The --index option is used to ask a command that usually works on
files in the working tree to also affect the index. For example,
git stash apply usually merges changes recorded in a stash to the
working tree, but with the --index option, it also merges changes
to the index as well.
git apply command can be used with --cached and --index (but not at the
same time). Usually the command only affects the files in the working
tree, but with --index, it patches both the files and their index
entries, and with --cached, it modifies only the index entries.
See also http://marc.info/?l=git&m=116563135620359 and
http://marc.info/?l=git&m=119150393620273 for further information.
Documentation by Pierre Habouzit and the git-list
Part of the git(1) suite