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Mastering Git Branch Merging: Your Ultimate Guide

How to Merge Different Branches in Git: Your Ultimate Guide

Are you tired of managing multiple branches and doing manual merges? Git, the most popular version control system, offers several methods to deal with branch management.

In this article, we’ll focus on two common methods: merging branches with fast forward, and using the Git merge command with and without the –no-ff option. 1.

Merging Branches in Git with Fast Forward

Git is designed to provide a simple and efficient way to handle branch merging. When two branches have a linear path, i.e., they have not diverged, Git will perform a fast forward merge.

As its name suggests, this method merges two branches by moving the current branch pointer head to the target branch head in a straight line. Fast forward is the default method when merging branches in Git.

Merge with Fast Forward

To merge two branches with fast forward, follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Switch to the current branch. “`

$ git checkout [current-branch]


Step 2: Merge the target branch to the current branch with fast forward.


$ git merge [target-branch]


Illustration of Fast Forward Merge

Imagine you have two branches: main and feature1. The main branch is the branch from which you created the feature1 branch.

You made some changes in the feature1 branch that you want to merge back to the main branch. The diagram below illustrates how Git handles a fast forward merge:


A — B — C (main)

D — E (feature1)


Here, commit C is at the head of the main branch, and E is the latest commit on the feature1 branch.

To merge feature1 to main, Git creates a new pointer at commit E and moves the main branch pointer to commit E. The updated commit history will look like:


A — B — C — D — E (main)


Note that the commit history is now linear, with a straight line from C to E.

2. Using the Git Merge Command With and Without –no-ff Option

Collaborative development involves managing multiple branches in parallel, and sometimes you don’t want to lose track of the history of those branches.

When merging a feature branch back to the main branch, you might want to document it with a merge commit. In this case, you can use the Git merge command with the –no-ff option.

Multiple Branches in Git

Git is designed to support multiple branches for a project, which makes it suitable for collaborative development. You can create a branch whenever you want to work on a new feature, a bug fix, or any other independent work that doesn’t interfere with other branches.

Git allows you to keep track of all modifications made on each branch, including who made them and when. This way, you can review the changes and the history of each branch at any time.

Merge Without Fast Forward

When merging two branches with the –no-ff option, Git will create a new merge commit instead of moving the pointer head in a straight line. This method is useful if you want to maintain the branch topology and document the merge.

To merge two branches without fast forward, follow these steps:

Step 1: Switch to the current branch. “`

$ git checkout [current-branch]


Step 2: Merge the target branch to the current branch without fast forward.


$ git merge [target-branch] –no-ff


After the merge is complete, Git will create a new commit that documents the merge in the commit history. The commit message will usually be auto-generated, but you can edit it manually, if needed.

Maintain Branch Topology

When merging branches with the –no-ff option, the commit history becomes more complex, as Git creates a new commit to document the merge. This method allows you to maintain the branch topology, which means the branches still have their unique histories and can be merged again in the future.

With fast forward merges, the branch topology is lost, and the branches become a single commit history.


Using the –no-ff option allows you to document the merge with a commit message, which provides clarity and context in the project history. The commit message should be clear and concise, describing what was changed, why it was changed, and who made the change.

A well-written commit message can save time and effort when reviewing changes in the future.


In this article, we discussed two methods of merging branches in Git: merging with fast forward and merging without fast forward. Fast forward is the default method when merging two branches with a linear path, while merging without fast forward creates a new merge commit to document the merge and maintain the branch topology.

Collaborative development involves dealing with multiple branches, and Git is the perfect tool for managing branch versions. By using these methods, you can avoid conflicts and maintain a clear project history.

Merging is a crucial aspect of Git, an open-source version control system used to track various aspects of source code changes. Merging refers to the process of combining the changes made independently on different branches of a project to create a single unified version of the source code.

Merging ensures that all contributors to the project can monitor the changes made to the project by others and ensure that the projects forking and branching is simple and streamlined, without many conflicts. Git, by default, performs a Fast-Forward merge.

Fast-Forward merge occurs when the branches are parallel to each other. In other words, Fast-Forward merges are meant for branch merging when the target branch has changes that can be added to the current branch without affecting the branch history.

In situations where two branches have the same history and there have been changes made to either of the branches, a fast forward merge is easily carried out.

In contrast, a merge commit happens when two branches merge, with each branch having changes that are unique to them.

In this situation, rather than just going head on with the merge, you would have to create a new merge commit, which combines all the changes made on the different branches. To illustrate how a Fast-Forward Merge works in Git, suppose you have a development project with an original branch A that has two branches B and C.

Branch C is created as an offshoot of branch A while Branch B is an offshoot of Branch C. In simple terms, Branch C is a child to A while B is a child to C.

Suppose there have been changes made on Branch C, leading to the creation of a unique commit D. The image below shows what the repositories look like before merging branches:


A—B—C (HEAD branch)

D (Feature1)


In this scenario, if one was to merge Branch C into Branch A, Git will perform the merge with Fast-Forward.

This way, Git just moves the pointer of the HEAD branch in the same direction as the latest commit in the Feature 1 branch resulting in the following:


A—B—C—D (HEAD branch)



Merging without Fast-Forward is useful in documenting the history of the changes made to the source code explicitly. In this case, Git creates a new commit that incorporates the changes made in the different branches.

Take, for instance, if the latest commit in the Feature1 branch is known as commit E, to merge feature1 to the main branch without fast forward, Git performs the following:


A—-B—-C—–G (main)

| /

| /

| /

D—-E—F (feature1)


In the process of merging back Feature1 into Main or A, Git will perform a Merge Without Fast-Forward. This process will create a new merge commit, wherein the changes made on the Feature1 branch are documented.

The new merge commit, in this case, is known as Commit G . Therefore, after a successful merge, with the merge commit (G) in place, the repositories look like this:


A—-B—-C—–G (HEAD branch)

| / |

| / |

| / |

D—-E—F |


In summary, Git provides two methods of merging: fast-forward and without fast-forward.

Fast-forward merging is a simpler process since it just moves the pointer of the current branch. Meanwhile, a merge without fast-forward creates a new commit bringing together all the changes made on separate branches.

The decision to use either method depends on the changes done on the branches and on the developers objectives. In conclusion, Git provides two methods of merging: fast-forward and without fast-forward, both of which are crucial in collaborative project development.

Fast-forward merging is practical when the branches have the most recent commits, while without fast-forward creates a new merge commit bringing together all changes made in separate branches. Understanding when and how to implement each method will streamline project development and prevent unnecessary conflicts.

As a developer, mastering these merging methods is essential to improve your productivity and make a significant impact in collaborative project development.

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