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February 2012

git commit author - give credit where credit is due

Quite some time ago I wrote a post about how patching makes you feel good in which I talked about the motivations for, and benefits of submitting patches on (d.o). I concluded by suggesting that project maintainers should be generous in recognising the efforts of those who submit patches.

Well, now that d.o has its magnificent git infrastructure, project maintainers have even better tools for giving credit to contributors who help fix or improve the code. There is still the well-established convention for commit messages which encourages that "others [who] have contributed to the change you are committing" are credited by name. e.g.

Issue #123456 by dww, Dries: Added project release tracking.

Similar messages are often added to the project's changelog too.

The new tool that perhaps not everyone knows about yet is the ability to assign the authorship of the commit to another user e.g.

git commit --author=[username]@[uid]

This is appropriate when committing a patch that is entirely somebody else's work. Perhaps some maintainers will be generous and attribute authorship even if they've had to make a few tweaks to the patch, but somebody else did the majority of the work to identify and fix a bug, for example.

When a user is credited as the author in this way, the commit will show up on their profile page, which I think many people will feel is a great reward for the time they spent putting a patch together.

There are however some limitations and drawbacks to the system. The committer of the patch is not rewarded by seeing their commit count incremented, which some may find a disincentive for generosity in attributing authorship.

Where the maintainer might split the credit in a commit message for a fix where a user was helpful by giving a detailed bug report in the issue queue, but where they themselves had to actually fix the problem, for example, they're probably justified in leaving themselves as the author of the commit. Of course they can still mention the helpful user in the commit message and changelog.

There will surely also be less monochrome cases where authorship of the code being committed should be split between multiple users. As far as I'm aware, the git infrastructure on d.o doesn't cater for this situation, and messy workarounds such as breaking the commit up to split authorship have been suggested.

There are undoubtedly some limitations, and project maintainers will occasionally find themselves with tricky decisions to make. However, for the reasons I detailed in my patching makes you feel good post, I really encourage maintainers to be generous with the credit when it comes to patches which have been submitted in issue queues, and the option to set an author for a commit in git is a great way of doing so.