GLEP 66: Gentoo Git Workflow

Author Michał Górny <>
Type Standards Track
Status Final
Version 1.1
Created 2017-07-24
Last modified 2018-09-18
Posting history 2017-07-25, 2017-09-28, 2017-10-11, 2018-09-18
GLEP source glep-0066.rst


This GLEP specifies basic standards and recommendations for using git with the Gentoo ebuild repository. It covers only Gentoo-specific policies, and is not meant to be a complete guide.

Change log

Updated the Signed-off-by footer tag description to account for newly-approved copyright policy.


Although the main Gentoo repository is using git for two years already, developers still lack official documentation on how to use git consistently. Most of the developers learn spoken standards from others and follow them. This eventually brings consistency to some extent but is suboptimal. Furthermore, it results in users having to learn things the hard way instead of having proper documentation to follow.

There were a few attempts to standardize git use over the time. Most noteworthy are Gentoo git workflow [1] and Gentoo GitHub [2] articles. However, they are not any kind of official standards, and they have too broad focus to become one. There was also an initial GLEP attempt but it never even reached the draft stage.

This GLEP aims to finally provide basic standardization for the use of git in the Gentoo repository. It aims to focus purely on Gentoo-specific standards and not git usage in general. It doesn't mean to be a complete guide but a formal basis on top of which official guides could be created.


Branching model

The main branch of the Gentoo repository is the master branch. All Gentoo developers push their work straight to the master branch, provided that the commits meet the minimal quality standards. The master branch is also used straight for continuous user repository deployment.

Since multiple developers work on master concurrently, they may be required to rebase multiple times before being able to push. Developers are requested not to use workflows that could prevent others from pushing, e.g. pushing single commits frequently instead of staging them and using a single push.

Developers can use additional branches to facilitate review and testing of long-term projects of larger scale. However, since git fetches all branches by default, they should be used scarcely. For smaller projects, local branches or repository forks are preferred.

Unless stated otherwise, the rules set by this specification apply to the master branch only. The development branches can use relaxed rules.

Rewriting history (i.e. force pushes) of the master branch is forbidden.

Merge commits

The use of merge commits in the Gentoo repository is strongly discouraged. Usually it is preferable to rebase instead. However, the developers are allowed to use merge commits in justified cases. Merge commits can be only used to merge additional branches, the use of implicit git pull merges is entirely forbidden.

In a merge commit that is committed straight to the Gentoo repository, the first parent is expected to reference an actual Gentoo commit preceding the merge, while the remaining parents can be used to reference commits originating from external repositories. The commits on the ancestry path of the first parent (up to the next merge commit) are required to conform to this specification. The commits on remaining ancestry paths can use relaxed rules.

OpenPGP signatures

Each commit in the Gentoo repository must be signed using the committer's OpenPGP key. Furthermore, each push to the repository must be signed using the key belonging to the developer performing the push (matched via the SSH key).

The requirements for OpenPGP keys are covered by GLEP 63 [3].

Splitting commits

Git commits are lightweight, and the developers are encouraged to split their commits to improve readability and the ability of reverting specific sub-changes. When choosing how to split the commits, the developers should consider the following three rules:

  1. Use atomic commits — one commit per logical change.
  2. Split commits at logical unit (package, eclass, profile…) boundaries.
  3. Avoid creating commits that are 'broken' — e.g. are incomplete, have uninstallable packages.

It is technically impossible to always respect all of the three rules, so developers have to balance between them at their own discretion. Side changes that are implied by other change (e.g. revbump due to some change) should be included in the first commit requiring them. Commits should be ordered to avoid breakage, and follow logical ordering whenever possible.


  • When doing a version bump, it is usually not reasonable to split every necessary logical change into separate commit since the interim commits would correspond to a broken package. However, if the package has a live ebuild, it might be reasonable to perform split logical changes on the live ebuild, then create a release as another logical step.
  • When doing one or more changes that require a revision bump, bump the revision in the commit including the first change. Split the changes into multiple logical commits without further revision bumps — since they are going to be pushed in a single push, the user will not be exposed to interim state.
  • When adding a new version of a package that should be masked, you can include the package.mask edit in the commit adding it. Alternatively, you can add the mask in a split commit preceding the bump.
  • When doing a minor change to a large number of packages, it is reasonable to do so in a single commit. However, when doing a major change (e.g. a version bump), it is better to split commits on package boundaries.

Commit messages

A standard git commit message consists of three parts, in order: a summary line, an optional body and an optional set of tags. The parts are separated by a single empty line.

The summary line is included in the short logs (git log --oneline, gitweb, GitHub, mail subject) and therefore should provide a short yet accurate description of the change. The summary line starts with a logical unit name, followed by a colon, a space and a short description of the most important changes. If a bug is associated with a change, then it can be included in the summary line as bug #nnnnnn. The summary line must not exceed 69 characters, and must not be wrapped.

The suggested logical unit name formats are:

  • for a package, category/package: …;
  • for an eclass, name.eclass: …;
  • for other directories or files, their path or filename (as long as a developer reading the commit messages is able to figure out what it is) — e.g. licenses/foo: …, package.mask: ….

The body is included in the full commit log (git log, detailed commit info on gitweb/GitHub, mail body). It is optional, and it can be used to describe the commit in more detail if the summary line is not sufficient. It is generally a good idea to repeat the information contained in the summary (except for the logical unit) since the summary is frequently formatted as a title and not adjacent to the body. The body should be wrapped at 72 characters. It can contain multiple paragraphs, separated by empty lines.

The tag part is included in the full commit log as an extension to the body. It consists of one or more lines consisting of a key, followed by a colon and a space, followed by value. Git does not enforce any standardization of the keys, and the tag format is not meant for machine processing.

A few tags of common use are:

  • user-related tags:
    • Acked-by: Full Name <> — commit approved by another person (usually without detailed review),
    • Reported-by: Full Name <>,
    • Reviewed-by: Full Name <> — usually indicates full review,
    • Signed-off-by: Full Name <> — GCO/DCO approval (defined by GLEP 76 [4]),
    • Suggested-by: Full Name <>,
    • Tested-by: Full Name <>.
  • commit-related tags:
    • Fixes: commit-id (commit message) — to indicate fixing an earlier commit,
    • Reverts: commit-id (commit message) — to indicate reverting an earlier commit,
  • bug tracker-related tags:
    • Bug: — to reference a bug; the commit will be linked in a comment,
    • Closes: — to automatically close a Gentoo bug (RESOLVED/FIXED, linking the commit),
    • Closes: — to automatically close a pull request on GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket or a compatible service (where the commits are mirrored),
  • package manager tags:
    • Package-Manager: — used by repoman to indicate Portage version,
    • RepoMan-Options: — used by repoman to indicate repoman options.


Branching model

The model of multiple developers pushing concurrently to the repository containing all packages is preserved from CVS. The developers have discussed the possibility of using other models, in particular of using multiple branches for developers that are afterwards automatically merged into the master branch. However, it was determined that there is no need to use a more complex model at the moment and the potential problems with them outweighed the benefits.

The necessity of rebasing is a natural consequence of concurrent work, along with the ban of reverse merge commits. Since rebasing a number of commits can take a few seconds or even more, another developer sometimes commits during that time, enforcing another rebase.

In the past, there were cases of developers using automated scripts which created single commits, ran repoman and pushed them straight to the repository. This resulted in pushes from a single developer every 10-15 seconds which made it impossible for other developers to rebase larger commit batches. This kind of workflow is therefore strongly discouraged.

Creating multiple short-time branches is discouraged as it implies additional transfer for users cloning the repository and additional maintenance burden. Since the git migration, the developers have created a few branches on the repository, and did not maintain them. The Infra team had to query the developers about the state of the branches and clean them up. Keeping branches local or hosting them outside Gentoo Infra (e.g. on GitHub) reduces the burden on our users, even if the developers do not clean after themselves.

Merge commits

Merge commits have been debated multiple times in various media, in particular IRC. They have very verbose opponents whose main argument is that they make history unreadable. At the same time, it has been frequently pointed out that merge commits have valid use cases. To satisfy both groups, this specification strongly discourages merge commits but allows their use in justified cases.

Most importantly, the implicit merge commits created by git pull are forbidden. Those merges have no real value or justified use case, and since they are created implicitly by default there have been historical cases where developers pushed them unintentionally. They are banned explicitly to emphasize the necessity of adjusting git configuration to the developers.

When processing merge commits, it is important to explicitly distinguish the parent that represents 'real' Gentoo history from the one(s) that represent external branches. The former can either be an existing Gentoo commit or a commit that the developer has prepared (on top of existing Gentoo history) before merging the branch. For this reason, it is important to enforce the full set of Gentoo policies on this parent and the commits preceding it. On the other hand, the external branches can be treated similarly to development branches. Relaxing the rules for external branches also makes it possible to merge user contributions with original user OpenPGP signatures, while adding a final developer signature on top of the merge commit.

When using git merge foo, the first parent represents the current HEAD and the second one the merged branch. This is the model used by the specification.

OpenPGP signatures

The signature requirements strictly correspond to the git setup deployed by the Infrastructure team.

The commit signatures provide an ability to verify the authenticity of all commits throughout the Gentoo repository history (to the point of git conversion). The push signatures mostly serve the purpose of additional authentication for the developer pushing a specific set of commits.

Splitting commits

The goal of the commit splitting rules is to make the best use of git while avoiding enforcing too much overhead on the developer and optimizing to avoid interim broken commits.

Splitting commits by logical changes improves the readability and makes it easier to revert a specific change while preserving the remaining (irrelevant) changes. The changes done by a developer are easier to comprehend when the reviewer can follow them in the specific order done by the author, rather than combined with other changes.

Splitting commits on logical unit boundary was used since CVS times. Mostly it improves readability via making it possible to include the unit (package, eclass…) name in the commit message — so that developers perceive what specific packages are affected by the change without having to look into diffstat.

Requiring commits to be non-'broken' is meant to preserve a good quality git history of the repository. This means that the users can check an interim commit out without risking a major problem such as a missing dependency that is being added by the commit following it. It also makes it safer to revert the most recent changes with reduced risk of exposing a breakage.

Those rules partially overlap, and if that is the case, the developers are expected to use common sense to determine the course of action that gives the best result. Furthermore, requiring the strict following of the rules would mean a lot of additional work for developers and a lot of additional commits for no real benefit.

The examples are provided to make it possible for the developers to get a 'feeling' how to work with the rules.

Commit messages

The basic commit message format is similar to the one used by other projects, and provides for reasonably predictable display of results.

The summary line is meant to provide a good concise summary of the changes. It is included in the short logs, and should include all the information to help developer determine whether he is interested in looking into the commit details. Including the logical unit name accounts for the fact that most of the Gentoo commits are specific to those units (e.g. packages). The length limit is meant to avoid wrapping the shortlog — which could result in unreadable git log --oneline or ugly mid-word ellipsis on GitHub.

The body is meant to provide the detailed information for a commit. It is usually displayed verbatim, and the use of paragraphs along with line wrapping is meant to improve readability. The body should include the information contained in the summary since the two are sometimes really disjoint, and expecting the user to read body as a continuation of summary is confusing. For example, in git send-email, the summary line is used to construct the mail's subject and is therefore disjoint from the body.

The tag section is a traditional way of expressing quasi-machine- readable data. However, the commit messages are not really suited for machine use and only a few tags are actually processed by scripts. The specification tries to provide a concise set of potentially useful tags collected from various projects (the Linux kernel, Those tags can be used interchangeably with plaintext explanation in the body.

The only tag defined by git itself is the Signed-off-by line, that is created by git commit -s. While git does not define the precise meaning of it, it is commonly used to reference Certificate of Origin sign-off.

The tags subject to machine processing are the Bug and Closes lines. Both are used by to handle Gentoo Bugzilla and the latter is also used by GitHub to automatically close pull requests (and issues — however, Gentoo does not use GitHub's issue tracker). GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, also support Fixes and Resolves tags (and the first three also some variations of them), however Closes has been already established in Gentoo and is used for consistency.

All the remaining tags serve purely as a user convenience.

Historically, Gentoo has been using a few tags starting with X-. However, this practice was abandoned once it has been pointed out that git does not enforce any standard set of tags, and therefore indicating non-standard tags is meaningless.

Gentoo developers are still frequently using Gentoo-Bug tag, sometimes followed by Gentoo-Bug-URL. Using both simultaneously is meaningless (they are redundant), and using the former has no advantages over using the classic #nnnnnn form in the summary or the body.

Using full URLs in Closes is necessary to properly namespace the action to the Gentoo services and avoid accidentally closing incorrect issues or pull requests when the commit is mirrored or cherry- picked into another repository. For consistency, they are also used for Bug and should be used for any future tags that might be introduced. This also ensures that the URLs are automatically converted into hyperlinks by various tools.

Including the bug number in the summary of the commit message causes willikins to automatically expand on the bug on #gentoo-commits.

Backwards Compatibility

Most of the new policy will apply to the commits following its approval. Backwards compatibility is not relevant there.

One particular point that affects commits retroactively is the OpenPGP signing. However, it has been an obligatory requirement enforced by the infrastructure since the git switch. Therefore, all the git history conforms to that.

Reference Implementation

All of the elements requiring explicit implementation on the git infrastructure are implemented already. In particular this includes:

  • blocking force pushes on the master branch,
  • requiring signed commits on the master branch,
  • requiring signed pushes to the repository.

The remaining elements are either non-obligatory or non-enforceable at infrastructure level.

RepoMan suggests starting the commit message with package name since commit 46dafadff58da0 [5].


Most of the foundations for this specification were laid out by Julian Ospald (hasufell) in his initial version of Gentoo git workflow [1] article.