How to Close a Git Pull Request

Pull requests are a key part of the git workflow, especially when collaborating with other developers on a shared codebase. Opening a pull request allows you to propose changes and get feedback before merging your code. But what happens when you‘re finished with a pull request and ready to close it? There are a few different ways to close pull requests in git.

In this guide, we‘ll walk through the process of closing a pull request, from the initial code review through to merging the final changes and cleaning up your git branches. We‘ll look at how to close PRs using the web interface on popular git hosting platforms, as well as how to close and merge PRs from the command line. Finally, we‘ll cover some best practices and git configurations to help make working with pull requests easier.

What is a pull request?

Before we dive into the specifics of closing pull requests, let‘s start with a quick refresher on what pull requests are and how they fit into the git workflow.

A pull request (or PR for short) is a way to propose changes to a git repository. When you open a pull request, you‘re asking the repository maintainers to review your changes and consider merging them into the main codebase.

Typically, you open a pull request after pushing commits to a feature branch in your local repository or to a branch in your fork of the main repository. The pull request shows the difference between your branch and the base branch you want to merge into. Other collaborators can then review your changes, leave feedback, and approvel or request changes before the PR gets merged.

Pull requests are a core part of git workflows. They provide a forum to discuss changes and ensure the quality and stability of the codebase. Working with PRs allows multiple developers to collaborate asynchronously and reduces the risk of breaking things by merging bad code.

Closing a pull request

Once a pull request has served its purpose and the changes have been reviewed, tested, and approved, it‘s time to close it. There are a few ways to close a PR, depending on your specific situation and preferred workflow.

Merging the pull request

The most common way to close a pull request is to merge it. Merging a PR means taking the changes from the PR branch and integrating them into the base branch, typically the main branch of the repository.

To merge a pull request, you need to have write permissions to the repository and there must be no merge conflicts with the base branch. Assuming those conditions are met, merging a PR will automatically close it and mark it as "merged".

Most git hosting platforms, including GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket, provide a web interface for merging pull requests. To merge a PR from the web UI:

  1. Navigate to the page for the open pull request you want to merge.
  2. Review the changes and commits one final time. Make sure you‘re happy with everything that will be merged.
  3. Select the "Merge pull request" button.
  4. Provide a merge commit message describing the changes. Use the title and description fields to give future developers context on what is included in this merged PR.
  5. Confirm the merge. The PR will be closed and the merge commit added to the base branch.

Alternatively, you can merge a pull request from the command line using git. To merge a PR locally:

  1. Check out the base branch for the PR and make sure it‘s up to date:
    git checkout main
    git pull
  2. Merge the PR branch into the base branch:
    git merge --no-ff PR-BRANCH-NAME

    The --no-ff flag creates a merge commit, even if the merge could be performed as a fast-forward. This makes it easy to find the merged PR in the commit history.

  3. Push the updated base branch to the remote repository:
    git push origin main 

After merging a PR, it‘s a good idea to delete the branch to keep your repository clean. On GitHub and GitLab you can select an option to automatically delete the PR branch after merging. From the command line, you can delete a remote branch with:

git push origin --delete PR-BRANCH-NAME

And delete your local copy of the PR branch with:

git branch -d PR-BRANCH-NAME

Closing a PR without merging

Sometimes you may want to close a PR without merging it. For example, the PR might be a work in progress, or the proposed changes might no longer be needed.

To close a PR without merging from the web interface:

  1. Open the PR you want to close.
  2. Select the "Close pull request" button. On some platforms this may be hidden behind a menu.
  3. Optionally, provide a comment explaining why the PR is being closed.

This will mark the pull request as closed without merging any of the commits. The PR branch will still exist, but the PR will no longer be listed as open.

It‘s also possible to close a PR by merging the base branch into the PR branch. This can be useful if the reason for closing the PR is that the proposed changes are no longer needed because the functionality was implemented in a different way.

To close a PR by merging the base branch from the command line:

  1. Check out the PR branch and make sure it‘s up to date:
    git checkout PR-BRANCH-NAME
    git pull
  2. Merge the current base branch into the PR branch:
    git merge --no-ff main
  3. Push the updated PR branch to the remote repository:
    git push origin PR-BRANCH-NAME

The PR will be marked as closed and the merge commit will indicate that the base branch was merged into the PR branch. This provides a clear record of how the PR was handled, even though no changes were actually merged into the base branch.

Handling merge conflicts

One final scenario to consider when closing PRs is how to handle merge conflicts. Merge conflicts occur when the changes in the PR can‘t be automatically integrated with the latest changes in the base branch.

Simple merge conflicts can often be resolved right from the PR page on GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket. There will be an option to resolve conflicts, which will open a web-based editor where you can choose which changes to keep. Once you‘ve fixed the conflicts, you can commit the changes and merge the PR.

For more complex merge conflicts, you‘ll probably need to resolve them locally using the command line. To do this:

  1. Check out the base branch and make sure it‘s up to date:
    git checkout main
    git pull
  2. Create and switch to a new branch for resolving the merge conflict:
    git checkout -b MERGE-CONFLICT-FIX
  3. Merge the PR branch into the merge conflict fix branch:
    git merge PR-BRANCH-NAME
  4. Git will display the files that have merge conflicts. Open those files in your editor and look for the conflict markers:
    <<<<<<< HEAD
    code from base branch
    =======
    code from PR branch
    >>>>>>> PR-BRANCH-NAME
  5. Edit the files to resolve the conflicts. Delete the conflict markers and keep the code you want to end up with.
  6. Stage the resolved files and commit the changes:
    git add RESOLVED-FILE-1 RESOLVED-FILE-2
    git commit
  7. Push your merge conflict fix branch to the remote repository:
    git push origin MERGE-CONFLICT-FIX  
  8. Open a new PR to merge the merge conflict fix branch into the base branch. Once that PR is approved and merged, the original PR will be marked as merged as well.

Best practices for pull requests

Having a consistent process for handling pull requests can make your development workflow much smoother. Here are some best practices to consider when working with PRs:

  • Always review the changes in a PR carefully before merging. Make sure the changes are relevant, well-tested, and adhere to your project‘s coding standards.
  • Use the PR description and comments to communicate the purpose of the changes and any relevant context. Tag team members who need to review or approve the PR.
  • If a PR is a work in progress or not yet ready for review, mark it as a draft or add a "WIP" label.
  • Configure branch protection rules to prevent merging PRs that don‘t meet certain criteria, such as passing automated tests or getting approval from specific team members.
  • Keep PRs focused and manageable in size. If a PR makes extensive changes or touches many different parts of the codebase, consider splitting it into smaller, more targeted PRs.
  • Delete PR branches once they‘ve been merged or closed. Letting unused branches linger in your repository can make it harder to navigate the project history.
  • Use descriptive, meaningful titles and messages when merging PRs. Include a reference to the PR number for easy cross-referencing.
  • Take advantage of git integrations and automation to streamline your PR process. For example, you can use tools to automatically run tests, deploy staging versions, or notify stakeholders when a PR is opened or merged.

By being deliberate about how you handle PRs, you can keep your git repository organized and make it easier for the whole team to collaborate effectively. A little up-front investment in your processes and conventions can pay off big in the long run.

That brings us to the end of our guide on closing git pull requests. Hopefully you now have a clear understanding of your options for closing PRs and some best practices to incorporate into your workflow.

Remember, pull requests are all about collaboration and code quality. By taking the time to properly review and test changes before merging, you can catch bugs early, share knowledge with your team, and ultimately ship better software. Happy coding!

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