Using git bisect
Jason McCreary Apr 13, 2017
A few weeks back I gave a talk at Laracon Online entitled You don't know Git. During the talk I demoed several unfamiliar Git commands. While I did cover
git bisect, I didn't provide a demo.
git bisect is challenging. It has several subcommands and requires context about the code. As such, a contrived example doesn't do
git bisect justice.
Now, I've admittedly only used
git bisect five or six times in my Git career. But just the other day I used it to find a bug deep in my application. I want to share this scenario as a real world example of using
The other day a someone went to checkout and when they clicked the pay button nothing happened. Fortunately they reported this, so I started investigating. I confirmed the bug in a few different browsers. I reached out to Stripe support. There were no known issues on their side. So I dropped their checkout code onto a fresh page and it worked fine.
The bug was clearly in my code. But where? Looking at the commit log, there wasn't anything related to the checkout code in a while. In fact, using
git blame showed that the checkout code hadn't changed in over a month. I knew this bug hadn't existed for that long.
While I could've continued this detective work myself and eventually found the bug, I could instead use
Basically, you provide
git bisect a commit where the bug exists (the bad commit) and a commit where it does not (the good commit).
git bisect then systematically moves through this commit range to find the commit where the bug was introduced. Along the way it pauses to allow you to test for the bug. If the bug exists, you enter report the commit as bad. If it does not, you report it as good.
I took a few screenshots when I used
git bisect to find my checkout bug. I'll review these to work through the process of using
First I run
git bisect start to start the bisect process.
I then provide the bad commit by running
git bisect bad. In my case, this was the top commit as the bug currently appeared in my code.
I then provide the good commit by running
git bisect good. In my case, I got this commit from
git blame as I knew the checkout originally worked. Finding the good commit may take a little detective work. However, this doesn't have to be precise. That's what
git bisect is for. Often, I'll jump back several commits at a time until I find a good commit.
Once I provide both commits,
git bisect starts moving through this commit range. It pauses to allow me to test if the bug exists in the current commit. If so, I type
git bisect bad. If not, I type
git bisect good.
After a few iterations,
git bisect outputs the first bad commit. Or the commit where the bug was introduced.
Honestly, the first few times I used
git bisect I didn't believe this was the right commit. But I assure you there's some change in this commit that introduced the bug.
git bisect is not a command you'll use very often. Nonetheless, it's one of the most helpful and impressive Git commands. Next time you have a bug in your code, don't play try to find the need in the haystack of your commit history - use
Want to see
git bisect in action? I demo
git bisect and other Git commands you'll use every day in my video series Getting Git.