Index manipulation with git read-tree command

git read-tree is a lower-level command that provides foundational functionality upon which more user-friendly commands are built. At its core, git read-tree updates the index (a.k.a. the staging area) to prepare the next commit.

Common Use Cases:

  1. Merging Trees: The most common use of git read-tree is to merge content from one or more trees into the index. It provides the basis for commands like git merge.

  2. Resetting Index: You can use git read-tree to reset the index to match a particular commit, which can be handy when you're trying to build a custom script or functionality on top of Git.

Most Valuable Options:

  1. -m: This option is used to indicate that you're merging. When this option is used, you can specify more than one tree-ish (e.g., commits or branches) and git read-tree will attempt to merge them.

  2. --prefix=: This is used to read the tree into the index under a specific subdirectory. This can be handy for things like merging one repository into a subdirectory of another.

  3. --empty: This is used to clear the current index before reading in the new tree. This can be useful for certain scripting scenarios or to start with a fresh slate.


  1. Merging Two Trees into the Index:
    Let's say you have two branches, branchA and branchB. Merge the content of these two branches into the index using git read-tree.


     git read-tree -m branchA branchB
  2. Reading a Tree into a Subdirectory:
    Let's say you want to read the content of branchA into a new directory named subdir in your index. How would you do that?


     git read-tree --prefix=subdir/ branchA
  3. Resetting Index to a Specific Commit:
    Imagine you want to reset your index (not the working directory) to match the content of a commit with the hash abc123. How would you achieve this?


     git read-tree abc123

Note: While git read-tree is a powerful command, it is also a low-level command. In typical workflows, developers use higher-level commands like git merge, git reset, etc., and may never need to directly interact with git read-tree. Always be cautious when using lower-level Git commands, as they can change the state of your repository in unexpected ways if not used correctly.

Alright, let's delve deeper into git read-tree with these exercises. These are designed to help users understand the underlying mechanics of Git, but keep in mind that in day-to-day workflows, high-level commands are often used instead of git read-tree.


1. Basic Index Population:

Exercise: Initialize a new repository, create a file, commit it, and then use git read-tree to read this tree into the index.


# Setup
mkdir exercise1
cd exercise1
git init
echo "Test" > file1.txt
git add file1.txt
git commit -m "Initial commit"

# Using git read-tree to read the tree of the commit into the index
git read-tree HEAD

2. Viewing the Result of read-tree:

Exercise: After reading a tree into the index, how would you visualize the index's content?


git ls-files --stage

The git ls-files command, when paired with the --stage option, allows you to view the content of the index, including file modes, blob SHAs, and stage numbers.

3. Merging Two Trees:

Exercise: Create two branches with different changes. Use git read-tree with the -m option to attempt to merge the two branches into the index.


# Setup
git checkout -b branchA
echo "Change from branchA" >> file1.txt
git commit -am "Change from branchA"

git checkout master
git checkout -b branchB
echo "Change from branchB" >> file1.txt
git commit -am "Change from branchB"

# Using git read-tree to merge branchA and branchB into the index
git read-tree -m branchA branchB

4. Reading Tree into a Subdirectory:

Exercise: Take a tree from a commit and read it into the index under a subdirectory named sub.


# Create a new commit for the exercise
echo "Another file" > file2.txt
git add file2.txt
git commit -m "Second commit"

# Use git read-tree to read the tree into a subdirectory
git read-tree --prefix=sub/ HEAD

5. Reset Index to Specific Commit:

Exercise: Make several commits, then use git read-tree to reset the index (not the working directory) to the tree of the second commit.


# Setup
echo "Change 1" >> file1.txt
git commit -am "Change 1"
echo "Change 2" >> file1.txt
git commit -am "Change 2"

# Get the hash of the second commit
SECOND_COMMIT_HASH=$(git log --reverse --pretty=format:"%H" | sed -n '2p')

# Use git read-tree to reset the index to the second commit
git read-tree $SECOND_COMMIT_HASH

These exercises give an understanding of how git read-tree works at a fundamental level. It's essential to emphasize that while understanding these mechanics can be valuable, higher-level commands like git merge and git reset are used more frequently in standard workflows.


  1. git-read-tree