04/01/2018 Git How to undo commits in Git

How to undo commits in Git

In How to recover files after modifying them thanks to Git we already learned what to do in some cases where we have screwed up by modifying a file in the wrong way. But what can we do when we've already committed what is wrong? We'll try to explain it.

We wanted to wait for this moment to explain this point because the procedure is quite different depending on what was done with that commit: if it's still in our local machine or if it has already sent to a remote node (to GitHub, for example). Git has the reset command (already used in the article linked at the beginning) and revert, serving both to undo a commit but each one of them in a different way. While revert can be used both when a commit is still in our local machine as when already it has been pushed to a remote node, reset only should be used when the commit is still in our local machine. Now we will explain it in detail.


In Git a pointer is assigned to all the commits (actually almost everything in Git works based on pointers, but better we will not go into excessive detail) that we can see with the git log command which is displayed a list of everything we've been doing in our Git repository. Without parameters it's a somewhat basic statement so we recommend you to run it at least with git log --oneline --decorate parameters, and if you want to see a tree structure mode then add the parameter --graph, like git log --oneline --decorate --graph to see more precisely which branch derives each of our commits.

Well, when you see this log you will have noticed that there is a HEAD pointer, which refers to the most recent commit.

And after this introduction we can continue.


reset is a destructive command that undoes commits drastically: as if they had never existed. And, as we said, it may be what we are looking for when we still have the commits only on our local machine, but never if we've already used the git push command because many conflicts can happen if we are working in a team and someone has already pulled new commits that magically have disappeared from one of the nodes. In short, better not think about it.

If the error is in the last commit, using the git reset HEAD~1 command (if the 1 is replaced by a 2 it would be the second to last commit sent) the HEAD pointer would no longer point to the last commit but to the previous one, and leave us these changes as modified files but without even be added to the cue for the next commit (git add command).

Although using the reset command parameters we can use the --soft parameter so when we undoing the commit it leaves modified files in the stage like git reset --soft HEAD~1 and this is useful, for example, if the changes we have made are not incorrect but we forgot to add some file to the commit, or we have added more files than necessary. That is: it would only remove the git commit command.

And if we feel brave we can use the --hard parameter like in git reset --hard HEAD~1 which is the most destructive way of this command, because it undoes the commit, cleans the stage and deletes all file modifications without being able to recover any of the changes we have made.


The main difference between reset and revert is that as we have seen reset makes it look like the commit never existed, while revert creates another commit reversing all commit changes. And this is what makes it the only valid option if we've already sent the commit to a remote node, because the remote will know that changes have been undone and there is no conflict here.

revert command doesn't change any pointer but creates new commits instead that only undo the previously changes (it deletes added lines and it adds the deleted lines again), so if we want to revert the last commit it's no longer necessary to refer to the commit preceding the last commit relative to HEAD as we did before with the ~1 but simply HEAD because it's the commit we want to undo, and we would do it by running the git revert HEAD command that would create a new commit with the name (if we don't change it manually) Revert "Name of the undone commit".

With reset command we could undo multiple commits, no matter how many of them, because the pointer changes, and everything is ready. With revert we can also get it, but if we run the learned command multiple times, for multiple commits that we want to undo, the history would be filled with commits created by the revert command and it no would be nice. Fortunately there is a solution with the use of parameters. Let's get dirty with our repository for this Git course:

$ touch js.js
$ git add js.js
$ git commit -m "Adding a JS file"

[master 99ef7fc] Adding a JS file
 1 file changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 js.js

$ touch js2.js
$ git add js2.js
$ git commit -m "Adding a second JS file"

[master b8813f9] Adding a second JS file
 1 file changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 js2.js

Right now, in our case, the b8813f9 commit would correspond to our HEAD and the 99ef7fc commit to our HEAD~1. We could undo them elegantly in a single commit with the git revert --no-commit HEAD command and if we want to know what exactly happened we can use the git status command:

On branch master
You are currently reverting commit b8813f9.
  (all conflicts fixed: run "git revert --continue")
  (use "git revert --abort" to cancel the revert operation)

Changes to be committed:
  (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)

        deleted:    js2.js

But now let's go for the second commit that we want to undo with git revert --no-commit HEAD~1 and let's run git status one more time:

On branch master
You are currently reverting commit 99ef7fc.
  (all conflicts fixed: run "git revert --continue")
  (use "git revert --abort" to cancel the revert operation)

Changes to be committed:
  (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)

        deleted:    js.js
        deleted:    js2.js

And we've already finished undoing commits, so we can already execute the command that offers us in the third line the status command: `git revert --continue' ending the succession of undone commits.

[master 0056e96] Revert "Adding a JS file"
 2 files changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 delete mode 100644 js.js
 delete mode 100644 js2.js

And if we check the Git log as we learned at the beginning we'll see that our history is like this:

* 0056e96 (HEAD -> master) Revert "Adding a JS file"
* b8813f9 Adding a second JS file
* 99ef7fc Adding a JS file

Ready to be able to securely send these undone commits to a remote node.

In any case, logically, we always have the option to correct errors and add a new commit with those errors corrected. That's a matter of taste.

We are saying goodbye to this article, but not before sharing our typical farewell with you: never stop programming!

Starving for knowledge?

This article is part of the Mastering Git from scratch course. The previous article of this course is Obtaining and cloning new commits from a Git repository and the next one is Using Git aliases to increase our productivity.
Javi Palacios

Javi Palacios


Computer Padawan and real reader enthusiast. The first day that I code I knew that I wanted to continue programing for the rest of my life. Compiling things on Linux since 2003 and enjoying the stability of macOS since 2006. Free software and technology lover.


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