Collaborating with a remote repository


Teaching: 25 min
Exercises: 0 min
  • How do I update my local repository with changes from the remote?

  • How can I collaborate using Git?

  • Understand how to pull changes from remote repository

  • Understand how to resolve merge conflicts

Pulling changes from a remote repository

Now when we have a remote repository, we can share it and collaborate with others (and we can also work from multiple locations: for example from a laptop and a desktop in the lab). But how do we get the latest changes? One way is simply to clone the repository every time– but this is inefficient, especially if our repository is very large! So, Git allows us to get the latest changes down from a repository.

We’ll first do a “dry run” of pulling changes from a remote repository and then we’ll work in pairs for some real-life practice.

First, let us leave our current local repository,

$ cd ..
$ ls
$ git-papers

And let us clone our repository again, but this time specify the local directory name,

$ git clone<USERNAME>/git-papers.git nha-papers
Cloning into 'nha-papers'...

So we now have two clones of our repository,

$ ls
$ git-papers nha-papers

Let’s pretend these clones are on two separate machines! So then we have 3 versions of our repository: our two local versions on separate machines (we’re still pretending!) and one on GitHub. We can edit one of our clones, add a figures section, commit the file and push these changes to GitHub:

$ cd git-papers 			# Switch to the 'git-papers' directory
$ vim		# Add figures section
$ git add
$ git commit -m "Add figures"
$ git push

Now let’s change directory to our other clone and fetch the commits from our remote repository:

$ cd ../nha-papers		# Switch to the other directory
$ git fetch

We can now see what the differences are by doing,

$ git diff origin/master

which compares our master branch with the origin/master branch. origin/master is the name of the master branch in origin (which is the alias for our cloned repository); that is, the one on GitHub.

We can then merge these changes into our current repository, but given the history hasn’t diverged, we don’t need a merge commit. Instead we get a fast-forward merge.

$ git merge origin/master
Updating 0cc2a2d..7c239c3
Fast-forward | 4 ++++
 1 file changed, 4 insertions(+)

We can inspect the file to confirm that we have our changes.

$ cat

Note that, as a short-hand, we can do a git pull which does a git fetch followed by a git merge. Next we will update our repo using git pull, but this time starting with changes in the nha-papers folder (you should already be in the nha-papers folder!). Let’s write the conclusions:

$ vim		# Write Conclusions
$ git add
$ git commit -m "Write Conclusions"
$ git push origin master
$ cd ../git-papers			# Switch back to the git-papers directory
$ git pull origin master	# Get changes from remote repository

This is the same scenario as before, so we get another fast-forward merge!

We can check that we have our changes:

$ cat
$ git log

Fetch vs pull

If git pull is a shortcut for git fetch followed by git merge then, why would you ever want to do these steps separately?

Well, depending on what the commits on the remote branch contain, you might want to e.g., abandon your local commits before merging.

Fetching first lets you inspect the changes before deciding what you want to do with them.

Conflicts and how to resolve them

Let’s continue to pretend that our two local, cloned, repositories are hosted on two different machines. You should currently be in the original git-papers folder. Let’s add an affiliation for each author, and then push these changes to our remote repository:

$ vim		# Add author affiliations
$ git add
$ git commit -m "Add author affiliations"
$ git push origin master

Now let us suppose, at a later date, we use our other repository (the nha-papers clone) on another machine, and we want to change the order of the authors.

The remote branch origin/master is now ahead of our local master branch on the other machine, because we haven’t yet updated our local branch using git pull.

$ cd ../nha-papers		# Switch directory to other copy of our repository
$ vim		# Change order of the authors
$ git add
$ git commit -m "Change the first author"
$ git push origin master
 ! [rejected]        master -> master (fetch first)
error: failed to push some refs to '<USERNAME>/git-papers.git'
hint: Updates were rejected because the remote contains work that you do
hint: not have locally. This is usually caused by another repository pushing
hint: to the same ref. You may want to first integrate the remote changes
hint: (e.g., 'git pull ...') before pushing again.
hint: See the 'Note about fast-forwards' in 'git push --help' for details.

Our push fails, as we’ve not yet pulled down our changes from our remote repository! But don’t panic. Before pushing we should always pull, so let’s do that…

$ git pull origin master

and we get:

CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in
Automatic merge failed; fix conflicts and then commit the result.

As we saw earlier, with the fetch and merge, git pull pulls down changes from the repository and tries to merge them. It does this on a file-by-file basis, merging files line by line. We get a conflict if a file has changes that affect the same lines and those changes can’t be seamlessly merged. We had this situation before in the branching episode, when we merged a feature branch into master. If we look at the status:

$ git status

we can see that our file is listed as Unmerged and if we look at, we see something like:

<<<<<<< HEAD
E DuPre, J Smith
J Smith, E DuPre
>>>>>>> 1b55fe7f23a6411f99bf573bfb287937ecb647fc

The mark-up shows us the parts of the file causing the conflict and the versions they come from. We now need to manually edit the file to resolve the conflict. Just like we did when we had to deal with the conflict when we were merging the branches.

We edit the file. Then commit our changes. Now, if we push

$ vim		# Edit file to resolve merge conflict
$ git add		# Stage the file
$ git commit			# Commit to mark the conflict as resolved
$ git push origin master

… all goes well! If we now go to GitHub and click on the “Overview” tab, we can see where our repository diverged and came together again.

This is where version control proves itself better than DropBox or GoogleDrive! This allows us to merge text files line-by-line and highlight the conflicts between them, so no work is ever lost.

We’ll finish by pulling these changes into other copy of the repo, so both copies are up to date:

$ cd ../git-papers			# Switch to 'git-papers' directory
$ git pull origin master	# Merge remote branch into local

Key Points

  • git pull to integrate remote changes into local copy of repository