Git choose your own adventure

Tuesday 14 January 2014This is over nine years old. Be careful.

Seth Robertson has written a great tutorial on how to fix mistakes in git: On undoing, fixing, or removing commits in git. I love it for two reasons.

First, it really does help you find your way through a thicket of options in the confusing world of git. I love git, but it is a power tool that has hurt many, and good instructions for the baffled are hard to come by.

More interestingly, Seth has come up with an innovative way to provide the instructions. When writing detailed technical help, things are never straightforward, literally. There are always points in the flow where you have to say, “Now, you may have done A or you may have done B, and what happens next depends on your choice.” Rather than try to keep all that in a linear English flow as most of us do, Seth has provided an actual branching structure to the text.

When you try to keep it linear, you end up with something that reads like the instructions for an IRS tax form, because they have a similarly complex documentation challenge. By actually branching, Seth has made it possible to focus on the situation you are actually in.

And although the page looks as bare-bones as they come (it could have been designed in 1994), the choices you make are recorded and appear as breadcrumbs right where you are in the text.

I can see extending this technique. Imagine in a set of instructions where the user has to choose the name of a directory, they enter the name into a text box, and then the rest of the instructions have the actual name filled in so the commands they have to type don’t need metasyntactic placeholders like <YOURDIRECTORY>.

Help for confused people should be more helpful, and keeping track of the twisty paths like this is a really nice way to do it. I’d love to see other examples. Explaining things is hard, and new ways to do it are fascinating.


Yup a great approach. Something similar showing how to rebase or merge that feature branch you so foolishly made would be a good sequel.

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