version-control vs - Mercurial for Beginners:The Definitive Practical Guide

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Inspired by Git for beginners: The definitive practical guide.

This is a compilation of information on using Mercurial for beginners for practical use.

Beginner - a programmer who has touched source control without understanding it very well.

Practical - covering situations that the majority of users often encounter - creating a repository, branching, merging, pulling/pushing from/to a remote repository, etc.


  • Explain how to get something done rather than how something is implemented.
  • Deal with one question per answer.
  • Answer clearly and as concisely as possible.
  • Edit/extend an existing answer rather than create a new answer on the same topic.
  • Please provide a link to the the Mercurial wiki or the HG Book for people who want to learn more.



Working with the code

Tagging, branching, releases, baselines


Other Mercurial references


How do you get the latest code?

Mercurial remembers where a repository was cloned from (in .hg/hgrc) so you can simply run:

hg pull

to pull the latest code from origin-repository. (This does not update the working directory)

hg update

to update the working directory.

hg pull -u

to perform both a pull and an update at once.

How do you extract a patch from a specific changeset?

$ hg export -o patchfile changeset

You can then import this into another branch with:

$ hg import patchfile

How do you remove a file from the repository?

To remove a file from the repository, and have it deleted on the next commit:

$ hg remove {file(s)}

To remove a file from the repository, but not have it deleted

$ hg remove -Af {file(s)}

or from Mercurial 1.3

$ hg forget {file(s)}

How to set up Mercurial?

Mercurial stores its configuration information in ~/.hgrc on *nix systems and in %UserProfile%\mercurial.ini on Windows systems. (%UserProfile% is typically "C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\" on Windows 2000 or Windows XP systems, and typically C:\Users\[username]\ on Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems.)

As a starting point, you should set your Mercurial username by placing the following in your .hgrc or mercurial.ini:

# This is a Mercurial configuration file.
username = Firstname Lastname <[email protected]>

TortoiseHg users on Windows systems can alternatively run hgtk userconfig

See also "Creating a Mercurial configuration file" in chapter 2 of "Mercurial: The Definitive Guide."

How to install Mercurial?

Please edit nicely if you have installed from source on Linux, or used the Windows installers.

Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard)

Use Python's easy_install (with Setuptools):

sudo easy_install mercurial

This finds the latest version (1.3.1 at time of writing) and installs at:


With Python 2.6 this also gets around the Mercurial OS X installer package (at 1.2.1 as of July 26 2009) complaining that it needs Python 2.5. From the documentation, it appears that Fink and Macports install version 1.2.


Most of the explicit Linux packages appear to lag behind the current version, so use easy_install (as above) or download the Mercurial tarball, extract the archive, change to the mercurial directory, and run:

$ make
$ sudo make install    # do a system-wide install
$ hg debuginstall      # sanity check
$ hg                   # see help

(from Introducing Mercurial, a distributed version control system)


There is a binary package of the latest version of Mercurial. TortoiseHg is a Windows shell extension for, and installs, Mercurial. Cygwin can also install Mercurial.

Alternatively (instructions too lengthy so linked here), you can build an optimised or pure Python version of Mercurial from source.

How do you compare two revisions of a file, or your current file and a previous revision?

Both use hg diff. When hg diff is used all changes in the working copy and the tip (the latest commit) is displayed.

For "How do you compare two revisions of a file?"

$ hg diff -r{rev1} -r{rev2} {file.code}

The above command will show different between rev1 and rev2 of "file.code".

For "How do you compare your current file and a previous revision?"

$ hg diff {file.code}

The above command will show different between the current version of "file.code" and the lastest revision (the lastest commited).


How do you branch?

$ hg branch my-branch


$ hg clone original-repository my-branch

Though it should be noted that branch creates a "virtual" directory (i.e., the files stay the same, but hg treats them as if they were different inside the system), while clone creates an actual, complete copy. Strictly speaking, clone isn't branching.

How do you commit changes?

$ hg commit -m "Commit message"

How do you see what's uncommitted, or the status of your current codebase?

To see a list of files that have been changed:

$ hg status

This will print each file that has been changed along with its status, which can include:

  • M - Modified. The file has been changed and the changes have not been committed.
  • A - Added. The file was not tracked before, but if you commit Mercurial will begin tracking it.
  • R - Removed. The file was tracked before, but if you commit Mercurial will cease tracking it in this and future commits.
  • ? - Unknown. The file is not currently tracked by Mercurial. Committing will have no effect on it unless you use hg add to add it.
  • ! - Missing. The file was tracked but Mercurial cannot find it in the working copy.

To see the changes that have actually been made to the files:

$ hg diff

How do you go back to a previous version of the code?

From this question

$ hg update [-r REV]

@van: If later you commit, you will effectively create a new branch. Then you might continue working only on this branch or eventually merge the existing one into it.

How do you merge branches?

$ cd repository-where-i-want-to merge
$ hg pull branch-i-want-to-merge
$ hg merge # if necessary

How do you create a new project/repository?

$ hg init my-repository

How do you merge parts of one branch into another branch?

Enable the 'transplant' extension in your .hg/hgrc


Load the target branch then transplant the target revision.
eg: cherry pick revision 81 from branch 'foo' into the current branch

$ hg transplant -b foo 81

Good GUI/IDE plugin for Mercurial?


  • TortoiseHg for just about any OS. Includes Windows Explorer integration. It also works in Linux and a few other OS:es including Max OS X. It has a somewhat clunky interface and is a little awkard to use at first, but it is very complete and powerful.
  • Murky runs on Mac OS X 10.5 or later. Murky is good for exploring the repository and basic commands, but you will need to know how to use the command line as well.
  • MacHg is a nice Mac OS X Gui that has a little more functionality and polish than Murky, but you will still need the command line with it as well.
  • SourceTree is a Mac client originally, with a Windows version available just recently. Pretty nice UI (at least on OS X), supports majority of Hg features, including shelve.


How do you configure it to ignore files?

Ignore is configured in a normal text file called .hgignore in the root of your repository. Add it just like a normal file with:

hg add .hgignore

There are two syntax options available for file matching, glob and regexp. glob is unix-like filename expansion and regexp is regular expressions. You activate each by adding syntax: glob or syntax: regexp on a line by itself. All lines following that will use that syntax, until the next syntax marker. You can have as many syntax markers as you want. The default syntax is regexp, so if you only use regexp you don't need any syntax marker.

You can add comments with #


# python temporary files
syntax: glob

#editor autosaves

# temporary data
syntax: regexp

Ignore only applies to unmanaged files (i.e. files that are not already checked in). To ignore files that are under version control, you can use the switches -I and -X.

How do you see what changes will be sent to the upstream repository when you push?

Use hg outgoing to get the list of changesets that will be set to the default repository:

$ hg outgoing

To get the actual code changes, use -p (--patch). This will output each changeset in full:

$ hg outgoing -p

How do I interface with Subversion?

There are three ways:

The convert extension will clone an existing Subversion repository into a Mercurial one. It comes with Mercurial. It works roughly like this:

hg convert <Subversion URL or directory> <path to new Mercurial repository>

For example this will grab the trunk of the SixApart memcached repository.

hg convert

The extension can incrementally bring in new revisions from a Subversion repository into the Mercurial one (a little like pull). However it does not support taking Mercurial revisions and sending them back to Subversion (no push). [XXX: Correct this if it is wrong].

The hgsubversion extension. It is in many ways the most sophisticated solution as it uses the Subversion API to communicate with the Subversion repository. It aims to become the hg-svn bridge. It allow full round-tripping of revisions (full clone, pull, and push), However as of this writing [XXX: Amend this if/when it becomes incorrect] it is still in development and there are not yet official releases. As a consequence it works with only the most up-to-date Mercurial (1.3 as of this writing).

  • It maps tags and branches (preceding all tags with tags/ to distinguish them from equivalently named branches).
  • It maintains a special branch closed-branches for closing off branches which are removed in Subversion.
  • It requires that the Subversion repository be laid out according to the convention of trunk/branches/tags.
  • The command set is typically hg svn <subcommand> though it aims at being integrated to the point that you don't need the 'svn' part (i.e. it wants to treat a Subversion clone as much as possible like any other Mercurial repository).;

It works like this:


hg svnclone <Subversion URL> 

OR (only for svn:// URLs)

hg clone <svn:// URL>


hg svn pull


hg svn push


hg svn incoming


hg svn outgoing

Checking out an entire repository:

hg svnclone

The hgsvn utility (bitbucket tree). Up until recently this only let you clone and pull a Subversion repository, but as of hgsvn 0.1.7 it supports push. [I do not know how well it does push. Anyone with more experience should update this.] It has the following notable features:

  • It generates a Mercurial tag for every SVN tag.
  • It puts a local tag on every changeset to mark its SVN revision.
  • It puts every Mercurial revision on a named branch named after its SVN branch. For example branches/some-feature would be like hg branch some-feature. It puts the trunk on trunk (i.e. nothing is on the Mercurial default branch, unless the user explicitly switches to it.)
  • It will try to identify branches and tags, and create them but if it can't it just skips them. This is handy when the Subversion repository is not following the conventional trunk/branches/tags layout.

It works like this:


hgimportsvn <Subversion URL>






hgpullsvn -n


hgpushsvn -n

Checking out an entire repository:


Checking out just the trunk:


How do you revert a Changeset?

A couple of options available

Easy Way (backout a single change set)

$ hg backout -m 'back out second change' tip
reverting myfile
changeset 2:01adc4672142 backs out changeset 1:7e341ee3be7a
$ cat myfile
first change

Hard Way (manually diff and apply)

Step 1: Create a patch file to revert what changed between revision 107 and 108:

hg diff -r107 -r108 --reverse  > revert-change.patch

(alternately, hg diff -r108 -r107 with no --reverse will do the same thing)

Step 2: Apply the patch file:

patch -p1 < revert-change.patch

Some of the diff may fail to apply, for example:

Hunk #3 FAILED at 517.
1 out of 3 hunks FAILED -- saving rejects to file 'foo/bar.c.rej'

The .rej file will contain the contents of the diff that failed to apply, you'll need to have a look.

Some people think that VCS systems have to be complicated. They encourage inventing terms and concepts on the field. They would probably think that numerous PhDs on the subject would be interesting. Among those are probably the ones that designed Git.

Mercurial is designed with a different mentality. Developers should not care much about VCS, and they should instead spend their time on their main function: software engineering. Mercurial allows users to use and happily abuse the system without letting them make any non-recoverable mistakes.

Any professional tool must come with a clearly designed and intuitive CLI. Mercurial users can do most of the work by issuing simple commands without any strange options. In Git double dash, crazy options are the norm. Mercurial has a substantial advantage if you are a CLI person (and to be honest, any self-respecting Software Engineer should be).

To give an example, suppose you do a commit by mistake. You forgot to edit some files. To undo you action in Mercurial you simply type:

$ hg rollback

You then get a message that the system undos your last transaction.

In Git you have to type:

$ git reset --soft HEAD^

So ok suppose you have an idea what reset is about. But in addition you have to know what "--soft" and "--hard" resets are (any intuitive guesses?). Oh and of course don't forget the '^' character in the end! (now what in Ritchie's name is that...)

Mercurial's integration with 3rd party tools like kdiff3 and meld is much better as well. Generate your patches merge your branches without much fuss. Mercurial also includes a simple http server that you activate by typing

hg serve

And let others browse your repository.

The bottom line is, Git does what Mercurial does, in a much more complicated way and with a far inferior CLI. Use Git if you want to turn the VCS of your project into a scientific-research field. Use Mercurial if you want to get the VCS job done without caring much about it, and focus on your real tasks.

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