64

In this documentation it is mentioned

A commit object may have any number of parents.

But from my understanding, the only case where a commit will have more than 1 parent is when a merge has happened, and in that case there will only be two parents. So my question is, can a commit have more than 2 parents? If so, when?

1

3 Answers 3

61

You can use git merge to merge more than one commit into your current branch. From man git-merge (or git help merge):

git-merge - Join two or more development histories together

The result will be a commit with more than two parents when you do that.

12
  • 44
    A merge of more than one branch (i.e. a commit with more than two parents) is colloquially known as an "octopus merge". That's also the source of inspiration for GitHub's logo and mascot, the eight-legged cat: it was originally called the Octopuss, but was renamed the more corporate-friendly Octocat. Mar 30, 2016 at 3:05
  • 6
    What are the advantages of merging three or more branches in a single commit, instead of a series of commits? Mar 30, 2016 at 9:09
  • 2
    @TorKlingberg Cleaner history, but make sure to test the final product before pushing to the remote repsitory.
    – Ferrybig
    Mar 30, 2016 at 9:23
  • 12
    @KasunSiyambalapitiya - There are multiple examples in one particular github repo. One of the many octopus merges in that repo which involves 27 parents. Apr 17, 2017 at 13:58
  • 3
    Insert "why would you do that?" meme here... Sep 4, 2018 at 12:59
22

Yes, how about 100k parents?

Here is a live GitHub example with a merge of 100k commits: https://github.com/cirosantilli/test-octopus-100k Generated with this script.

Trivia

Linus does not like commits with more than 60 parents: https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/blog/2017/the-biggest-and-weirdest-commits-in-linux-kernel-git-history

It's pulled, and it's fine, but there's clearly a balance between "octopus merges are fine" and "Christ, that's not an octopus, that's a Cthulhu merge".

Have a look at the format for the Git commit object

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/22968856/what-is-the-file-format-of-a-git-commit-object/37438460#37438460

From that analysis, we can see that the list of parents list is an arbitrary newline separated list of type:

parent {parent_1_sha}
parent {parent_2_sha}
...
parent {parent_N_sha}

and so an arbitrary number of parents is allowed.

Minimal example

Script:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
set -eu

mkdir tmp
cd tmp
git init

touch root
git add .
git commit -m root
sha_root="$(git log -1 --format="%H")"

touch 1
git add .
git commit -m 1
sha1="$(git log -1 --format="%H")"

git reset --hard "$sha_root"
touch 2
git add .
git commit -m 2
sha2="$(git log -1 --format="%H")"

git reset --hard "$sha_root"
touch 3
git add .
git commit -m 3
sha3="$(git log -1 --format="%H")"

git merge -m merge "$sha1" "$sha2"

View it:

git log --abbrev-commit --decorate --graph --pretty=oneline --all

Output:

*-.   70b4d8c (HEAD -> master) merge
|\ \  
| | * e54f235 2
| * | c7ab8ef 1
| |/  
* / ae5f932 3
|/  
* ef2f89e root

How it shows on git log:

commit 70b4d8c93b8ba47d3a2b2d4d45619ad5e0f34289 (HEAD -> master)
Merge: ae5f932 c7ab8ef e54f235
Author: Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com>
Date:   Thu Dec 3 23:45:07 2020 +0000

    merge

commit ae5f932c1de34255400806f85f7f58ff52b7ae86
Author: Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com>
Date:   Thu Dec 3 23:45:07 2020 +0000

    3

commit c7ab8efcb25e49ffc653ce5308cd5151d6a3fb94
Author: Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com>
Date:   Thu Dec 3 23:45:07 2020 +0000

    1

commit e54f235a54da0900cec99301099673e3bc1cd01e
Author: Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com>
Date:   Thu Dec 3 23:45:07 2020 +0000

    2

commit ef2f89eeb8fa83779b58b604f9814ec6fdfcc20c
Author: Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com>
Date:   Thu Dec 3 23:45:07 2020 +0000

    root

so note how a commit with multiple parents gets the:

Merge: ae5f932 c7ab8ef e54f235

line with the parents. The parent of commits with a single parent is not as clearly shown in that format however, but we could get it with:

git log --pretty=raw

which gives:

commit 4210da20504fc08136421a351983c179baf0dccb
tree 2d509da01229d1c0f2f0efa0951fd623f6e26f62
parent 5b1eba2de78f303d5a3a8b0ca18fcf1219d5431a
parent 802c349017b0f911ccb8e59b1a730b51113d198d
parent 228b5883376dce7874c1c2269666077a9db285b6
author Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000
committer Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000

    merge

commit 5b1eba2de78f303d5a3a8b0ca18fcf1219d5431a
tree 235125b9eb17ab8889306536ca28a192cbb5499b
parent 1a257992f676efa966ffaf826e1bd1b6ece9325b
author Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000
committer Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000

    3

commit 802c349017b0f911ccb8e59b1a730b51113d198d
tree 64b425efe9e0a742c6a085eb4c0771641be57582
parent 1a257992f676efa966ffaf826e1bd1b6ece9325b
author Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000
committer Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000

    1

commit 228b5883376dce7874c1c2269666077a9db285b6
tree 40693988bf998a8acbc7cdec9982cdfd358915c9
parent 1a257992f676efa966ffaf826e1bd1b6ece9325b
author Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000
committer Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000

    2

commit 1a257992f676efa966ffaf826e1bd1b6ece9325b
tree f5ba07a8f892d043d1b8f3429d3bec69a2331d4b
author Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000
committer Ciro Santilli <ciro.santilli@gmail.com> 1642065317 +0000

    root

related: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/9059335/how-can-i-get-the-parents-of-a-merge-commit-in-git

Another related git log option is: --min-parents which filters commits by the number of parents.

Tested on git version 2.25.1.

3
  • I'm not sure if GitHub just can't handle a merge of that magnitude or if you've left it as a private repository. Or if GitHub is just having some unrelated issue. But regardless, the 100k merge link is a 500 error for me.
    – 8bittree
    Sep 4, 2018 at 16:01
  • @8bittree it can't handle, private repo would be 400 :-) github.com/isaacs/github/issues/1344 Sep 4, 2018 at 16:03
  • 2
    What is this connection between bearded sandal wearing FOSS advocates and Lovecraft that I repeatedly enounter?
    – Neutrino
    Sep 23, 2019 at 15:29
5

You can specify more than one branch when merging.

For example:

git merge branch_A branch_B branch_C [...]

Then commit has more parents.

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