I stumbled across an interesting feature of git the other day. It’s called the shortlog, and if you haven’t heard of it, now is as good a time as ever.

In a nutshell, the shortlog allows you to view a summary of all the commits made by all users to a repo. For large repositories, this doesn’t sound immediately useful, as this will just print out thousands upon thousands of commits, organized by user. However, the real power of the shortlog lies in its ability to summarize this information. Executing git shortlog -nse will display the number of commits for each committer along with their name and email in descending order:

102  Steve McQueen <> 87  Paul Newman <> 57  Humphrey Bogart <>

What I like about this is that it gives contributors an opportunity to see what kind of impact they have made on the repository as a whole. It can also instill a bit of friendly competition into committing code, and better yet, encourage authors to make smaller, more atomic commits in order to get their count up.

There is however, an unfortunate case that often occurs. If one of the repository’s contributors commits changes using multiple author names or emails (when on a different machine for example), their entries in the shortlog will be spread over multiple authors.

    87  Paul Newman <> 60  Steve McQueen <>     57  Humphrey Bogart <> 42 S. McQueen <>

This is obviously a problem, as it doesn’t give the author the credit they deserve, since they appear to have contributed fewer commits than others upon first glance. What would be nice is if those two author/email pairs could coalesce together and be seen as belonging to the same author.

The .mailmap File

Well, git being the wonder it is allows you to do this by adding a file called .mailmap in the top-level directory of your repository. Similar to .gitignore, .mailmap is just another configuration file recognized by git. The difference is that .mailmap allows you to non-permanently “rewrite” the commit author history so that old emails or author names map to a single canonical author name. The .mailmap file itself is simply a series of lines in the following format:

Canonical Author Name <> Commit Author Name <>

Using our example above, say we wanted to have S. McQueen appear as Steve McQueen. This is done by adding the following line to our .mailmap file:

Steve McQueen <> S. McQueen <>

At which point if we run git shortlog -nse we’ll get the following:

   102  Steve McQueen <>     87  Paul Newman <>     57  Humphrey Bogart <>

Note that while the .mailmap file format does allow you to take shortcuts by omitting certain fields such as the commit author name or email, this will make your mapping too general and can potentially bite you in the future. Why? Suppose Bob Dole uses the email, makes a few commits, and then leaves the company. If a new employee Bob Hope comes along and starts commiting with Bob Dole’s old email, using a simplified mail mapping will cause Bob Dole’s old commits to be incorrectly attributed to Bob Hope. Thus it is best to be explicit and specify all the fields when mapping authors and emails.

Creating a .mailmap File for an Old Repository

If you’re starting out with an old repository, setting up a .mailmap file can at first appear daunting. Having to cross-reference all the author name/email pairs and figuring out what the canonical email is can be painful and time consuming. This bothered me, so I came up with a script to get the hard work done for you. Run the following in the top-level directory of your repository:

git shortlog -se | \
  awk -F'\t' '{print $2,$3,$2,$3}' | \
  sort > .mailmap

This script first gets the commit count summary for all author name/email pairs as before. It then pipes it into awk (the bash handyman’s ducktape) which pulls out the author name and email, printing each twice so that each line resembles a line of the .mailmap file. Finally, it sorts the output so that similar names are placed together (making it easier for a human to notice similarities) and writes it to the .mailmap file. Running this script on our unmapped example above, we’ll get:

Humphrey Bogart <> Humphrey Bogart <> Paul Newman <> Paul Newman <> S. McQueen <> S. McQueen <> Steve McQueen <> Steve McQueen <>

With this output we can easily see the similarity of S. McQueen to Steve McQueen, and change the name and email accordingly so it gets mapped to the canonical Steve McQueen. Not too shabby!

At the end of the day, these changes will only affect the output of git shortlog (you won’t see the updated author info when you go digging through git log, for example). However, that doesn’t change the usefulness of having a clean shortlog. I’ve personally found git shortlog -nse --no-merges to be useful enough that I’ve aliased it to git committers in my .gitconfig.

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Shane da Silva



Shane da  Silva

Coding by the woods

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