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I messed up my git history: retrieving your lost commits

Photo by Elisa Ventur.

When using git commands that rewrite a branch's history, like rebase or reset, you might end up losing some commits by mistake.

But don't worry, as long as you committed your changes once, you should be able to get them back!

Indeed, a magical git command can help us: git reflog.

Git keeps a trace of all your commit in reference logs: this is, for instance, what allows you to use commands like git checkout my-branch@{two.week.ago} to checkout on your branch as it was two weeks ago.

So if you just messed up with your branch, you can do something like git checkout my-branch@{ten.minute.ago}, otherwise, it can be more accurate to look directly at the reference logs entries with the git reflog command.

Reading the reference logs

The format of the reference logs is as follows:

commit hash (branch name) handle: action: action description.

Here is an example of a git reflog output:
can be

0e60901 (HEAD -> feature-branch, main) HEAD@{0}: reset: moving to main
2b38384 HEAD@{1}: commit: feat: new feature
0e60901 (HEAD -> feature-branch, main) HEAD@{2}: checkout: moving from main to feature-branch
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Here for instance we have:

  • HEAD@{2} - creation of a new branch named feature-branch
  • HEAD@{1} - add a commit with the message feat: new feature
  • HEAD@{0} - reset on branch main

When I have reset my branch on main, I used the --hard option, so currently the changes from my commit feat: new feature are lost.

But thanks to the reflog, I can checkout on them or directly reset my head on it with the following command:

git reset --hard HEAD@{1} # or with the commit hash: git reset --hard 2b38384
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Here we go, I got back my lost commit!

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