Visualizing branch topology in Git – Dev

The best answers to the question “Visualizing branch topology in Git” in the category Dev.


I’m playing with Git in isolation on my own machine, and I find it difficult to maintain a mental model of all my branches and commits. I know I can do a git log to see the commit history from where I am, but is there a way to see the entire branch topography, something like these ASCII maps that seem to be used everywhere for explaining branches?

     /     /   /   /   /
    I     B   C   D   E
     \   /   /   /   /

It just feels like someone coming along and trying to pick up my repository would have difficulty working out exactly what was going on.

I guess I’m influenced by AccuRev’s stream browser…


I usually use

git log --graph --full-history --all --pretty=format:"%h%x09%d%x20%s"

With colors (if your shell is Bash):

git log --graph --full-history --all --color \

This will print text-based representation like this:

* 040cc7c       (HEAD, master) Manual is NOT built by default
* a29ceb7       Removed offensive binary file that was compiled on my machine and was hence incompatible with other machines.
| * 901c7dd     (cvc3) cvc3 now configured before building
| * d9e8b5e     More sane Yices SMT solver caller
| | * 5b98a10   (nullvars) All uninitialized variables get zero inits
| "" * 1cad874     CFLAGS for cvc3 to work successfully
| *   1579581   Merge branch 'llvm-inv' into cvc3
| |\
| | * a9a246b   nostaticalias option
| | * 73b91cc   Comment about aliases.
| | * 001b20a   Prints number of iteration and node.
| ""/|
| * 39d2638     Included header files to cvc3 sources
| * 266023b     Added cvc3 to blast infrastructure.
| * ac9eb10     Initial sources of cvc3-1.5
* d642f88       Option -aliasstat, by default stats are suppressed

(You could just use git log --format=oneline, but it will tie commit messages to numbers, which looks less pretty IMHO).

To make a shortcut for this command, you may want to edit your ~/.gitconfig file:

  gr = log --graph --full-history --all --color --pretty=tformat:"%x1b[31m%h%x09%x1b[32m%d%x1b[0m%x20%s%x20%x1b[33m(%an)%x1b[0m"

However, as Sodel the Vociferous notes in the comments, such long formatting command is hard to memorize. Usually, it’s not a problem as you may put it into the ~/.gitconfig file. However, if you sometimes have to log in to a remote machine where you can’t modify the config file, you could use a more simple but faster to type version:

git log --graph --oneline


Use git log --graph or gitk. (Both also accept --all, which will show all the branches instead of just the current one.)

For branch names and a compact view, try:

git log --graph --decorate --oneline


To any of these recipes (based on git log or gitk), you can add --simplify-by-decoration to collapse the uninteresting linear parts of the history. This makes much more of the topology visible at once. I can now understand large histories that would be incomprehensible without this option!

I felt the need to post this because it doesn’t seem to be as well-known as it should be. It doesn’t appear in most of the Stack Overflow questions about visualizing history, and it took me quite a bit of searching to find–even after I knew I wanted it! I finally found it in this Debian bug report. The first mention on Stack Overflow seems to be this answer by Antoine Pelisse.


I have 3 aliases (and 4 alias-aliases for quick usage) that I normally throw in my ~/.gitconfig file:

    lg = lg1
    lg1 = lg1-specific --all
    lg2 = lg2-specific --all
    lg3 = lg3-specific --all

    lg1-specific = log --graph --abbrev-commit --decorate --format=format:'%C(bold blue)%h%C(reset) - %C(bold green)(%ar)%C(reset) %C(white)%s%C(reset) %C(dim white)- %an%C(reset)%C(auto)%d%C(reset)'
    lg2-specific = log --graph --abbrev-commit --decorate --format=format:'%C(bold blue)%h%C(reset) - %C(bold cyan)%aD%C(reset) %C(bold green)(%ar)%C(reset)%C(auto)%d%C(reset)%n''          %C(white)%s%C(reset) %C(dim white)- %an%C(reset)'
    lg3-specific = log --graph --abbrev-commit --decorate --format=format:'%C(bold blue)%h%C(reset) - %C(bold cyan)%aD%C(reset) %C(bold green)(%ar)%C(reset) %C(bold cyan)(committed: %cD)%C(reset) %C(auto)%d%C(reset)%n''          %C(white)%s%C(reset)%n''          %C(dim white)- %an <%ae> %C(reset) %C(dim white)(committer: %cn <%ce>)%C(reset)'

git lg/git lg1 looks like this:

git lg1

git lg2 looks like this:

git lg2

and git lg3 looks like this:

git lg3

It should be noted that this isn’t meant as a end-all-be-all solution— it’s a template for you to change, add to and fix up to your liking. If you want to use these, my recommendation is to:

  1. Add them to your .gitconfig,
  2. Customize to your liking (different color choices, different line arrangements for the 2- and 3-line versions, etc.),
  3. And then save a copy to a Gist or other code snippet tool so you can copy & paste it into .gitconfigs in the future (or alternatively version control your dotfiles, of course).

Note: Answer copied from and improved upon the answer at since it’s far more appropriate here than it was there.  Left the copy on the other question for historical reasons— it’s closed now, and the answer’s referenced by a bunch of other answers.