This guide is for developers of COIN-OR projects, especially those that use the COIN-OR build system.
Edit me

For now, this guide focuses mainly on the migration from SVN to git in order to help everyone get on a solid footing with the move to GitHub. It is assumed most people are familiar with git, but specific recipes are given for the usual workflows. A good crash course in git for those familiar with SVN is here.

Moving from SVN to git

This section will mainly be of interest to developers on projects have been mirrored from SVN and are now moving to being managed entirely under git, especially those who are not entirely familiar with git. There will ultimately be many changes going from SVN to git, the biggest are

  • We’ll be abandoning the use of the externals mechanism that made it possible to easily pull in all dependencies in SVN.
  • The repository organization will change due to the fact that git doesn’t employ the same sort of folder-based design for storage.

Although there is now a mechanism in git that functions roughly like the SVN externals mechanism (it is called submodules), we’ve long thought of moving away from using the externals mechanism in order to avoid a number of issues, such as the difficult of having multiple packages checked out simultaneously with common dependencies. The coinbrew script now acts as a sort of package manager, effectively replacing the externals mechanism with a more powerful alternative.

Other changes have to do simply terminology and philosophy. In git, each commit represents a complete snapshot of the state of the repository, not a set of changes, as in SVN. The commits in git are related to each other through a directed acyclic graph. Each commit has one or more parents and one or more children. The individual commits are identified by “hashes” or “SHAs” (as opposed to SVN’s revisions) because they are identified by a long string that is obtained by hashing the contents of the commit, such as

~/Projects/Cbc > git log
commit 8a40de8b1a6f550c440dddd3e83d26807c1877b8 (HEAD -> master, origin/master, origin/HEAD)
Author: John Forrest <>
Date:   Tue Mar 26 15:04:27 2019 +0000

Each commit has one (or more) parents, which define the graph of commits across the entire repository.

~/Projects/Cbc > git cat-file -p 8a40de8b
tree 11d40c5ac7bfd6ec6d9747a4b62562ee83986deb
parent ededdc0f67e0381b7ea233d61488e4933078115d
author John Forrest <> 1553612667 +0000
committer John Forrest <> 1553612667 +0000

out stupid clone which causes memory leak

Whereas in SVN, it is possible (though not recommended) to commit changes to multiple branches in a single commit, this is not possible in git.

When one “clones” a repository in git, the download includes the entirety of its contents, including all commits, whereas in SVN, one only gets the contents of the current revision. This enables you to work off-line with git and still be able to switch branches, make commits, etc. The working directory, however, contains only the contents of what used to be one of the single top-level folders in SVN at one time. Next, we describe how the SVN folder structure translates into the structure of a git repository.

Repository organization

If you had the recommended repository structure in your SVN repository, then the root of your repository looked something like this.


Git is not folder based, so the folders in SVN have to be mapped either to a git “branch” or to a git “tag”. Both branches and tags are nothing more in git than aliases for particular commits (identified by their SHA or hash). The difference between a branch and a tag is only that a branch is dynamic and always points to the “tip” of a given series of commits, whereas a “tag” is a fixed pointer that never changes.

The recommended structure in git (which is imposed for the repositories that were mirrored from SVN to git) is as follows.

  • The stable versions in SVN that used to live in a folder stable/x.y are now in a git branch called stable/x.y. In git, this branch label is just a string designating the name of a branch, not a true folder, as in SVN (the / has no meaning in terms of organization).
  • The releases in SVN that used to be in the folder releases/x.y.z are now git tags with the label releases/x.y.z in git. These are now truly fixed versions, whereas they could in principle be updated in SVN (and sometimes were).
  • What was called trunk in SVN is the master branch in git. This is the branch that users get by default (although you can change this if you want).
  • If there was anything in the SVN branches folder, this would also be just a regular git branch in the git repo. If you now do
git clone

you will get a copy of the repository with the working directory being the master branch. To get the stable version 2.10 of Cbc (after cloning as above), you would do

git checkout stable/2.10

You can see what branches are available with the git branch command, but by default, git only shows you branches that you have already checked out locally. If you do git branch -a, you will also see remote branches. For Cbc, we have

~/Projects/Cbc> git branch -a
* stable/2.10
  remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master

The * indicates the branch you currently have checked out. Your local branches will usually correspond to branches that also exist in the remote repository, but not always. If you git checkout a branch with the same name as one that exists remotely, then it will set up a new local branch that tracks the remote one. Otherwise, it creates a new local branch for your current commit that can later be pushed to the remote repository, if desired.

To see the tags (releases) available, do

~/Projects/Cbc> git tag

You can check out a tag in git, but you will get a message starting with

You are in 'detached HEAD' state. You can look around, make experimental changes...

This is because tags are just pointers to specific SHAs and don’t have parents or children. They exists in a fixed state detached from the rest of the repository, although the SHA may itself also be a commit in a branch as well. In general, it is better as a developer not to check out releases directly.

Mapping of SVN revisions to git hashes

The mirroring software we used to move project from SVN to git keeps a record of the mapping between SVN revisions and git SHAs. To enable the mapping, edit your .git/config file and add

[remote "origin"]
fetch = +refs/svn/map:refs/notes/commits

After that, the git log command will show the original SVN revision of any commits that were created through mirroring.


Dependencies are indicated by maintaining a file called Dependencies in the root of your repository. This is used by the coinbrew script, among others, to determine what additional projects are needed. The format of the file is lines consisting of a short name for the project, a URL, and (in the case of a git dependency), a branch name. Note that you can mix git and SVN URLs, although only SVN URLs hosted on The basic format is something like

Alps stable/1.5

For now, there may be a mix of URLs for GitHub and SVN, but this will eventually be only GitHub URLs.

Root directories

Another change being made as we move from SVN to git is to remove what used to be the root directory of each repository. The repository for project Xyz used to contain a subdirectory within it called Xyz. This was so that when the project was checked out with its SVN externals (dependencies), the result would that each project (including the main project would end up in its own subdirectory. At the root level, there was also a main configure script,, and a number of other autotools-related scripts. The resulting structure when project Xyz was checked out was


The new structure will (eventually) be that the root directory will be removed. When checked out with coinbrew, the same overall structure (each project in its own subdirectory) will be maintained, but the root directory won’t be part of any repository and the main configure script is essentially replaced by coinbrew (see section below describing coinbrew).

Standard development workflows

This section describes standard workflows that are closely aligned with the workflows used in many projects in the past under SVN. Project managers are free to use any of the alternative workflows described briefly in the next section, as well as any other workflow of their choice. To take advantage of the coinbrew build script, as well as other shared services related to continuous integration, testing, and binary distribution, all that is required is that

  • the repository be organized as described above, using the recommended naming conventions for branches and tags,
  • that it use the scheme described above for dependencies,
  • and (for now), that it use an autotools-based build system.

In the standard workflow described here, development takes place in the master branch (or in feature branches, as described below). Long-running branches will be maintained for each stable version (as with SVN), but it is typically not expected that commits will be made directly to these branches. Instead, as was also the case with SVN, commits made to master will be moved to the stable branches, as explained in the next section.

Publishing changes

By default, whatever branch you check out will be set up to “track the remote,” meaning that you can sync changes from the same branch in the remote repository (on COIN-OR’s GitHub repo) and publish your changes to that branch. The normal flow of development would thus be to first checkout the master branch (if not already done).

git checkout master

After checking out master, make some changes, then commit them. Committing in git is different than in SVN in that SVN commits all changes by default, whereas git only commits what you tell it to. The first step is then to add the files whose changes should be committed. Following this, you then commit the changes. The commit command only records the changes in your local copy of the repository. To publish them requires a push command, as follows.

git add fileToAdd.cpp
git commit -m "This is the commit message describing the commit"
git push

If you want to see what files have changed since the last commit, you can do

git status

To see the detailed diff, you can do

git diff

Note that if you add a file and then make more changes to it before committing, the new changes will not be included. You need to add again. The git diff command is against the current index, so if you git add fileToAdd.cpp and then git diff fileToAdd.cpp, the difference will be empty. To diff the changes you have staged and are about to commit against the previous commit, do git diff --cached.

Syncing a local branch with remote

This section is important, please read carefully. Before you are allowed to publish (push) your commits, you must sync your branch with the remote. This means invoking the command

git pull

In git, there are two ways to sync change and it is very important to understand the difference.


The default is to merge, which will attempt to take the current tip of your branch and combine it with the current tip of the remote branch, just as happens when doing an svn update. This may or may not create a conflict. If there is a conflict, then you must resolve it, just as you would in SVN, by looking for conflict markers. After resolving the conflict, the files may need to added again with a git add to indicate the conflict has been resolved (this may happen automatically whenever the file doesn’t contain any conflict markers). Merging creates a “merge commit” whose purpose is to record the two parent commits (the respective tips of the two paths in the graph that are being brought back together.

Rebase (Preferred)

A rebase is the other alternative and is almost always preferred, although it is not the default. What a rebase does is to reapply each of your commits, starting at the tip of the remote branch, creating a history that looks as if you started your work with the current tip of the remote branch and worked from there. This is preferable because it creates a so-called “linear history” rather than a history that introduces additional divergent paths into the commit graph and includes merge commits that interrupt the flow of the history. Two possible disadvantages of rebase are

  • A rebase will change the SHAs of all your local commits, so you should never do this if you have already shared your commits with someone else or if pointers to those commits exist somewhere else. This shouldn’t be the case for work in progress that only exists on your local machine.
  • A rebase can make it more difficult to resolve conflicts, since it applies each of your local commits, one by one. Each of these commits could potentially cause a conflict, which needs to be resolved, one by one. If this process is too arduous it is easy to abort and do a merge instead.

To do a pull with rebase, one can execute the command

git pull --rebase

To avoid having to remember to do this each time, it is easy to change the default for pulling to be rebase with the command

git config --global pull.rebase true

This is highly recommended.

When pulling with rebase, if there is a conflict, it should be resolved in the usual way (remove conflict markers, add the files if necessary) and then git rebase --continue must be called to continue the process. If at any time, you want to to abort the process and start over, just do `git rebase –abort.

Syncing stable branch with master

To move changes from master to stable/x.y, the process is very similar to svn merge.

Moving individual commits

The command in git corresponding most precisely to svn merge is git cherry-pick. If you want to move a single commit from master to stable/x.y, the recommended incantation is

git checkout stable/x.y
git cherry-pick -xes 1b89e6cc58

A big difference between svn and git is that svn is “patch-based” meaning that the repository is a collection of patches, and svn explicitly tracks when a patch is moved from one branch (folder) to another. In git, there is no explicit tracking. By adding -xes above, however, we do get some additional information, which makes it easier to keep track. The -s explicitly records who performed the cherry-pick. The -x records the SHA of the original commit that was cherry-picked. Finally, the -e allows editing of the commit message for any additional information that should be recorded.

It is also possible to cherry-pick a series of commits, just as with svn merge.

git cherry-pick -xes 1b89e6cc58..c0079e0da58

There is lots of other fancy stuff that can be done, see the git book for examples.

One final possibly useful command is git cherry, which lists all commits that have not yet been cherry-picked. Note, however, that it determines whether a commit has already been applied by comparing the id’s (hashes) of the patches associated with each commit. If the patch applied when cherry picking the commit the first time was not exactly the same as the patch in the original branch (e.g., there was a conflict), then this will not be detected. See discussion here.


Depending on what you want to do precisely, there are many alternatives to cherry-pick. One that is not well-tested, but seems to be useful is to interactively rebase master onto stable/2.10.

git rebase -i --signoff --onto stable/2.10 <starting-sha> master

This command replays each commit in master on top of stable/2.10, starting at the SHA , which would usually be the SHA after the one that was the tip of master last time the two branches were synced. It could also be the least common ancestor (which is the SHA at which the stable branch oreeiginally split from the master branch, given by `git merge-base master stable/2.10`). The `-i` argument makes the rebase interactive, which means that the person doing the rebase will be presented with a file to edits containing all available commits and will be able to choose any that are relevant, deleting the others. Only the chosen commits will be moved. Thus, the result is similar to cherry-pick, but it may be easier to pick the exact set of commits to be moved. Note that the commit message for the re-based commits will not include the original SHA in this case. It should be possible, though using the `-x` argument, which runs a command after each commit, to amend the commit message with the SHA of the original commit. The `-x` argument could also be used to run a unit test after each commit is added to ensure that no commit added breaks anything.

Making a new stable version

The prepare-stable script is provided to automate the process of making a new stable version, but we describe the process here anyway. The process in git is similar to that in SVN. A new branch is first made from a commit in master and the version string in is updated.

git checkout master 
git checkout -b stable/x.y 
run_autotools . 
git add -u 
git commit -m "Creating new stable branch x.y" 
git push -u origin stable/x.y 

In addition, the Dependencies probably needs to be updated.

Making a release

The prepare-release script is provided to automate the process of making a new release but we describe the process here, since it is quite different in git than in SVN. In SVN, it was necessary to create a number of “fake” commits that were there only for the purposes of temporarily changing version numbers. In git, it is possible to make a release without creating any additional commits that appear in the history of the stable branch. We simply make a new branch from stable/x.y, create a single commit in that new branch, tag that commit, then delete the branch. Deleting a branch in git only means the label/pointer is deleted, not the commits in the branch. The tag that remains is enough to find the commit associated with the release if needed.

git checkout stable/x.y
git checkout -b release-x.y.z
<edit, CHANGELOG, Dependencies etc.>
run_autotools .
git add -u
git commit -m "Creating new release x.y.z"
<wait for automated testing to complete successfully>
git tag -a releases/x.y.z -m "Creating release x.y.z"
git push origin releases/x.y.z
git checkout stable/x.y
git branch -d release-x.y.z

Note that it is possible to push the commit without tagging it at first in order to wait for automated testing to be done before finally tagging the release.

Developing a feature

Development of new features should be done, if at all possible in a “feature branch.” This can be done in one of two ways. Either fork the remote repository on GitHub into your own personal GitHub account and develop the feature there (this is somewhat preferred) or, if you are main developer, develop it in a separate branch in the main repo.

git checkout master
git checkout -b feature_branch
<do some development>
git rebase master
<do some more development>
git rebase master

Once the feature is ready to be merged into master, it is strongly preferred that this be done using a pull request. If you are viewing your feature branch on GitHub, there should be a button there for creating a pull request. If you don’t want to create a pull request, you can follow up the above series of commits with

git checkout master
git merge feature_branch

and this will perform a co-called “fast-forward” merge, which means that the tip of master will just be moved to the tip of your branch (since there is nothing in master that is not in your branch, once you rebase).

Alternative workflows

We mention here briefly that there are a number of other possible workflows that can be used. For simple, slow-moving projects with only one or two developers, working in master and tagging releases directly from there without having a stable branch may work fine, although much of the infrastructure described above and below depends on the existence of stable branches.

Another alternative is to do development in the current stable branch. In this case, bug fixes applying to earlier stable version would need to be back-ported. Master would then consist of only the latest tagged releases. The advantage of this workflow is that when users check out the repository, they automatically get the latest release.

The coinbrew script

The coinbrew script is a universal script for checking our projects with their dependencies, building a project and its dependencies, switching versions, and much much more. The documentation for it is here.

Working with GitHub

Continuous Integration

Currently, we recommend using Github Actions CI services. To get started, take a look at .github/workflows in the CoinUtils repository. These can be used as a basic template. Once your repository is activated on the services (requests can be sent to, simply adding the YAML files to the repository will activate automated build and test.

Uploading Binaries

Any binaries/libraries that are built using Github Actions are automatically uploaded as artifacts.

Zenodo and DOIs

We recommend using Zenodo to generate a DOI for each released version of your software. This makes it possible for the software to be formally and directly cited. Once Zenodo is activated for your project (requests can be sent to, all that needs to be done to generate a DOI is to publish your release. Once a tagged release version is pushed, just go to page listing releases and click on the “Draft a New Release Button.”

Project Web sites

To create a project Web site, we recommend using GitHub Pages, a service provided by GitHub by which your project’s site is hosted directly in your repository. To get started, follow the instructions here. The instructions are very general and cover a lot of cases, so in case it’s not clear, in most cases, you will want to create a branch in your repository call gh-pages and place your Jekyll theme files there. The site will then be displayed at the URL

Working with the build system

We are currently transitiong from TravisCI, AppVeyor and Bintray to Github Actions and Github Releases. Pushes to the main branch or pull requests automatically trigger the CI across a variety of platforms. Pushing a new tag automatically creates a new release, and builds and uploads artifacts for each platform.