3.3.4 Commits and patches

Understanding commits

Technically, a commit is a single point in the history of a branch, but most developers use the term to mean a commit object, which stores information about a particular revision. A single commit can record changes to multiple source files, and typically represents one logical set of related changes (such as a bug-fix). You can list the ten most recent commits in your current branch with this command:

git log -10 --oneline

If you’re using an older version of Git and get an ‘unrecognized argument’ error, use this instead:

git log -10 --pretty=oneline --abbrev-commit

More interactive lists of the commits on the remote master branch are available at http://git.sv.gnu.org/gitweb/?p=lilypond.git;a=shortlog and http://git.sv.gnu.org/cgit/lilypond.git/log/.

Making commits

Once you have modified some source files in your working directory, you can make a commit with the following procedure:

  1. Make sure you’ve configured Git properly (see Configuring Git). Check that your changes meet the requirements described in Code style and/or Documentation policy. For advanced edits, you may also want to verify that the changes don’t break the compilation process.
  2. Run the following command:
    git status

    to make sure you’re on the right branch, and to see which files have been modified, added or removed, etc. You may need to tell Git about any files you’ve added by running one of these:

    git add file  # add untracked file individually
    git add .     # add all untracked files in current directory

    After git add, run git status again to make sure you got everything. You may also need to modify ‘GNUmakefile’.

  3. Preview the changes about to be committed (to make sure everything looks right) with:
    git diff HEAD

    The HEAD argument refers to the most recent commit on the currently checked-out branch.

  4. Generate the commit with:
    git commit -a

    The ‘-a’ is short for ‘--all’ which includes modified and deleted files, but only those newly created files that have previously been added.

Commit messages

When you run the git commit -a command, Git automatically opens the default text editor so you can enter a commit message. If you find yourself in a foreign editing environment, you’re probably in vi or vim. If you want to switch to an editor you’re more familiar with, quit by typing :q! and pressing <Enter>. See Configuring Git for instructions on changing the default editor.

In any case, Git will open a text file for your commit message that looks like this:

# Please enter the commit message for your changes.  Lines starting
# with '#' will be ignored, and an empty message aborts the commit.
# On branch master
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#	modified:   working.itexi

Your commit message should begin with a one-line summary describing the change (no more than 50 characters long), and if necessary a blank line followed by several lines giving the details:

Doc: add Baerenreiter and Henle solo cello suites

Added comparison of solo cello suite engravings to new essay with
high-res images, fixed cropping on Finale example.

Commit messages often start with a short prefix describing the general location of the changes. If a commit affects the documentation in English (or in several languages simultaneously) the commit message should be prefixed with “Doc: ”. If the commit affects only one of the translations, the commit message should be prefixed with “Doc-**: ”, where ** is the two-letter language code. Commits that affect the website should use “Web: ” for English, and “Web-**: ” for the other languages. Also, changes to a single file are often prefixed with the name of the file involved. Visit the links listed in Understanding commits for examples.

Making patches

If you want to share your changes with other contributors and developers, you need to generate patches from your commits. We prefer it if you follow the instructions in Uploading a patch for review. However, we present an alternate method here.

You should always run git pull -r (translators should leave off the ‘-r’) before doing this to ensure that your patches are as current as possible.

Once you have made one or more commits in your local repository, and pulled the most recent commits from the remote branch, you can generate patches from your local commits with the command:

git format-patch origin

The origin argument refers to the remote tracking branch at git.sv.gnu.org. This command generates a separate patch for each commit that’s in the current branch but not in the remote branch. Patches are placed in the current working directory and will have names that look something like this:


Send an email (must be less than 64 KB) to lilypond-devel@gnu.org briefly explaining your work, with the patch files attached. Translators should send patches to translations@lilynet.net. After your patches are reviewed, the developers may push one or more of them to the main repository or discuss them with you.

Uploading a patch for review

Any non-trivial change should be uploaded to our “Rietveld” code review website:


git-cl install

LilyDev users should skip over these ‘install’ instructions.

  1. Install git-cl by entering:
    git clone https://github.com/gperciva/git-cl.git

    If that command fails for some reason, try this instead:

    git clone git://github.com/gperciva/git-cl.git
  2. Add the ‘git-cl/’ directory to your PATH, or create a symbolic link to the git-cl and upload.py scripts in one of your PATH directories (such as ‘$HOME/bin’).

    In GNU/Linux you can add directories to PATH by adding this line to a hidden file ‘.bashrc’, located in your home directory:


git-cl configuration

LilyDev users should perform these ‘configuration’ instructions.

  1. You must own a Google account login; please create one if you do not have one already.

    Note that a google account does not need to be a Gmail account; you can use any email address for your google account when you sign up.

    Note: In order for git-cl to work as expected, your Google Account Settings must have the ‘Access for less secure apps’ set to ‘Allowed’. This is normally the default setting.

  2. Move into the top source directory and then configure git-cl with the following commands:
    git-cl config

    For the “Rietveld server” question, the default value (“codereview.appspot.com”) should be accepted by answering with a newline (CR).

    The “CC list” question should be answered with:


    The “Tree status URL” value should be left blank. So should the “ViewVC URL” value, since it is used by git-cl dcommit which is only for repositories which use git svn (LilyPond doesn’t).

Uploading patch set

This section assumes that you have already configured the git-cl ‘helper-script’. See git-cl.

Note: Unless you are familiar with branches, only work on one set of changes at once.

There are two methods, depending on your git setup.

First you will see a terminal editor where you can edit the message that will accompany your patch. git-cl will respect the EDITOR environment variable if defined, otherwise it will use vi as the default editor.

After prompting for your Google email address and password, the patch set will be posted to Rietveld, and you will be given a URL for your patch.

Note: Some installations of git-cl fail when uploading a patch with certain filename extensions. If this happens, it can generally be fixed by editing the list of exceptions at top of ‘git-cl.py’.

Announcing your patch set

You should then announce the patch by logging into the code review issue webpage and using “Publish + Mail Comments” to add a (mostly bogus) comment to your issue. The text of your comment will be sent to our developer mailing list.

Note: There is no automatic notification of a new patch; you must add a comment yourself.


As revisions are made in response to comments, successive patch sets for the same issue can be uploaded by reissuing the git-cl command with the modified branch checked out.

Sometimes in response to comments on revisions, the best way to work may require creation of a new branch in git. In order to associate the new branch with an existing Rietveld issue, the following command can be used:

git-cl issue issue-number

where issue-number is the number of the existing Rietveld issue.

Resetting git-cl

If git-cl becomes confused, you can “reset” it by running:

git-cl issue 0

Wait for a countdown

Your patch will be available for reviews for the next few hours or days. Three times a week, patches with no known problems are gathered into a “patch countdown” and their status changed to patch-countdown. The countdown is a 48-hour waiting period in which any final reviews or complaints should be made.

During the countdown, your patch may be set to patch-needs_work, indicating that you should fix something (or at least discuss why the patch needs no modification). If no problems are found, the patch will be set to patch-push.

Once a patch has patch-push, it should be sent to your mentor for uploading. If you have git push ability, look at Pushing to staging.

LilyPond — Contributor’s Guide v2.19.36 (development-branch).