Illustration of Git rebase vs. merge.
July 25, 2018

Git Rebase vs. Merge: Which Is Better?

Git at Scale
Version Control

There's a lot of debate in the Git community about Git rebase vs. merge. Here, we break down what Git rebase and Git merge do — and how they differ.

What Is Git Merge?

Git merge is a command that allows you to merge branches from Git.

Merging is a common practice for developers. Whether branches are created for testing, bug fixes, or other reasons, merging commits changes to another branch. It takes the contents of a source branch and integrates it with a target branch.

Will Git Merge Overwrite My Changes?

When you use Git merge, only the target branch is changed. The source branch history remains. Advocates of Git merge like it because it preserves the history of a branch. 

What Is Git Rebase?

Git rebase is a command that allows developers to integrate changes from one branch to another.

How Does Git Rebase Work?

Git rebase compresses all the changes into a single “patch.” Then it integrates the patch onto the target branch. Unlike merging, rebasing flattens history. It transfers the completed work from one branch to another. In the process, unwanted history is eliminated. 

Advocates of Git rebase like it because it simplifies their review process.

Git Rebase vs. Merge: Similarities and Differences

Git rebase and merge both integrate changes from one branch into another. Where they differ is how it's done. Git rebase moves a feature branch into a master. Git merge adds a new commit, preserving the history.

Git Rebase vs. Merge: Which to Use

Some developers believe you should always rebase. And others think that you should always merge. Each side has benefits.

Benefits

Here are the top three benefits for Git rebase and for Git merge.

Git Rebase

  • Streamlines a potentially complex history.
  • Avoids merge commit “noise” in busy repos with busy branches.
  • Cleans intermediate commits by making them a single commit, which can be helpful for DevOps teams.

Git Merge

  • Simple and familiar.
  • Preserves complete history and chronological order.
  • Maintains the context of the branch.

So which one should your team use?

Git Rebase Makes Sense for Individuals

Jury Is Out for Teams

The answer to the Git rebase vs. Git merge workflow question is –– “it depends.” At Perforce, we believe neither the “always merge” nor “always rebase” extreme is necessary. There are use cases for both.

  • Rebasing privately affects only the individual (prior to work being pushed).
  • Rebasing publicly impacts other people in the branch.
  • Team policies are essential and supersede individual preferences.
  • Keeping your entire history may be essential to meet regulatory and compliance needs.

When to Use Merge vs. Rebase

If you're working alone or on a small team, use rebase. If you're working with a big team, use merge. 

Git Merging and Git Rebasing Strategies

Teams need to consider several questions when setting their Git rebase vs. merge policies. Because as it turns out, one workflow strategy is not better than the other. It is dependent on your team.

Consider the level of rebase and Git competence across your organization. Determine the degree to which you value the simplicity of rebasing as compared to the traceability and history of merging.

Decisions on merging and rebasing should be part of your branching strategy. A successful branching strategy is designed around your teams' needs. Developers should be organized in parallel teams, allowing them work at their own pace and not be impacted by others.

For example, you could have a development branch where each team is isolated. Work would be delivered only when it makes sense. This makes it possible to isolate units of work from the main branch. It is also keeps it isolated from QA, which is isolated from pre-production, and so on. In short, your branching strategy should reflect the shape, roles, and goals of your organization.

Learn more about Git development >>

Is Git Your Best Option?

Git isn't the only option, and it might not be the best one for you. When it comes to branching and merging, there's other tools you should consider. 

Check out how Git compares to other tools: 

Git Also Lacks Security

Git security is lacking. Bad behavior is prevalent in Git — including using Git rebase and Git merge. 

So, what can you do about it? 

Learn how to lock down Git in our recent white paper. You'll learn:

  • Why native Git lacks security.
  • 5 best practices to secure Git.
  • Which front-end Git tools add layers of security (including Git access control)
  • How to truly lock down Git — and resolve Git security issues.

Lock Down Git