Just as the term “changeset” is often used in version control systems, so is the term of cherrypicking. This word refers to the act of choosing one specific changeset from a branch and replicating it to another. Cherrypicking may also refer to the act of duplicating a particular set of (not necessarily contiguous!) changesets from one branch to another. This is in contrast to more typical merging scenarios, where the “next” contiguous range of revisions is duplicated automatically.

Why would people want to replicate just a single change? It comes up more often than you'd think. For example, let's go back in time and imagine that you haven't yet merged your private feature-branch back to the trunk. At the water cooler, you get word that Sally made an interesting change to integer.c on the trunk. Looking over the history of commits to the trunk, you see that in revision 355 she fixed a critical bug that directly impacts the feature you're working on. You might not be ready to merge all the trunk changes to your branch just yet, but you certainly need that particular bugfix in order to continue your work.

$ svn diff -c 355

Index: integer.c
--- integer.c	(revision 354)
+++ integer.c	(revision 355)
@@ -147,7 +147,7 @@
     case 6:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "HPFS (OS/2 or NT)"); break;
     case 7:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "Macintosh"); break;
     case 8:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "Z-System"); break;
-    case 9:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "CP/MM");
+    case 9:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "CP/M"); break;
     case 10:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "TOPS-20"); break;
     case 11:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "NTFS (Windows NT)"); break;
     case 12:  sprintf(info->operating_system, "QDOS"); break;

Just as you used svn diff in the prior example to examine revision 355, you can pass the same option to svn merge:

$ svn merge -c 355
U    integer.c

$ svn status
M      integer.c

You can now go through the usual testing procedures before committing this change to your branch. After the commit, Subversion marks r355 as having been merged to the branch, so that future “magic” merges that synchronize your branch with the trunk know to skip over r355. (Merging the same change to the same branch almost always results in a conflict!)

$ cd my-calc-branch

$ svn propget svn:mergeinfo .

$ svn mergeinfo .
Path: .
  Source path: /trunk
    Merged ranges: r341:349,r355
    Eligible ranges: r350:354,r356:360

$ svn merge
--- Merging r350 through r354 into '.':
U    integer.c
U    Makefile
--- Merging r356 through r360 into '.':
U    integer.c
U    button.c

This use-case of replicating (or backporting) bugfixes from one branch to another is perhaps the most popular reason for cherrypicking changes; it comes up all the time, for example, when a team is maintaining a “release branch” of software. (We discuss this pattern in the section called “Release Branches”.)


Did you notice how, in the last example, the merge invocation caused two distinct ranges of merges to be applied? The svn merge command applied two independent patches to your working copy in order to skip over changeset 355, which your branch already contained. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, except that it has the potential to make conflict resolution more tricky. If the first range of changes creates conflicts, you must resolve them interactively in order for the merge process to continue and apply the second range of changes. If you postpone a conflict from the first wave of changes, the whole merge command will bail out with an error message.[21]

A word of warning: while svn diff and svn merge are very similar in concept, they do have different syntax in many cases. Be sure to read about them in Chapter 9, Subversion Complete Reference for details, or ask svn help. For example, svn merge requires a working-copy path as a target, i.e., a place where it should apply the generated patch. If the target isn't specified, it assumes you are trying to perform one of the following common operations:

  • You want to merge directory changes into your current working directory.

  • You want to merge the changes in a specific file into a file by the same name that exists in your current working directory.

If you are merging a directory and haven't specified a target path, svn merge assumes the first case and tries to apply the changes into your current directory. If you are merging a file, and that file (or a file by the same name) exists in your current working directory, svn merge assumes the second case and tries to apply the changes to a local file with the same name.

[21] At least, this is true in Subversion 1.5 at the time of writing. This behavior may improve in future versions of Subversion.