by Alex Nadalin

How did that bug happen? Git bisect to the rescue!

git bisect is a very handy command that lets you isolate which commit introduced a bug. You tell it which version of your repository was bug-free, and it runs a binary search between your current commit and the one that seems to have bug, asking you to confirm whether the bug seems to be there at each step of the search.

Curious? Let’s see it in action!

Let’s first create a repository with a bunch of “fake” commits:

/tmp ᐅ mkdir test-repo
/tmp ᐅ cd test-repo
/tmp/test-repo ᐅ git initInitialized empty Git repository in /tmp/test-repo/.git/
/tmp/test-repo (master ✔) ᐅ touch test.txt
/tmp/test-repo (master ✔) ᐅ for i in $(seq 1 100); do echo $i > test.txt && git add test.txt && git commit -m "Now: $i"; done[master (root-commit) 28ea863] Now: 1 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) create mode 100644 test.txt[master fc57245] Now: 2 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+), 1 deletion(-)[master 81e693c] Now: 3 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+), 1 deletion(-).........[master b68f338] Now: 100 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+), 1 deletion(-)

Let’s say that the commit that introduced our bug is where the number in the test.txt file is higher than 9 (so the commit that starts at 10 is the culprit) — how would we find it in real life?

Enter git bisect — let’s tell git that:

  • we want to start bisecting
  • our current, latest commit seems to be broken
  • a commit back in the history does not seem to have the bug

…and let’s have git do the heavy-lifting for us:

/tmp/test-repo (master ✔) ᐅ git bisect start
/tmp/test-repo (master ✔) ᐅ git bisect bad # Our last commit seems to have a bug
/tmp/test-repo (master ✔) ᐅ git checkout 28ea863 # let's go back to a commit we're sure does not have the bugNote: checking out '28ea863'.
You are in 'detached HEAD' state. You can look around, make experimentalchanges and commit them, and you can discard any commits you make in thisstate without impacting any branches by performing another checkout.
If you want to create a new branch to retain commits you create, you maydo so (now or later) by using -b with the checkout command again. Example:
git checkout -b <new-branch-name>
HEAD is now at 28ea863... Now: 1
/tmp/test-repo (28ea863 ✔) ᐅ git bisect goodBisecting: 49 revisions left to test after this (roughly 6 steps)[bcba603c516783f6ad42b9410f6889e10aea0717] Now: 50

Now git will check right in the middle of those two commits. It asks you to test your changes and asks you whether this commit is good or bad. Let’s go ahead:

/tmp/test-repo (bcba603 ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt50
/tmp/test-repo (bcba603 ✔) ᐅ git bisect badBisecting: 24 revisions left to test after this (roughly 5 steps)[b276476e9f1d989f011db4fefc5b92df1685b313] Now: 25
/tmp/test-repo (b276476 ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt25
/tmp/test-repo (b276476 ✔) ᐅ git bisect badBisecting: 11 revisions left to test after this (roughly 4 steps)[ba653f4df25a0192d83c813e14ca5851653ab30f] Now: 13
/tmp/test-repo (ba653f4 ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt  13
/tmp/test-repo (ba653f4 ✔) ᐅ git bisect badBisecting: 5 revisions left to test after this (roughly 3 steps)[a77f93ed29fe3bfaac69c686ce140a4284acee68] Now: 7
/tmp/test-repo (a77f93e ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt  7
/tmp/test-repo (a77f93e ✔) ᐅ git bisect goodBisecting: 2 revisions left to test after this (roughly 2 steps)[affade823e7f0cb72a1a97052f700c31dc90cfee] Now: 10
/tmp/test-repo (affade8 ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt   10
/tmp/test-repo (affade8 ✔) ᐅ git bisect badBisecting: 0 revisions left to test after this (roughly 1 step)[11e5f969458ad51f4009e2e3ac81f38d1ede6d07] Now: 9
/tmp/test-repo (11e5f96 ✔) ᐅ cat test.txt  9
/tmp/test-repo (11e5f96 ✔) ᐅ git bisect goodaffade823e7f0cb72a1a97052f700c31dc90cfee is the first bad commitcommit affade823e7f0cb72a1a97052f700c31dc90cfeeAuthor: odino &lt;[email protected]>Date:   Sun Jun 24 23:29:02 2018 +0400
Now: 10
:100644 100644 ec635144f60048986bc560c5576355344005e6e7 f599e28b8ab0d8c9c57a486c89c4a5132dcbd3b2 M    test.txt

Amazing — git bisect found out the exact commit where our bug was introduced. Nothing more, nothing less: just an amazing trick that can save you hours of debugging!

Originally published at (24th June 2018).
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