Vincent Driessen’s "git flow" branching model is a git branching and release management workflow that helps developers keep track of features, hotfixes and releases in bigger software projects. This workflow has lot of commands to type and remember, so there’s also the git-flow library of git subcommands to help automate some parts of the flow to make working with it easier.
After installing git-flow (
brew install git-flow), you can start using git-flow in your repository by using it’s
init command. You can use it in existing projects, but let’s start a new repository:
$ git flow init Initialized empty Git repository in ~/project/.git/ No branches exist yet. Base branches must be created now. Branch name for production releases: [master] Branch name for "next release" development: [develop] How to name your supporting branch prefixes? Feature branches? [feature/] Release branches? [release/] Hotfix branches? [hotfix/] Support branches? [support/] Version tag prefix? 
git-flow is a wrapper around existing git commands, so the
init command doesn’t change anything in your repository other than creating branches for you. If you don’t want to use git-flow anymore, there’s nothing to change or remove, you just stop using the git-flow commands.
If you run
git branch after setting up, you’ll notice that you switched from the master branch to a new one named
$ git branch * develop master
develop branch the default branch where most of the work will happen, and the
master branch keeps track of production-ready code.
git-flow makes it easy to work on multiple features at the same time by using feature branches. To start one, use
feature start with the name of your new feature (in this case, “authentication”):
$ git flow feature start authentication Switched to a new branch 'feature/authentication' Summary of actions: - A new branch 'feature/authentication' was created, based on 'develop' - You are now on branch 'feature/authentication' Now, start committing on your feature. When done, use: git flow feature finish authentication
A feature branch was created and you’re automatically switched to it. Implement your feature in this branch while using git like you normally would. When you’re finished, use
$ git flow feature finish authentication Switched to branch 'develop' Updating 9060376..00bafe4 Fast-forward authentication.txt | 1 + 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) create mode 100644 authentication.txt Deleted branch feature/authentication (was 00bafe4). Summary of actions: - The feature branch 'feature/authentication' was merged into 'develop' - Feature branch 'feature/authentication' has been removed - You are now on branch 'develop'
Your feature branch will be merged and you’re taken back to your
develop branch. Internally, git-flow used
git merge --no-ff feature/authentication to make sure you don’t lose any historical information about your feature branch before it is removed.
If you need tagged and versioned releases, you can use git-flow’s release branches to start a new branch when you’re ready to deploy a new version to production.
Like everything else in git-flow, you don’t have to use release branches if you don’t want to. Prefer to manually
git merge --no-ff develop into master without tagging? No problem.
However, if you’re working on a versioned API or library, release branches might be really useful, and they work exactly like you’d expect:
$ git flow release start 0.1.0 Switched to a new branch 'release/0.1.0' Summary of actions: - A new branch 'release/0.1.0' was created, based on 'develop' - You are now on branch 'release/0.1.0' Follow-up actions: - Bump the version number now! - Start committing last-minute fixes in preparing your release - When done, run: git flow release finish '0.1.0'
Bump the version number and do everything that’s required to release your project in the release branch. I personally wouldn’t do any last minute fixes, but if you do, git-flow will make sure everything is correctly merged into both
Then, finish the release:
$ git flow release finish 0.1.0 Switched to branch 'master' Merge made by the 'recursive' strategy. authentication.txt | 1 + 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) create mode 100644 authentication.txt Deleted branch release/0.1.0 (was 1b26f7c). Summary of actions: - Latest objects have been fetched from 'origin' - Release branch has been merged into 'master' - The release was tagged '0.1.0' - Release branch has been back-merged into 'develop' - Release branch 'release/0.1.0' has been deleted
Boom. git-flow pulls from origin, merges the release branch into master, tags the release and back-merges everything back into develop before removing the release branch.
You’re still on master, so you can deploy before going back to your
develop branch, which git-flow made sure to update with the release changes in
Hotfixing production code
Because you keep your
master branch always in sync with the code that’s on production, you’ll be able to quickly fix any issues on production.
For example, if your assets aren’t loading on production, you’d roll back your deploy and start a hotfix branch:
$ git flow hotfix start assets Switched to a new branch 'hotfix/assets' Summary of actions: - A new branch 'hotfix/assets' was created, based on 'master' - You are now on branch 'hotfix/assets' Follow-up actions: - Bump the version number now! - Start committing your hot fixes - When done, run: git flow hotfix finish 'assets'
Hotfix branches are a lot like release branches, except they’re based on master instead of develop. You’re automatically switched to the new hotfix branch so you can start fixing the issue and bumping the minor version number.
When you’re done,
$ git flow hotfix finish assets Switched to branch 'master' Merge made by the 'recursive' strategy. assets.txt | 1 + 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) create mode 100644 assets.txt Switched to branch 'develop' Merge made by the 'recursive' strategy. assets.txt | 1 + 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+) create mode 100644 assets.txt Deleted branch hotfix/assets (was 08edb94). Summary of actions: - Latest objects have been fetched from 'origin' - Hotfix branch has been merged into 'master' - The hotfix was tagged '0.1.1' - Hotfix branch has been back-merged into 'develop' - Hotfix branch 'hotfix/assets' has been deleted
Like when finishing a release branch, the hotfix branch gets merged into both
develop. The release is tagged and the hotfix branch is removed.
Why aren’t you using git-flow?
If you’re not doing versioned releases, Vincent’s git workflow and the git-flow library might not be a right fit for you. However, if you work on a project that’s semantically versioned, like a Rubygem or a versioned API, git-flow will give you a couple of simple commands that will do a lot of work under the hood, making working on features, pushing new releases and hotfixing bugs a lot easier. Well, at least on the git side.