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What are revision numbers, changeset IDs, and tags?
A revision number is a simple decimal number that corresponds with the ordering of commits in the local repository. It is important to understand that this ordering can change from machine to machine due to Mercurial's distributed, decentralized architecture.
This is where changeset IDs come in. A changeset ID is a 160-bit identifier that uniquely describes a changeset and its position in the change history, regardless of which machine it's on. This is represented to the user as a 40 digit hexadecimal number. As that tends to be unwieldy, Mercurial will accept any unambiguous substring of that number when specifying versions. It will also generally print these numbers in "short form", which is the first 12 digits.
You should always use some form of changeset ID rather than the local revision number when discussing revisions with other Mercurial users as they may have different revision numbering on their system.
What are cloning, pulling, and pushing?
In many other version control systems, all developers commit changes to a single, centralized repository. In Mercurial, every developer typically works in his or her own repository. A fundamental concept of Mercurial is transferring changesets among repositories. This is accomplished through the clone, push, and pull operations (see also CommunicatingChanges).
To begin a task on an existing project, a developer will typically create a local copy of the repository using the hg clone command. This operation creates a new repository containing all the files and all of their history.
If another developer has made changes to her repository, you can pull her changes into your repository using the hg pull command. If you have made changes to your repository and you wish to transfer them to another repository (say, to a shared repository), you would do this using the hg push command.
What are branches, merges, heads, and the tip?
In the simplest case, history consists of a linear sequence of changesets. In this case, every changeset (except for the first and last) has one parent and one child. For a variety of reasons, it is possible for the history graph to split into two or more independent lines of development. When this occurs, the history graph is said to have a branch. Where a branch occurs, a changeset has two or more children.
When two lines of development are joined into a single line, a merge is said to have occurred. Where a merge occurs, a changeset has two parents. If a line of development is not merged into another, the last changeset on that line is referred to as the head of that branch. Every repository always includes one or more heads. Heads have no children. Use the hg heads command to list the heads of the current repository.
The tip is the changeset added to the repository most recently. If you have just made a commit, that commit will be the tip. Alternately, if you have just pulled from another repository, the tip of that repository becomes the new tip. Use hg tip to show the tip of the repository.
The tip is always a head. If there are multiple heads in a repository, only one of them is the tip. Within a repository, changesets are numbered sequentially, so the tip has the highest sequence number. The word "tip" functions as a special tag to denote the tip changeset, and it can be used anywhere a changeset ID or tag is valid.
The following diagram illustrates these concepts.
The history has branched at revs 1:34ef and 4:ac98, and a merge has occurred at rev 4:ac98. Revs 5:0345, 6:19e3, and 7:8e92 are heads, and 7:8e92 is the tip.
Note that while hg tip shows the tip and hg heads shows the heads of the repository, the hg branch and hg branches commands do not list the branch changesets as described above. Instead, they show changesets corresponding to branches that have been given names. See NamedBranches.
The term "branch" has other meanings as well. See Branch for a fuller discussion.