Developing ggplot2 using github

wch edited this page Jun 6, 2012 · 12 revisions
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Developing ggplot2 using github

Super-basic setup

If you just want to track the development of ggplot2 and do work on your own local branch, just clone Hadley's repository:

git clone

That's it. You don't even have to set up an account on GitHub. To get the latest updates, run:

git pull

Once you've cloned the repo, you can branch, change, and commit. You just won't be able to publish your changes to GitHub. (If you later want to publish these changes to GitHub, it is possible. Ask the mailing list if you need assistance.)

Basic setup

If you want to do development on ggplot2 and share the changes with other people, you'll have to set up an account on GitHub. You'll make a fork of Hadley's repository and store it on GitHub. You'll also make a copy of your repository on your local machine.

  • Set up an account on GitHub and set up ssh keys as described in their instructions.
  • Make a fork of Hadley's repository by clicking the Fork button in the upper right. For more info, see the GitHub page on forking.)
  • Clone your GitHub repository to your local computer (change myname to your account name):
git clone
cd ggplot2

Once you've done that, you'll probably want to add Hadley's repository as a remote repository:

git remote add hadley git://
git fetch hadley

Now on your local machine you have the local repository and two remote repositories: origin (the default), which is your personal ggplot2 repo at GitHub, and hadley which is Hadley's. You'll be able to push changes to your own repository only.

Tracking a remote branch

You can set up your master branch to track hadley/master. This isn't strictly necessary, but it can make things simpler. Do the following:

git checkout master
git branch --set-upstream master hadley/master

Then, each time you want to get it up to date, run:

git checkout master
git pull

Or, equivalently:

git checkout master
git fetch hadley
git merge hadley/master

How to make changes on a new branch

When you want to make changes, you should work on a new branch. Otherwise things can get a bit confusing when it comes time to merge it into the main branch. You probably want to start with the master branch from Hadley's repository, although it might be something else, like devel. See the ggplot2 network page to see what the latest is.

# Fetch the latest version of hadley/ggplot2
git fetch hadley

# Check out the latest
git checkout hadley/master

At this point it'll give you a warning about being in "detached HEAD" state. Don't worry about it. Just start a new branch with the current state as the starting point:

git checkout -b myfix

To check what branch you're currently on, run git branch.

Now you can make your changes and commit them to this branch on your local repository. If you decide you want to start over, you can just check out hadley/master again, make a new branch, and begin anew.

When you feel like sharing your changes, push them to your GitHub repo:

git push origin myfix

Then you can submit a pull request if you want it to be integrated in the main branch.

Resetting a branch

If you have made some changes to your master branch and want to get it back in line with hadley/master, do the following. Before you do this, be sure that you are willing to discard all your commits that diverge from hadley/master! It is possible to recover the commits using git reflog, but it's easier to not discard them in the first place.

git checkout master
git reset --hard hadley/master

Testing merges

If your branch has been running parallel to the main branch for a long time, it's possible that it won't merge properly. You can test it out by checking out the main branch and merging yourself.

First, make a new branch called testmerge, based off the main branch:

git fetch hadley
git checkout hadley/master

git checkout -b testmerge

Then try merging your branch into testmerge:

git merge myfix

If there are no errors, great. You can switch back to your myfix branch and delete testmerge:

git checkout myfix
git branch -D testmerge

If there are any merge conflicts, you may want to rebase your changes on top of the current master version, or just resolve the conflicts and commit it to your branch. Rebasing may make for a somewhat cleaner commit history, but there is a possibility of messing things up. If you want to be safe, you can just make a new branch and rebase that on top of the current master.

Fetching a branch from someone else's repository

Sometimes you will want to fetch a branch from someone's repository, but without going to the trouble of seting it up as a remote. This is handy if you just want to quickly try out a someone's work.

This will fetch a branch from someone's remote repository and check it out (replace username and somebranch):

git fetch somebranch
git checkout FETCH_HEAD

Just doing the above won't create a local branch -- you'll be in "detached HEAD" state. If you'd like to create a local branch to work on, run (you can replace somebranch with whatever name you like):

git checkout -b somebranch

Adding other repositories as remotes

If you often work off of someone else's repository, it can be useful to add their repo as a remote. This makes it easier to fetch changes in their repository. If the person's GitHub account is otherdevel, you would do the following:

git remote add otherdevel git://
git fetch otherdevel

git checkout otherdevel/somebranch

If you don't want to follow them any more, run:

git remote rm otherdevel

Delete a branch from GitHub

If you pushed a branch to your GitHub repo but it's no longer needed there, you can remove it with:

git push origin :mybranch

Visualizing the development tree

GitHub has a very nice development tree view, but it of course only shows commits that have been pushed to GitHub. You may also want to view the tree on your local machine, to see how your local changes relate to the main tree. There are a number of programs out there that will do this.


  • gitk: Pretty basic, included with git. Run gitk -a to view all branches (by default it just shows you the current branch).
  • gitx: This is a bit nicer than gitk.
  • SourceTree: This is also a nice program. Normally it costs money, but it is temporarily free from the web page or the Mac App store.


  • gitk: (See gitk in Mac section)
  • gitg: This is nicer than gitk. By default it only shows the current branch; select "Local Branches" or "All Branches" to view others.


  • ??

Set up your shell to show the current branch

You can view your current branch right at the command prompt, like this:

user@mycomputer:ggplot2 (myfix)$ 

This can help you avoid stupid mistakes. If you're running the bash shell you can add this (as well as tab-completion for git-related stuff):

  • Download this script and save it somewhere like ~/git-completion.bash or ~/bin/git-completion.bash.

  • In your .bashrc, add the following (note there's an extra space between the \ and [ below, which you must remove. This is because of a weird problem with escape characters on this wiki):

gitmode() {
    source $HOME/bin/git-completion.bash
    PS1="\ [\e]2;\u@\h: \w\a\\]\u@\h:\W\$(__git_ps1)\\$ "

Then, in a new terminal window, type gitmode to enable these features.