How To Branch and Merge in Git (With Definitions and Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For those who work in software development, knowing how to work effectively in programs like Git can help you complete coding projects. One important Git skill is knowing how to create and merge branches in the program. Learning how to perform these tasks allows developers to collaborate with others and experiment with coding solutions without affecting a program's source code.

In this article, we define what branching and merging are in Git, describe why software developers use these methods when working on coding projects and outline the steps for how to branch and merge in the software.

Related: 12 Software Developer Skills To Learn (With Examples)

What is branching and merging in Git?

Branching and merging in Git are methods that programmers use to diverge from a code base and then reconnect later so they can isolate parts of a code while making edits without affecting the source code. Here are the definitions of these two methods:

Branching

A branch in the software is a line of diversion that the developer creates when they want to work on a portion of code without it affecting the entire base code. For example, when adding a new feature or when fixing a bug, the developer creates a new branch to work on the change.

This gives them the flexibility to experiment with solutions or implementation options before submitting the change to the source code. Developers typically create new branches whenever they work on an update to a code, no matter how extensive or minimal the change.

In addition to adding flexibility, branching also prevents developers from introducing errors or unstable code into the software's base code. It can also benefit developers collaborating on a project. Each team member can work in a separate branch without affecting the progress of other developers.

Merging

Merging is the process of integrating branches back into a single branch. It uses the git merge command, and it allows developers to choose independent lines of branches to connect. Once a developer issues the merge command, the program updates to reflect the merge.

Although the change reflects in the current branch, merging leaves the target branch unaffected, so developers can continue to make updates through that branch's line.

Related: 50 Git Interview Questions (With Tips and Sample Answers)

Why do you branch and merge in Git?

Developers branch and merge in Git to work with isolated sections of code to fix bugs and integrate new features. It allows them to experiment with different coding options and solutions when building new systems to incorporate into the existing code base, or when looking to fix issues with the source code.

They use merging to integrate branches into final products, allowing them to combine branches back into the source code to implement their solutions. Programmers also use branching and merging when working with others, because multiple developers can work on the same source code through different branches simultaneously.

How to branch and merge in Git

Here are the steps for making different types of branches in the program and the steps for merging branches:

How to make branches

To create branches in the program, use these steps:

  1. Open the program.

  2. Use the create branch command. The create branch command uses the git branch syntax.

  3. Choose a unique, identifying name for the branch. For example, you might type your username if you're working on a collaborative project and a description of what you're doing to let others know about your work.

  4. Use the git checkout command to switch to the new branch so you can work with it. Since the git branch command only creates the new branch, the user needs to use another command to open the branch for use.

Related: 20 Software Developer Positions (With Salaries and Primary Duties)

How to make a branch and open it simultaneously

Another option is to make a branch and have the program open at the same time so you can start working. Here are the steps for how to make and open a branch at the same time:

  1. Open the program and use the git checkout command. You can use this command by writing git checkout -b as the syntax.

  2. Choose a unique and descriptive name for the branch so it's easy for yourself and others to identify its purpose.

  3. Start working in the branch since the git checkout command automatically opens the new branch.

How to create a branch from another branch

There may be times when you need to create another branch off of one in which you've already worked. For example, if you're working on a large project or collaborating with other developers, you may wish to create sub-branches to isolate parts of a larger task. Here are the steps for how to create branches off of existing branches:

  1. Open the program and identify the branch from which you wish to work.

  2. Access the branch that you wish to create the branch off of using the git checkout command. To use this command, type git checkout.

  3. Create a new branch by using the git branch command.

How to command a fast-forward merge

When looking to merge a hotfix branch, which is a branch that a developer uses to fix a bug, with a main branch, you can use the fast-forward merge option. This option only works for branches that have a direct line to the main branch. Here are the steps for how to use this command:

  1. Open the program.

  2. Go to the branch you wish to become the main branch for the merge. To open the branch, use the git checkout main command.

  3. Use the git merge command. The git merge command is git merge.

  4. Alternatively, you can conduct a fast-forward merge using a command that also creates separate documentation of the command. To perform this, use the command git merge --no-ff.

Related: 10 Great Reasons To Be a Software Developer

How to command a 3-way merge

In some cases, programmers may need to complete a 3-way merge when dealing with larger projects that include branches spanning multiple lines. This type of merge can integrate multiple lines of diverging branches into a main branch. Here are the steps for performing this type of merge:

  1. Open the program.

  2. Identify the common ancestor branch or the branch where the initial diversion creates two separate lines of development across additional branches.

  3. Use the git checkout command to open the master branch, which is the branch where you wish to merge the diverting branches.

  4. Issue the git merge command using the name of the common ancestor branch to indicate that the program should combine the diverging branches into the master branch. To perform the merge, use the command git merge.


Explore more articles