Practical uses of git reset –soft?

I have been working with git for just over a month. Indeed I have used reset for the first time only yesterday, but the soft reset still doesn’t make much sense to me.

I understand I can use the soft reset to edit a commit without altering the index or the working directory, as I would with git commit --amend.

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  • Are these two commands really the same (reset --soft vs commit --amend)? Any reason to use one or the other in practical terms? And more importantly, are there any other uses for reset --soft apart from amending a commit?

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  • 9 Solutions collect form web for “Practical uses of git reset –soft?”

    git reset is all about moving HEAD.
    Question: what about the working tree and index?
    When employed with --soft, moves HEAD, and only the HEAD.
    This differ from commit --amend as:

    • it doesn’t create a new commit.
    • it can actually move HEAD to any commit (as commit --amend is only about not moving HEAD, while allowing to redo the current commit)

    Just found this example of combining:

    • a classic merge
    • a subtree merge

    all into one (octopus, since there is more than two branches merged) commit merge.

    Tomas “wereHamster” Carnecky explains in his “Subtree Octopus merge” article:

    • The subtree merge strategy can be used if you want to merge one project into a subdirectory of another project, and the subsequently keep the subproject up to date. It is an alternative to git submodules.
    • The octopus merge strategy can be used to merge three or more branches. The normal strategy can merge only two branches and if you try to merge more than that, git automatically falls back to the octopus strategy.

    The problem is that you can choose only one strategy. But I wanted to combine the two in order to get a clean history in which the whole repository is atomically updated to a new version.

    I have a superproject, let’s call it projectA, and a subproject, projectB, that I merged into a subdirectory of projectA.

    (that’s the subtree merge part)

    I’m also maintaining a few local commits.
    ProjectA is regularly updated, projectB has a new version every couple days or weeks and usually depends on a particular version of projectA.

    When I decide to update both projects, I don’t simply pull from projectA and projectB as that would create two commits for what should be an atomic update of the whole project.
    Instead, I create a single merge commit which combines projectA, projectB and my local commits.
    The tricky part here is that this is an octopus merge (three heads), but projectB needs to be merged with the subtree strategy. So this is what I do:

    # Merge projectA with the default strategy:
    git merge projectA/master
    # Merge projectB with the subtree strategy:
    git merge -s subtree projectB/master

    Here the author used a reset --hard, and then read-tree to restore what the first two merges had done to the working tree and index, but that is where reset --soft can help:
    How to I redo those two merges, which have worked, i.e. my working tree and index are fine, but without having to record those two commits?

    # Move the HEAD, and just the HEAD, two commits back!
    git reset --soft HEAD@{2}

    Now, we can resume Tomas’s solution:

    # Pretend that we just did an octopus merge with three heads:
    echo $(git rev-parse projectA/master) > .git/MERGE_HEAD
    echo $(git rev-parse projectB/master) >> .git/MERGE_HEAD
    # And finally do the commit:
    git commit

    So, each time:

    • you are satisfied with what you end up with (in term of working tree and index)
    • you are not satisfied with all the commits that took you to get there:

    git reset --soft is the answer.

    I use it to amend more than just the last commit.

    Let’s say I made a mistake in commit A and then made commit B. Now I can only amend B.
    So I do git reset --soft HEAD^^, I correct and re-commit A and then re-commit B.

    Of course, it’s not very convenient for large commits… but you shouldn’t do large commits anyway 😉

    Use Case – Combine a series of local commits

    “Oops. Those three commits could be just one.”

    So, undo the last 3 (or whatever) commits (without affecting the index nor working directory). Then commit all the changes as one.


    > git add -A; git commit -m "Start here."
    > git add -A; git commit -m "One"
    > git add -A; git commit -m "Two"
    > git add -A' git commit -m "Three"
    > git log --oneline --graph -4 --decorate
    > * da883dc (HEAD, master) Three
    > * 92d3eb7 Two
    > * c6e82d3 One
    > * e1e8042 Start here.
    > git reset --soft HEAD~3
    > git log --oneline --graph -1 --decorate
    > * e1e8042 Start here.

    Now all your changes are preserved and ready to be committed as one.

    Short answers to your questions

    Are these two commands really the same (reset --soft vs commit --amend)?

    • No.

    Any reason to use one or the other in practical terms?

    • commit --amend to add/rm files from the very last commit or to change its message.
    • reset --soft <commit> to combine several sequential commits into a new one.

    And more importantly, are there any other uses for reset --soft apart from amending a commit?

    • See other answers 🙂

    You can use git reset --soft to change the version you want to have as parent for the changes you have in your index and working tree. The cases where this is useful are rare. Sometimes you might decide that the changes you have in your working tree should belong onto a different branch. Or you can use this as a simple way to collapse several commits into one (similar to squash/fold).

    See this answer by VonC for a practical example:
    Squash the first two commits in Git?

    A great reason to use ‘git reset --soft <sha1>‘ is to move HEAD in a bare repo.

    If you try to use the --mixed or --hard option, you’ll get an error since you’re trying to modify and working tree and/or index that does not exist.

    Note: You will need to do this directly from the bare repo.

    Note Again: You will need to make sure the branch you want to reset in the bare repo is the active branch. If not, follow VonC’s answer on how to update the active branch in a bare repo when you have direct access to the repo.

    One possible usage would be when you want to continue your work on a different machine. It would work like this:

    1. Checkout a new branch with a stash-like name,

      git checkout -b <branchname>_stash
    2. Push your stash branch up,

      git push -u origin <branchname>_stash
    3. Switch to your other machine.

    4. Pull down both your stash and existing branches,

      git checkout <branchname>_stash; git checkout <branchname>
    5. You should be on your existing branch now. Merge in the changes from the stash branch,

      git merge <branchname>_stash
    6. Soft reset your existing branch to 1 before your merge,

      git reset --soft HEAD^
    7. Remove your stash branch,

      git branch -d <branchname>_stash
    8. Also remove your stash branch from origin,

      git push origin :<branchname>_stash
    9. Continue working with your changes as if you had stashed them normally.

    I think, in the future, GitHub and co. should offer this “remote stash” functionality in fewer steps.

    Another potential use is as an alternative to stashing (which some people don’t like, see e.g.

    For example, if I’m working on a branch and need to fix something urgently on master, I can just do:

    git commit -am "In progress."

    then checkout master and do the fix. When I’m done, I return to my branch and do

    git reset --soft HEAD~1

    to continue working where I left off.

    One practical use is if you have committed to your local repo already (ie. git commit -m ) then you can reverse that last commit by doing git reset –soft HEAD ~1

    Also for your knowledge, if you have staged your changes already (ie with git add .) then you can reverse the staging by doing git reset –mixed HEAD

    lastly, git reset –hard wipes everything out including your local changes. The ~ after head tells you how many commits to go to from the top.

    SourceTree is a git GUI which has a pretty convenient interface for staging just the bits you want. It does not have anything remotely similar for amending a proper revision.

    So git reset --soft HEAD~1 is much more useful than commit --amend in this scenario. I can undo the commit, get all the changes back into the staging area, and resume tweaking the staged bits using SourceTree.

    Really, it seems to me that commit --amend is the more redundant command of the two, but git is git and does not shy away from similar commands that do slightly different things.

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