This manual describes the convention used throughout git CLI.
Many commands take revisions (most often "commits", but sometimes
"tree-ish", depending on the context and command) and paths as their
arguments. Here are the rules:
Revisions come first and then paths.
E.g. in git diff v1.0 v2.0 arch/x86 include/asm-x86,
v1.0 and v2.0 are revisions and arch/x86 and include/asm-x86
When an argument can be misunderstood as either a revision or a path,
they can be disambiguated by placing \-- between them.
E.g. git diff \-- HEAD is, "I have a file called HEAD in my work
tree. Please show changes between the version I staged in the index
and what I have in the work tree for that file". not "show difference
between the HEAD commit and the work tree as a whole". You can say
git diff HEAD \-- to ask for the latter.
Without disambiguating \--, git makes a reasonable guess, but errors
out and asking you to disambiguate when ambiguous. E.g. if you have a
file called HEAD in your work tree, git diff HEAD is ambiguous, and
you have to say either git diff HEAD \-- or git diff \-- HEAD to
When writing a script that is expected to handle random user-input, it is
a good practice to make it explicit which arguments are which by placing
disambiguating \-- at appropriate places.
Here are the rules regarding the "flags" that you should follow when you are
it’s preferred to use the non dashed form of git commands, which means that
you should prefer git foo to git-foo.
splitting short options to separate words (prefer git foo -a -b
to git foo -ab, the latter may not even work).
when a command line option takes an argument, use the sticked form. In
other words, write git foo -oArg instead of git foo -o Arg for short
options, and git foo --long-opt=Arg instead of git foo --long-opt Arg
for long options. An option that takes optional option-argument must be
written in the sticked form.
when you give a revision parameter to a command, make sure the parameter is
not ambiguous with a name of a file in the work tree. E.g. do not write
git log -1 HEAD but write git log -1 HEAD --; the former will not work
if you happen to have a file called HEAD in the work tree.
From the git 1.5.4 series and further, many git commands (not all of them at the
time of the writing though) come with an enhanced option parser.
Here is an exhaustive list of the facilities provided by this option parser.
Commands which have the enhanced option parser activated all understand a
couple of magic command line options:
gives a pretty printed usage of the command.
$ git describe -h
usage: git-describe [options] <committish>*
--contains find the tag that comes after the commit
--debug debug search strategy on stderr
--all use any ref in .git/refs
--tags use any tag in .git/refs/tags
--abbrev [<n>] use <n> digits to display SHA-1s
--candidates <n> consider <n> most recent tags (default: 10)
Some git commands take options that are only used for plumbing or that
are deprecated, and such options are hidden from the default usage. This
option gives the full list of options.
Options with long option names can be negated by prefixing --no-. For
example, git branch has the option --track which is on by default. You
can use --no-track to override that behaviour. The same goes for --color
Aggregating short options
Commands that support the enhanced option parser allow you to aggregate short
options. This means that you can for example use git rm -rf or
git clean -fdx.
Separating argument from the option
You can write the mandatory option parameter to an option as a separate
word on the command line. That means that all the following uses work:
$ git foo --long-opt=Arg
$ git foo --long-opt Arg
$ git foo -oArg
$ git foo -o Arg
However, this is NOT allowed for switches with an optional value, where the
sticked form must be used:
$ git describe --abbrev HEAD # correct
$ git describe --abbrev=10 HEAD # correct
$ git describe --abbrev 10 HEAD # NOT WHAT YOU MEANT
Many commands that can work on files in the working tree
and/or in the index can take --cached and/or --index
options. Sometimes people incorrectly think that, because
the index was originally called cache, these two are
synonyms. They are not — these two options mean very
The --cached option is used to ask a command that
usually works on files in the working tree to only work
with the index. For example, git grep, when used
without a commit to specify from which commit to look for
strings in, usually works on files in the working tree,
but with the --cached option, it looks for strings in
The --index option is used to ask a command that
usually works on files in the working tree to also
affect the index. For example, git stash apply usually
merges changes recorded in a stash to the working tree,
but with the --index option, it also merges changes to
the index as well.
git apply command can be used with --cached and
--index (but not at the same time). Usually the command
only affects the files in the working tree, but with
--index, it patches both the files and their index
entries, and with --cached, it modifies only the index