Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Steve Alila


Quick cheat sheet to perform git restore

Git restore is frequently confused with other commands such as checkout, revert, reset, and switch. The reason being it came into existence when some of the commands were already solving its primary roles.

Also, some of its features could be undergoing the experimental stage, making it hectic to realize the best way to apply it. The four stable forms of the git restore command are

git restore --staged <file>

to undo changes in the staging area,

git restore --staged --worktree <file>

to restore changes in both the staging area and the working tree. Use

git restore --source=<path> <file>

to restore changes along a branch, tag, or on a commit hash, and

git restore --patch

restore modified changes interactively.

It would help to take a realistic look at the four git restore flags and their alternatives. But, before that, you should understand the terms often confused with git restore.


The role of git restore in a standard git workflow

Although git restore can discard changes in the working tree, it mainly affects the index. The index also called the staging area, is the second level of the main git workflow. The first stage is the working tree, where you introduce new files or modify the ones already in the index or history.

After creating the files, you store them in the git database after keeping a copy of the changes in the index. On committing the changes, they become part of the history and are identifiable with a commit hash.

Depending on the number of developers collaborating on a project, you may open and merge several branches.

Transitioning from one development line to another may require undoing, discarding, or reinstating deleted changes. That calls for using various commands such as git restore.


Simple explanations of terms often confused with git restore

Git checkout, switch, reset, and revert often get confused with git restore. Here's what you should know about the commands.

Git checkout used to be one of the most overworked commands before launching git version 2.23. It undoes changes in a file or a commit and switch between branches. Now, git recommends using the git restore command for most git discard change processes.

You can also use the git switch command to navigate branches by creating and checking out a branch using a one-line command.

The reset command returns the HEAD to a specified state. More often, git reset updates a branch and often overlaps with git restore. On the other hand, git restore does not update a branch and mainly affects files in the working tree.

The revert command is a safer way to reset changes. The main difference between git reset and the git revert is that the revert command rewrites the commit history instead of discarding the history. While git revert rewrites the commit history, git restore does not generate new commits.

Let us set up a lab and see the differences practically.


Set up a lab to explore the git restore command

I am creating a repository on GitHub called git_restore,

GitHub repo to explore git restore


Copy its URL and clone it on the command line.

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Let us create a file.

cd git_restore

touch file


git stage file

and commit it.

git commit -m "Track file"

Now that we have a repository to play with, let us see practical examples of the git restore command.


Relatable examples to differentiate restore, checkout, reset, revert, and switch commands

Although git checkout can still help undo changes in a file , commit or tag, its primary usage after introducing git version 2.23 is switching between branches. Here is an example:

I am creating and moving into new_branch.

git branch new_branch

git checkout new_branch

or create and checkout a branch using the -b flag.

git checkout -b new_branch

The hard reset command helps to discard changes. For example, let us remove the last commit.

Check the target commit hash.

git log --oneline

And hard reset it.

git reset --hard 463fe07

Rechecking the file, we realize it got deleted from the working directory. Neither can we trace its commit from history.

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

We can restore the file usingĀ  reflog and a hard reset on the discarded commit.

git reflog

git reset --hard 9f2c58a

The file is back to the working tree. A soft reset changes the commit HEAD by removing the changes from the history to the index. Lastly, a mixed reset on the HEAD unstages the file. As you will see in example-1, it works in a similar manner as git restore --staged <file>.

Let us use it to unstage file2 as follows:

Create file2.

touch file2

git stage file2

Unstage it.

git reset HEAD file2

Since the (hard) reset command is destructive, you should avoid it when undoing changes on files you have pushed. Instead, use git revert.

Let us restage file2, commit and push it.

git stage file2

git commit -m "Track file2"

git push

We can then revert the changes as follows:

git log --oneline

git revert 463fe07

Git opens our text editor, prompting us for a new commit message. We can accept the default commit message and close the text editor. This time around, git created a new commit.

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Lastly, we can use the git switch to check out branch_b.

git switch -c branch_b

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Let us now use three examples to explore the git restore command practically.


Git restore using various flags

Example-1: Using the --staged flag

Modify file2.

echo modified >> file2

Check status.

git status

The changes are untracked and marked in red. Let us stage the changes and recheck the status.

git add file2

git status

The files are green, meaning they are staged. As git hints in the below screenshot, we can unstage the changes by specifying file2 in the git restore command.

git restore --staged file2

And recheck the status.

git status

Our files are back in the working directory.

git restore using the staged flag

We can also restore changes in the index and the working tree.

Stage file2.

git add file2

Modify it.

echo changed >> file2

Restore the index and working tree.

git restore --staged --worktree file2

Both changes got wiped out.

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]


Example-2: Using the --source flag

Modify file2 and check out the main branch.

echo modified >> file2

git checkout main

Restore the file by specifying the branch name and file.

git restore --source=branch_b file2

Return to branch_b and check the status.

git checkout branch_b

git status

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Our changes disappeared!


Example-3: Using the --patch flag

We can interactively restore the modified changes using the --patch flag.

Check out the main branch.

git checkout main

Modify the file and check the status.

echo changed >> file

git status

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]

Running git restore using the --patch flag

git restore --patch

asks us to pick the restore option. Let us go with y for yes. Our changes got restored.

Let's decode "git restore" for you [Practical Examples]



Git restore's role changes according to the flag supplied. For example, the --staged flag works as a mixed reset on the HEAD, The --staged --worktree and --patch flags discard files from the working directory, just like git reset hard on a commit.

Git checkout can undo changes on a file, tag, or commit. After introducing the restore command in git 2.23, the checkout command, like the git switch, mainly helps in navigating branches. Finally, git revert is a safer path to undo changes on commits already pushed.


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Steve Alila

He specializes in web design, WordPress development, and data analysis, with proficiency in Python, JavaScript, and data extraction tools. Additionally, he excels in web API development, AI integration, and data presentation using Matplotlib and Plotly. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or check his projects on GitHub page.

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