A little while ago, we had a few PostgreSQL hackers in a room and someone oversaw me typing something like

git diff REL_14_STABLE...REL_15_STABLE

and they wondered, “oh, I didn’t know about three dots”. My flippant explanation was, “you use three dots when two dots don’t give you the right answer”.

But let’s unpack this.


git diff REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE

gives you the complete difference between (the tip of) PostgreSQL 14 and PostgreSQL 15. This will be a huge diff.

This diff does not include changes that were made on both REL_14_STABLE and REL_15_STABLE. For example, b9b21acc766db54d8c337d508d0fe2f5bf2daab0 was backpatched to both branches, so it doesn’t show up in the above diff at all.

This is almost never what you want when looking at diverging stable branches like this. It might make sense to look at the cross-version diff of a particular file, perhaps, like this:

git diff REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE -- src/test/regress/parallel_schedule

But the full diff is usually not useful, at least for manual inspection.

Then there is

git diff REL_14_STABLE..REL_15_STABLE

This is exactly the same as the above command without the dots. The two forms are equivalent.

So now let’s look at the three dots:

git diff REL_14_STABLE...REL_15_STABLE

The git-diff documentation says that this is equivalent to git diff $(git merge-base REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE) REL_15_STABLE. The result of that git merge-base is:

$ git merge-base REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE

So the original command is equivalent to

git diff e1c1c30f635390b6a3ae4993e8cac213a33e6e3f REL_15_STABLE

So what is the point of that? Note that the commit immediately after e1c1c30f635390b6a3ae4993e8cac213a33e6e3f on branch REL_15_STABLE is

commit 596b5af1d3675b58d4018acd64217e2f627da3e4
Author: Andrew Dunstan <andrew@dunslane.net>
Date:   Mon Jun 28 17:31:16 2021

Stamp HEAD as 15devel.

Let the hacking begin ...

So e1c1c30f635390b6a3ae4993e8cac213a33e6e3f is the last commit that REL_14_STABLE and REL_15_STABLE had in common. (That’s what Git calls the “merge base”, although no merging is taking place here. But it would be relevant if you wanted to merge those two branches together.)

So the three-dot variant git diff REL_14_STABLE...REL_15_STABLE gives you “everything in REL_15_STABLE since it was branched off REL_14_STABLE”, which is essentially, “everything that is new in REL_15_STABLE” (save patches that were backpatched to both), which is almost always what I want.

Note that this diff includes the backpatched version of commit b9b21acc766db54d8c337d508d0fe2f5bf2daab0 mentioned above, since it is new in REL_15_STABLE since it was branched off, even though it is not different between REL_14_STABLE and REL_15_STABLE.

By the way, an equivalent form is

git diff --merge-base REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE

I have never used that, since it’s a bit much too type, but it’s there.

Then there is git log, which has similar considerations, except they are different.

The documentation of git log says, “[l]ists commits that are reachable by following the parent links from the given commit(s)”. So,

git log REL_15_STABLE

lists all commits from the current REL_15_STABLE back to the beginning of time. Then,


lists all commits from the current REL_14_STABLE and REL_15_STABLE back to the beginning of time. The commits are in reverse chronological order by default, so this will actually show the commits from both branches mixed together. For example, the REL_15_STABLE version of our backpatched commit b9b21acc766db54d8c337d508d0fe2f5bf2daab0 from above is shown right next to its equivalent commit in REL_14_STABLE. So if you’re ever “seeing double” in git log, you might have gotten this wrong.

The documentation of git-log goes on to say, “but exclude commits that are reachable from the one(s) given with a ^ in front of them”. So are more sensible construction would be

git log REL_15_STABLE ^REL_14_STABLE

This gives you all the commits up to REL_15_STABLE from the beginning of time, except the ones already included in REL_14_STABLE. This is effectively everything that is in REL_15_STABLE since it was branched from REL_14_STABLE. The last commit shown will be the “Let the hacking begin” one.

The above can also be written in this equivalent, more familiar form:

git log REL_14_STABLE..REL_15_STABLE

Now, git log also has a three-dot form:

git log REL_14_STABLE...REL_15_STABLE

Per its documentation, this is equivalent to

git log REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE --not $(git merge-base --all REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE)

which is

git log REL_14_STABLE REL_15_STABLE ^e1c1c30f635390b6a3ae4993e8cac213a33e6e3f

This will give you the same mixed list of commits from REL_14_STABLE and REL_15_STABLE mentioned above, but it will stop at the branch point instead of going back to the beginning of time. I don’t know when this is useful.

So, to summarize:

  • git diff: use three dots
  • git log: use two dots

Or go with my original approach: Use three dots when two dots don’t give you the right answer (and vice versa).