Using Git — how to go back to a previous commit

Tolani Benson
The Startup
Published in
3 min readMay 30, 2020

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Git & GitHub are powerful tools which allow us to track all our changes to our projects and, when we inevitably do something that breaks them, go back to a previous working state. We are all aware of this time-reversing magic, but not necessarily how to do it!

Here’s a quick and simple guide on how to turn back time on your project and revert to a previous version.

Alarm clock
Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Find the version you want to go back to

You have two options here:

1) In your terminal you can type:

$ git log --oneline

This is where it is important you gave yourself descriptive commit messages! It will show in your terminal a list of commits along with the commit message you set originally. If you have decent commit messages and you know what you’re looking for you should be able to work out which version you want to go back to from here. If you want a bit more information such as the time, date, and author of each commit you can omit the --oneline tag.

2) You can go through your commit history on your GitHub repo via the GitHub website. This allows you to check the state of all the files in the repo at each commit to make sure you are going back to the correct version.

Screen shot of github repo
Screen shot of GitHub commits screen

This is useful if you didn’t give yourself useful commit messages, or you’re just not sure exactly which version you need to go back to. Committing little and often, so that your change history is clear should save you from having to take this route.

Whichever option you use, take a note of the ID of the commit you want to revert to.

Go back to the selected commit on your local environment

Use git checkout & the ID (in the same way you would checkout a branch) to go back:

$ git checkout <commit-id> .

Don’t forget the final ‘ .’ — You aren’t required to add this, and it may look like it has worked but if you leave this off it will take you to a new “detached head state” where you can make changes and it will allow you to make commits, but nothing will be saved and any commits you make will be lost.

This will take you to the version you wanted to go back to in your local environment.

Add this version to the staging area and push to remote

In the same way that you would with any normal commit, you have to add all files and push to remote to save this state.

$ git add .
$ git commit -m "Reverting to <commit-id>"
$ git push

Give yourself a slightly more descriptive commit message — maybe why you are reverting!!

And that’s it! You’ve turned back time on your project! Hurrah!

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Tolani Benson
The Startup

Ex-financial analyst turned software engineer. Lover of learning, coding, cake and dogs. Not in that order.