We’ve all been there: just finished a nice new feature, deployed it out to production only to find that you’ve completely overlooked an edge case or use case which is now totally breaking your app. Sometimes you have to push a big hot fix. It has to get in immediately. It can’t wait for writing correct tests or other better abstractions and implementations. What to do? What to do?

Well, there’s the common way of hacking as fast as you can until you’re pretty sure the bug is fixed, commit everything in a big “Avert crisis!!” commit. However, I think we can do better.

First step checkout a new branch at your current ‘production,’ or similar. Call it production_pre_fix. Don’t check it out or work on it, just leave it there as a placeholder.

$ git checkout production
$ git branch production_pre_fix

Now for the fun part: hack away! But, follow your usual development practices of committing early and often. Refactor a method. Commit. Add some if checks for edge cases. Commit. Get the shit fixed and deployed. Go on. I’ll wait.

Ok, alarms are quiet now and you’re done breaking shit? Good. Now let’s get to work on the real fix. I’m glad your hacked together bunch of duct tape fix is holding, but let’s not leave things like that. I know you and I bet you’ve got some good work there. You probably don’t want to just throw it all away. That’s cool. Why don’t we use the duct tape as a basis for the permanent fix? Here’s how:

First, get a clean branch off master

$ git checkout master
$ git checkout -b bugs/prod_fix

Then, write tests to account for your new found bugs.

Next, cherry pick your current fix onto this branch.

$ git cherry-pick production_pre_fix..production

You may have noticed I passed two branch names with two periods in between to cherry-pick. What the fuck, right? Well, as we all know, two commit SHA1s separated by two periods is a range of commits. For exmple, 2e45f..34b79. You are saying that you’d like to use all the commits starting at 34b79 and following parent links back until you reach 2e45f.

But I’ve used brach names here, which are just human friendly shortcuts for SHA1s. Remember branch names are basically pointers to a particular commit. They can be used in any git command which would otherwise take a commit SHA1. Add that to the fact that cherry-pick can take a range and suddenly your doing some pretty powerful stuff with a pretty simple command. Go you!

Now a little housekeeping,

  • Make sure your fix actually passes your tests.
  • Refactor and make your fix nice. Rebase, as necessary.
  • Start pull request and get the feature merged back into master.

Then we need to reset your temp fix in production. Like this:

$ git checkout production
$ git reset --hard production_pre_fix
$ git branch -d production_pre_fix
$ git push -f

Woah woah woah! No, I didn’t. I just force pushed a non-topic branch. Isn’t that a big no-no? Usually, yes and I would expect to be taken out back and beaten until I learned my lesson. However, until I’m told of a good reason otherwise: production or other released branches are not shared among developers. They are an exact representation of what is to be deployed next to the environment they represent.

Why aren’t release branches an accurate representation of what is currently deployed to the environment they represent? Because if you want to know that, look at the environment. There’s no need for duplicate information. A branch like production should be curated and hold what will be deployed next to production. You might not do that curating and updating until moments before the deploy. But for all that time until you deploy, if you had to emergency deploy, whatever is in the branch will be deployed.

Back to business, we’ve reset production back to not include the duct tape. Now it’s time to merge master and our fix up to it.

$ git checkout production
$ git merge master

Congratulations! You’ve not only saved your company from sure collapse by fixing a huge production bug. But you’ve also reconciled your technical debt and prevented other developers behind you from cursing your name at the duct tape-y hacks you introduced to the code base. That deserves a beer!

– Chris


Christopher R Marshall


Enjoys programming web applications; especially in Go and Ruby. Also enjoys playing ice hockey as a goalie and playing the guitar.


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