Tag Archives: DVCS

Push to Github using Mercurial

It’s simple to push Mercurial source code repositories to GitHub (or another git server). This is useful if you can’t, or don’t want to, switch off of Mercurial to git. You can take advantage of GitHub’s superior community and features (sorry, BitBucket) without having to puzzle over ____ (anti-git screed left as an exercise to the reader).

To do this, you’ll need the hg-git plugin for Mercurial, by Scott Chacon and others. The technique is outlined on hg-git’s read-me, but it still took me some effort to get working right, so I thought this blog post might be helpful.

I assume you already have Mercurial installed, a project in a Mercurial repository you want to push, and a GitHub account. Here’s how you do it.

Install hggit

If you’re using MacPorts and Python 2.6, you should be able to do this with:

sudo port install py26-hggit

At the end of hggit’s install process, hggit prints out a line to add to your ~/.hgrc. For MacPorts & Python 2.6, this will look like:


Note: Installing hggit in a virtualenv is probably not a good idea unless you also are using a version of Mercurial installed in the same virtualenv. You could probably make it work, but it’s likely more work than it’s worth.

Set up and connect to a GitHub repository

Create an empty repository on GitHub to store your Mercurial project. Copy the git URL from the new repository. Append git+ssh:// to the beginning, and change the : to a /. For example, this:


becomes this:


This URL then goes in the [paths] section of your Mercurial repository’s .hg/hgrc. If you want to push and pull from GitHub by default, it will look like this:

default = git+ssh://git@github.com/mercurialpoweruser/mercurialrocks.git

Or, if you already have a remote Mercurial repository that you want to keep using, you can add the GitHub repository with a different name:

default = ssh://hg@bitbucket.org/mercurialpoweruser/mercurialrocks
github = git+ssh://git@github.com/mercurialpoweruser/mercurialrocks.git

Next, push your repository to GitHub for the first time, with hg push (if GitHub is your default) or hg push github (if GitHub isn’t the default).

Now, go to GitHub and reload the page, and revel in the feeling that you are living in a utopian future where cars fly, cold fusion supplies our electricity, and different DVCSs interoperate with each other.


If you find that Mercurial mysteriously stops pushing new changes to GitHub, even though there are new changes to push and it’s pushing them to Mercurial servers fine, you might want to take a look your bookmarks. Do this with hg bookmarks. Make sure that the changeset ID for master is the changeset ID of tip: hg tip. If they’re not the same, update the master bookmark with hg bookmark -f master. This happened to me when I used an older version of Mercurial (1.3.1) without the bookmarks extension enabled. Don’t do that.

Your mileage may vary

I haven’t used this technique on repositories that have lots of branches, file renames, merge conflicts, or other “fancy” distributed version control features. I wouldn’t advise switching your entire development team and mission-critical repositories over to this technique without some more extensive testing.

Is Git really better than X?

Most of Scott Chacon’s points in Why Git is Better than X are spot-on. The page could even be renamed “Why distributed version control systems are better than Subversion and Perforce,” since those two are the clear losers. (And yes, Bazaar is so slow I think it deserves to be listed twice in the speed section.)

I’ve used each of Git, Mercurial, and Bazaar for several months in medium sized teams; I’ve done quite a bit of branching and merging in Mercurial and Bazaar, and a fair amount in Git. Based on that experience, I am compelled to disagree here with a few of the points, specifically with regards to Mercurial.

Cheap local branching

Chacon argues that only Git offers cheap local branching, but Mercurial allows exactly the same work-flows that he outlines, and they are just as easy. Chacon claims that Git’s branching model is different:

Git will allow you to have multiple local branches that can be entirely independent of each other…

This isn’t quite correct. The real difference between Git’s branching model and the others is that Git does not assume a one-to-one relationship between a logical branch and a directory on the file-system. In Git, you can have a single directory on the file-system and switch between different branches with the git checkout command without changing directories.

Mercurial (and Bazaar) enforce default to1 a one-to-one relationship between a logical branch and directory on the file-system. You can, however, use the hg clone command to make a new, “entirely independent,” branch. You can clone a local directory, a remote directory over SSH, or a remote Mercurial repository. Cloning a repository that’s on the local file-system is the way to create cheap local branches in Mercurial. Mercurial will even create hard links to save disk space and time.

For example, in Git, you make a cheap local branch with:

git branch featurebranch
git checkout featurebranch

And in Mercurial, you make a cheap local branch with:

cd ..
hg clone master featurebranch
cd featurebranch

In Git, you switch between branches with git checkout branchname. In Mercurial, since branches are in a one-to-one correspondence with directories, you switch between branches with cd ../branchname.

In Git, you pull changes from a local branch with git merge branchname. In Mercurial, you pull changes into from a local branch with hg pull -u ../branchname.

Chacon’s four example work-flows using cheap local branches are not only completely possible in Mercurial, they are just as trivial as they are in Git. (The first three are even equally trivial in Bazaar; I’m not sure about the last one in Bazaar, though.)

Chacon says:

You can find ways to do some of this with other systems, but the work involved is much more difficult and error-prone.

Reasonable people might also disagree about the intuitiveness of the specific commands, but creating, updating, merging, and deleting them in Mercurial are one or two commands in the shell, just like in Git. None of these tasks are more difficult or more error-prone in Mercurial.

Chacon also says:

when you push to a remote repository, you do not have to push all of your branches. You can only share one of your branches and not all of them.

This is a little misleading. In Mercurial, since there’s usually a one-to-one correspondence between branches and local directories, and since you can’t be in two directories at once, you’re usually only pushing a single branch. In Mercurial, you generally don’t have to think about which branch you’re pushing, or whether you’re pushing other branches that shouldn’t be pushed, because you generally only ever push one branch at a time. I would actually turn this argument around, and claim that Git’s default of keeping multiple logical branches in a single directory forces you to worry about which branches you’re pushing, and actually makes cheap local branches harder and more error-prone in Git than in Mercurial.

Reasonable people might disagree about the intuitiveness of a branching model which does or does not assume default to a one-to-one relationship between logical branches and local directories, but that’s not why cheap local branches are so powerful in Git. Rather, it’s the ability to clone and merge between repositories locally that allows cheap local branches, and it’s just as easy in Mercurial as in Git, and nearly as easy in Bazaar.


GitHub is unarguably the biggest community around any distributed version control system. But Chacon goes too far when he says:

This type of community is simply not available with any of the other SCMs.

BitBucket may not be as big as GitHub, but it’s a “socially-targeted” community where Mercurial users can “fork and contribute” to other Mercurial projects. It might not have as many projects or contributors as GitHub, but a sheer difference in size doesn’t translate to “simply not available.”

Bazaar’s not listed as inferior to Git on this point, I assume because of Launchpad. If Launchpad counts, why not BitBucket?

I’d also be interested to see usage numbers comparing GitHub and everyone’s favorite open-source community brontosaurus, SourceForge. Has GitHub surpassed them in projects or users or commits or downloads?

Minor haggling points

I also disagree with Chacon about the benefits of the staging area or index, but that’s purely a matter of personal preference. I never wanted anything like the staging area before I started using Git, and I don’t miss it now when I’m using Mercurial. If anything, the extra concept of a staging area makes Git slightly harder to learn; newbies coming from any other version control system have to be taught about the -a option to git commit right away, or else they wonder why their changes aren’t getting committed.

In the “Easy to Learn” section, Chacon highlights the add commands in both Mercurial and Git, indicating that they are the same; but they are pretty different. In Mercurial, add schedules previously un-tracked files to be tracked. In Git, add adds changes in a current file to the staging area, or index, including, but not limited to, previously un-tracked files. That section is also missing Mercurial’s mv command. Other potentially confusing differences include Git’s revert, which corresponds to Mercurial’s backout; and Mercurial’s revert, which can be duplicated using Git’s checkout.

Last, I’d like to see the ballyhooed Fossil included in this breakdown.

  1. Update: Thanks to David Wolever, who points out that hg branch and hg bookmark can be used to have more than one branch per directory in Mercurial. I didn’t even know about these commands when I first wrote this post. But I think my central point still holds; creating cheap local branches in Mercurial is just as easy as in Git. []

What a DVCS gets you (definitely)

Bill de hÓra’s What a DVCS gets you (maybe) has one of the clearest explanations of why DVCS is superior to centralized VCS:

But once you accept this model of having your sandbox under version control, a lot of the pain (and fear) of dealing with branches evaporates. Passing around changesets and patches becomes normal and logical.

After using a DVCS for years (Codeville), I don’t think there’s any need for “maybe” in this post’s title, either. DVCS is superior, plain and simple.