A tool for automatically flattening git merge histories by rebasing them with compensations.
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README.html

README.html

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<title>hammer - a tool for automatically flattening git merge histories by rebasing them with compensations</title>
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<h1>hammer - a tool for automatically flattening git merge histories by rebasing them with compensations</h1>
<p>
(A hammer is, of course, a reasonably good tool for making things flat although it does tend to break things along the way)
</p>
<h2>Manifesto</h2>
<p>
The goal for this project is to build a tool that will linearize a git merge history by automatically rewriting a history of merges as a series of rebases.
</p>
<p>
It is not a goal of this project to ensure that every commit in the rewritten history contains a consistent tree since that is a hard problem and typically requires manual resolution to resolve. The need for manual resolution conflicts with the goal of automation.
</p>
<p>
In a sense, hammer trades consistency for completeness. Hammer will always successfully rewrite a merge history as a sequence of commits, but the sequence of commits may not always contain consistent trees. That said, the regions of inconsistency are limited to those strictly necessary to achieve automation and can always be subsequently removed with a manual rebase if required. Furthermore, the rewritten history is guaranteed to contain consistent trees at least one point (the last one) and possibly many more.
</p>
<p>
An important point to note that the manual effort required to achieve complete consistency can be indefinitely deferred if this is not required.
</p>

<h2>Motivating Example</h2>
</p>
<p>
Consider the following merge history.
</p>
<p>
<pre>
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T
</pre>
<p>
and suppose that conflicting edits at N and C resulted in a merge conflict that was resolved at Q and that the merge at T was clean.
</p>
Now suppose one wanted to rebase the series ^H T onto H.
<p>
One way to do this is to iteratively rebase bits of the history, while ensuring that the result at the head of each rebase is a tree that is identical to the tree at 
the original merge.
</p>
<p>For example, first we rebase A..P onto E. If the merge at Q was clean then P' should contain the tree at Q.
<pre>
          M'-N'-P'
         /
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T

invariant: tree(P') = tree(Q), consistent(x) => consistent(x')
</pre>

Then, we rebase Q..S onto P'. Since this is a simple rebase of Q..S which is applying to exactly the same starting state (tree(P') == tree(Q)), 
the rebase is guaranteed to be trivial.
<pre>
          M'-N'-P'-R'-S'
         /
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T

invariant: tree(R') = tree(R), tree(S') = tree(S), consistent(x) => consistent(x')
</pre>

Finally, we rebase E..S' onto H to produce H..S''. Again, since the merge at T was clean the tree at S'' should be identical to the tree at T.
<pre>
           M'-N'-P'-R'-S'
          /    
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-M''-N''-P''-R''-S''
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T

invariant: tree(S'') = tree(T), consistent(x) => consistent(x')
</pre>
<p>
Notice that rebasing has dissolved the merges at Q and T, effectively eliminating them from the rebased history.
</p>
<p>
A problem arises because with all this rebasing going on, it is inevitable that eventually conflicting 
edits in parallel branches of the history will conflict in a manner that causes a merge conflict while rebasing. Normally 
such a conflict would require manual resolution to resolve.
<p>
Suppose, for example that conflicting edits were performed in C and N. In the original history, this would have caused a conflict that was resolved at Q.
</p>

During the rebasing of M-N-P onto E, the conflict would cause a failure while attempting to apply N to M'.

<h2>Solution outline</h2>

Hammer solves this problem by beating the history after M' into a form that allows N to be trivially applied to M'.

In particular, it introduces a compenstation (here called e(^N)) that makes the tree after M' look like the tree at N for the conflicted files (and only the conflicted files). N then applies cleanly as does P to produce N' and P' respectively. In order to re-establish the rebasing invariant, a further compensation is introduced after P' to ensure that the resulting tree is restored to 
match the tree at Q. This allows the subsequent rebasing activity involving R' and S' to occur without reference to the compensations introduced for N' and P'.


<pre>
          M'-e(^N)-N'-P'-e(Q^)-R'-S'
         /
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T

invariant: tree(e(Q^)) = tree(Q)
</pre>

The rebasing continues and produces the final tree:

<pre>
           M'-N'-P'-R'-S'
          /    
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-M''-^e(^N)'-N'''-P'''-e(Q^)'-R''-S''
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T

invariant: tree(S'') = tree(T), consistent( x ) for all x in { M'', R'', S'', e(Q^)' }
</pre>
<p>
The end result is a rebased history that produces the same tree as the original history, but contains inconsistencies along its path. 
In particular, the trees in N''' and P''' are not necessarily internally consistent because of the effects of the compensation 
originally introduced at e(^N). On the otherhand, trees at M'', e(Q^)' and R'' and S'' match the trees that would have been produced had the original merges
been performed as rebases with the same conflict resolution outcomes at Q and T. Furthermore, the diff between M'' and R'' will
accurately reflect the intent of the original changes between M and R but without the confounding effects of history from E merged in at Q.
</p>
<p>
Once the history is this form, one might choose to squash the compensations and intervening edits together into a single commit N+P+Q and thereby
produce a completely consistent history again (with some loss of information).
<p>
<pre>
           M'-N'-P'-R'-S'
          /    
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-M''-N+P+Q-R''-S''
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T
</pre>
<p>
Alternatively, it might make sense to squash e(^N)'+N'''+e(Q^)' as N'''' and then replace P''' with the diff between N'''' and e(Q^)', resulting in
a history that looks like.
</p>
<pre>
           M'-N'-P'-R'-S'
          /    
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-M''-N''''-P''''-R-''-S''
 \       \     \
  \-M-N-P-Q-R-S-T
</pre>
<p>
Presumably, this history could be edited to be identical to the history that would have been produced if the compensations had been performed manually
during an interactive rebase in the first instance -in other words, making N'''' identical to N'' and P'''' identical to P''.
</p>
<p>
Note: although it might be tempting to do so, squashing e(^N)' with N''' and P''' with e(Q^)' is almost certainly a mistake since although 
the squashed commit P'''+e(Q^)' will contain a consistent tree (because e(Q^)') does, e(^N)'+N''' will be inconsistent but not obviously so.
</p>
<p>Suppose we name the diff between P''' and e(Q^)' as Z and its reverse ~Z
<pre>
	^e(^N)'-N'''-P'''-e(Q^)'
</pre>
and if Z successfully applies to N''', then we could rewrite the history as:
<pre>
	^e(^N)'-N'''-apply(Z)-apply(~Z)-P'''-apply(Z)
</pre>
<p>
Now, by definition apply(~Z)-P'''-apply(Z) is consistent (since it produces e(Q^)' and we are assuming e(Q^)' is consistent).
</p>
<p>
I can't formally prove it, but presumably:
<pre>
	^e(^N)'-N'''-apply(Z)
</pre>
would also produce a consistent tree on the basis that a patch that successfully restores consistency later in a series might successfully do so when applied earlier.
<p>
If so, squashing those as N'''' might be viable way to collapse the compensations and indeed suggests that it may even be possible to automatically eliminate all compensations from the rewritten history in cases where the apply(Z) cleanly applies to all the compensated commits - simply insert pairs of apply(Z), apply(Z~) after all compensated commits and squash the first compensation with the intervening edit and the next compensation repeatedly until all such triples are replaced with new versions of the compensated edits.
</p>