git like it’s svn

Here we are going for a work model that is as close to svn as possible. This means that we never keep changes stages (we need to stage for additions and removals), so we either only have unstaged changes, or none at all. Also, we don’t keep commit locally. Neither would even be possible in svn.

svn checkout https://server/path/repo

git clone https://server/path/repo

By this you check out the default branch of the server repo, in contrast to svn where the branch you get is determined by the exact path you use.

svn update

git stash
git pull [--rebase]
git stash pop

Stashing and unstashing are only needed when you have unstaged changes. Whether you rebase here doesn’t matter as you never have unpushed commits.

This is also the only place where you can encounter conflicts. svn update will just merge incoming changes into you locally modified files, without giving you a way to undo this.

With git we turn this around, and first save the local changes, then bring in the incoming changes. This can’t cause conflicts as we don’t have local changes or local commits at this point. Conflicts are only possible in the git stash pop part.

For all conflicted file (git status shows those), first resolve the conflict, then do a git add file. When no more conflicts remain, do a git reset (this step is necessary to get the changes out of the staging area, so they are unstaged changes again, as needed for the working model of this section).

What kind of conflicts you get here is obviously only dependend on your and you collaborator’s work, not on the version control system you are using.

svn commit -m 'msg' files

git commit -m 'msg' files
git push

This version works as long as no files are new or deleted, then we can skip the staging area completely. Also, svn commit ensures that the commit is either happening or not (in case a svn update must be performed first). In git, we can’t do the two commands atomically, so in case the push fails we need to first do a git reset HEAD^ to undo the commit. Then the svn update equivalent can be performed.

svn switch url

git fetch
git checkout branch
git merge

Changing branches should only done without local modification (although it will simply fail if there are modifications that collide with differences between the branches).

There is also the complication that branches don’t necessarly exist locally yet. git checkout branch will do the proper thing, namely checking out the corresponding remote branch as a local branch which tracks the remote one. If it already exist, git checkout will simply switch to that local branch. To actually mimic the svn operation of getting the current state, we need a pull afterwards. And to make sure we get the current state when the branch is new locally, we need to fetch beforehand.


You may run into problems where you don’t know your way out. While it is pretty hard to mess git up so you can’t recover, it is much easier not to know how to get out. The above is the part to memorize.

Source:, colors adapted.

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