Mastering Clear and Effective Commit Messages: A Step-by-Step Guide

A digital illustration of a person sitting at a computer, surrounded by floating, glowing speech bubbles, each containing a perfectly structured git commit message, with a clear step-by-step guidebook open on the desk.


Have you ever found yourself sifting through a project’s history, trying to decipher the cryptic puzzle that is commit messages? It’s like trying to understand the plot of a movie by only watching the trailers. Effective commit messages are the unsung heroes of software development, providing a clear historical record and making it easier for others (and your future self) to understand what changes have been made and why. This article will guide you through the art of crafting clear and effective commit messages, ensuring that your project’s log is as decipherable as a well-written book.

The Importance of Good Commit Messages

Before diving into the how-to, let’s briefly touch upon the why. Good commit messages serve several key purposes in software development. They facilitate code reviews, help manage changes, and assist in troubleshooting and debugging. Think of them as the breadcrumb trail you leave behind; without them, navigating the codebase can feel like wandering in the woods without a map. And, everyone knows that getting lost in code is about as fun as assembling furniture without instructions.

Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Commit Messages

Writing effective commit messages is a skill that improves with practice and intention. Let’s walk through the steps to polish this crucial aspect of your software development toolbox.

1. Separate Subject from Body

A commit message should comprise two main parts: the subject and the body. The subject provides a brief overview (ideally 50 characters or less) of the change, whereas the body offers detailed context, including the what and the why of the changes made. This separation ensures quick scanning ability and detailed examination when needed.

2. Start With a Capital Letter

It’s all in the details, and starting your commit messages with a capital letter sets a professional tone. Though it might seem trivial, keeping a consistent style helps maintain clarity and readability.

3. Use the Imperative Mood

Write your commit message as if you’re giving an order or instruction. Instead of writing I added or Adding, write Add. This aligns with the conventions set by commit messages generated by commands like git merge and git revert, creating a uniform log language.

4. Be Concise Yet Descriptive

The subject line’s 50-character limit is not much, but with practice, you can make it informative. Aim for clarity and specificity; Fix typo in readme is infinitely more helpful than Fixed a bug.

5. Explain the Why, Not Just the What

The body of your commit message should provide context to your changes. Discuss the problem before your fix and explain why this solution is the best option. Here’s where you can detail the thought process behind your decisions, making it easier for future reviewers (including yourself) to understand the rationale.

6. Avoid Redundancy

If a commit changes something minor or self-explanatory, it’s sometimes okay to omit the body. Just ensure the subject line is descriptive. After all, you wouldn’t want a commit history filled with novellas, especially for changes that are as straightforward as fixing a typo in a comment.

7. Use Bullet Points for Large Commits

If your commit encompasses numerous changes that can’t be succinctly described in one line, use bullet points in the body to list them. Ensure each point is straightforward and provides clear insight into what was done.


Mastering the craft of writing clear and effective commit messages is akin to honing any other skill in software development; it takes practice, attention to detail, and a sprinkle of patience. Remember, the goal is to make your project’s history navigable and understandable, not only for others but for your future self. Imagine the joy of returning to a project and being greeted by a well-documented log of changes, clear as daylight. That’s the power of good commit messages.

So, whether you’re committing the initial code or making a complex update, take a moment to craft a message that future you (or a curious teammate) will thank you for. It’s the kind of small effort that pays off in the long run—kind of like remembering to floss.

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