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= Gerrit Code Review - A Quick Introduction
Gerrit is a web-based code review tool built on top of the git version
control system, but if you've got as far as reading this guide then
you probably already know that. The purpose of this introduction is to
allow you to answer the question, is Gerrit the right tool for me?
Will it fit in my work flow and in my organization?
== What is Gerrit?
It is assumed that if you're reading this then you're already convinced
of the benefits of code review in general but want some technical support
to make it easy.
Code reviews mean different things to different people. To some it's a
formal meeting with a projector and an entire team going through the code
line by line. To others it's getting someone to glance over the code before
it is committed.
Gerrit is intended to provide a lightweight framework for reviewing
every commit before it is accepted into the code base. Changes are
uploaded to Gerrit but don't actually become a part of the project
until they've been reviewed and accepted. In many ways this is simply
tooling to support the standard open source process of submitting
patches which are then reviewed by the project members before being
applied to the code base. However Gerrit goes a step further making it
simple for all committers on a project to ensure that changes are
checked over before they're actually applied. Because of this Gerrit
is equally useful where all users are trusted committers such as may
be the case with closed-source commercial development. Either way it's
still desirable to have code reviewed to improve the quality and
maintainability of the code. After all, if only one person has seen
the code it may be a little difficult to maintain when that person
Gerrit is firstly a staging area where changes can be checked over
before becoming a part of the code base. It is also an enabler for
this review process, capturing notes and comments about the changes to
enable discussion of the change. This is particularly useful with
distributed teams where this conversation can't happen face to face.
Even with a co-located team having a review tool as an option is
beneficial because reviews can be done at a time that is convenient
for the reviewer. This allows the developer to create the review and
explain the change while it is fresh in their mind. Without such a
tool they either need to interrupt someone to review the code or
switch context to explain the change when they've already moved on to
the next task.
This also creates a lasting record of the conversation which can be
useful for answering the inevitable "I know we changed this for a
reason" questions.
== Where does Gerrit fit in?
Any team with more than one member has a central source repository of
some kind (or they should). Git can theoretically work without such a
central location but in practice there is usually a central
repository. This serves as the authoritative copy of what is actually in
the project. This is what everyone fetches from and pushes to and is
generally where build servers and other such tools get the source
.Central Source Repository
image::images/intro-quick-central-repo.png[Authoritative Source Repository]
Gerrit is deployed in place of this central repository and adds an
additional concept, a store of pending changes. Everyone still fetches
from the authoritative repository but instead of pushing back to it,
they push to this pending changes location. A change can only be submitted
into the authoritative repository and become an accepted part of the project
once the change has been reviewed and approved.
.Gerrit in place of Central Repository
image::images/intro-quick-central-gerrit.png[Gerrit in place of Central Repository]
Like any repository hosting solution, Gerrit has a powerful
link:access-control.html[access control model.]
Users can even be granted access to push directly into the central
repository, bypassing code review entirely. Gerrit can even be used
without code review, used simply to host the repositories and
controlling access. But generally it's just simpler and safer to go
through the review process even for users who are allowed to directly
== The Life and Times of a Change
The easiest way to get a feel for how Gerrit works is to follow a
change through its entire life cycle. For the purpose of this example
we'll assume that the Gerrit Server is running on a server called
+gerrithost+ with the HTTP interface on port +8080+ and the SSH
interface on port +29418+. The project we'll be working on is called
+RecipeBook+ and we'll be developing a change for the +master+ branch.
=== Cloning the Repository
Obviously the first thing we need to do is get the source that we're
going to be modifying. As with any git project you do this by cloning
the central repository that Gerrit is hosting. e.g.
$ git clone ssh://gerrithost:29418/RecipeBook.git RecipeBook
Cloning into RecipeBook...
Then we need to make our actual change and commit it locally. Gerrit
doesn't really change anything here, this is just the standard editing
and git. While not strictly required, it's best to include a Change-Id
in your commit message so that Gerrit can link together different
versions of the same change being reviewed. Gerrit contains a standard
link:user-changeid.html[Change-Id commit-msg hook]
that will generate a unique Change-Id when you commit. If you don't do
this then Gerrit will generate a Change-Id when you push your change
for review. But because you don't have the Change-Id in your commit
message you'll need to manually copy it in if you need to upload
another version of your change. Because of this it's best to just
install the hook and forget about it.
=== Creating the Review
Once you've made your change and committed it locally it's time to
push it to Gerrit so that it can be reviewed. This is done with a git
push to the Gerrit server. Since we cloned our local repository
directly from Gerrit it is the origin so we don't have to redefine the
$ <work>
$ git commit
[master 9651f22] Change to a proper, yeast based pizza dough.
1 files changed, 3 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)
$ git push origin HEAD:refs/for/master
Counting objects: 5, done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
Writing objects: 100% (3/3), 542 bytes, done.
Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
remote: New Changes:
remote: http://gerrithost:8080/68
To ssh://gerrithost:29418/RecipeBook.git
* [new branch] HEAD -> refs/for/master
The only different thing about this is the +refs/for/master+ branch.
This is a magic branch that creates reviews that target the master
branch. For every branch Gerrit tracks there is a magic
+refs/for/<branch_name>+ that you push to to create reviews.
In the output of this command you'll notice that there is a link to
the HTTP interface of the Gerrit server we just pushed to. This is the
web interface where we will review this commit. Let's follow that link
and see what we get.
.Gerrit Code Review Screen
image::images/intro-quick-new-review.jpg[Gerrit Review Screen]
This is the Gerrit code review screen where someone will come to
review the change. There isn't too much to see here yet, you can look
at the diff of your change, add some comments explaining what you did
and why, you may even add a list of people that should review the change.
Reviewers can find changes that they want to review in any number of
ways. Gerrit has a capable link:user-search.html[search]
that allows project leaders (or anyone else) to find changes that need
to be reviewed. Users can also setup watches on Gerrit projects with a
search expression, this causes Gerrit to notify them of matching
changes. So adding a reviewer when creating a review is just a
At this point the change is available for review and we need to switch
roles to continue following the change. Now let's pretend we're the
=== Reviewing the Change
The reviewer's life starts at the code review screen shown above. He
can get here in a number of ways, but for some reason they've decided
to review this change. Of particular note on this screen are the two
"Need" lines:
* Need Verified
* Need Code-Review
Gerrit's default work-flow requires two checks before a change is
accepted. Code-Review is someone looking at the code, ensuring it
meets the project guidelines, intent etc. Verifying is checking that
the code actually compiles, unit tests pass etc. Verification is
usually done by an automated build server rather than a person. There
is even a
link:[Gerrit Trigger Jenkins Plugin]
that will automatically build each uploaded change and update the
verified score accordingly.
It is important to note that Code-Review and Verification are
different permissions in Gerrit, allowing these tasks to be separated.
For example, an automated process would have rights to verify but not
to code-review.
Since we are the code reviewer, we're going to review the code. To do
this we can view it within the Gerrit web interface as either a
unified or side-by-side diff by selecting the appropriate option. In
the example below we've selected the side-by-side view. In either of
these views you can add inline comments by double clicking on the line
(or single click the line number) that you want to comment on. Also you
can add file comment by double clicking anywhere (not just on the
"Patch Set" words) in the table header or single clicking on the icon
in the line-number column header. Once published these comments are
viewable to all, allowing discussion of the change to take place.
.Side By Side Patch View
image::images/intro-quick-review-line-comment.jpg[Adding a Comment]
Code reviewers end up spending a lot of time navigating these screens,
looking at and commenting on these changes. To make this as efficient
as possible Gerrit has keyboard shortcuts for most operations (and
even some operations that are only accessible via the hot-keys). At
any time you can hit the +?+ key to see the keyboard shortcuts.
.Gerrit Hot Key Help
image::images/intro-quick-hot-key-help.jpg[Hot Key Help]
Once we've looked over the changes we need to complete reviewing the
submission. To do this we click the _Review_ button on the change
screen where we started. This allows us to enter a Code Review label
and message.
.Reviewing the Change
image::images/intro-quick-reviewing-the-change.jpg[Reviewing the Change]
The label that the reviewer selects determines what can happen next.
The +1 and -1 level are just an opinion where as the +2 and -2 levels
are allowing or blocking the change. In order for a change to be
accepted it must have at least one +2 and no -2 votes.
Although these are numeric values, they in no way accumulate;
two +1s do not equate to a +2.
Regardless of what label is selected, once the _Publish Comments_
button has been clicked, the cover message and any comments on the
files become visible to all users.
In this case the change was not accepted so the creator needs to
rework it. So let's switch roles back to the creator where we
=== Reworking the Change
As long as we set up the
link:user-changeid.html[Change-Id commit-msg hook]
before we uploaded the change, re-working it is easy. All we need
to do to upload a re-worked change is to push another commit that has
the same Change-Id in the message. Since the hook added a Change-Id in
our initial commit we can simply checkout and then amend that commit.
Then push it to Gerrit in the same way as we did to create the review. E.g.
$ <checkout first commit>
$ <rework>
$ git commit --amend
$ git push origin HEAD:refs/for/master
Counting objects: 5, done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
Writing objects: 100% (3/3), 546 bytes, done.
Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)
remote: Processing changes: updated: 1, done
remote: Updated Changes:
remote: http://gerrithost:8080/68
To ssh://gerrithost:29418/RecipeBook.git
* [new branch] HEAD -> refs/for/master
Note that the output is slightly different this time around. Since
we're adding to an existing review it tells us that the change was
Having uploaded the reworked commit we can go back into the Gerrit web
interface and look at our change.
.Reviewing the Rework
image::images/intro-quick-review-2-patches.jpg[Reviewing the Rework]
If you look closely you'll notice that there are now two patch sets
associated with this change, the initial submission and the rework.
Rather than repeating ourselves lets assume that this time around the
patch is given a +2 score by the code reviewer.
=== Trying out the Change
With Gerrit's default work-flow there are two sign-offs, code review
and verify. Verifying means checking that the change actually works.
This would typically be checking that the code compiles, unit tests
pass and similar checks. Really a project can decide how much or
little they want to do here. It's also worth noting that this is only
Gerrit's default work-flow, the verify check can actually be removed
or others added.
As mentioned in the code review section, verification is typically an
automated process using the
link:[Gerrit Trigger Jenkins Plugin]
or similar. But there are times when the code needs to be manually
verified, or the reviewer needs to check that something actually works
or how it works. Sometimes it's just nice to work through the code in a
development environment rather than the web interface. All of these
involve someone needing to get the change into their development
environment. Gerrit makes this process easy by exposing each change as
a git branch. So all the reviewers need to do is fetch and checkout that
branch from Gerrit and they will have the change.
We don't even need to think about it that hard, if you look at the
earlier screenshots of the Gerrit Code Review Screen you'll notice a
_download_ command. All we need to do to get the change is copy
paste this command and run it in our Gerrit checkout.
$ git fetch http://gerrithost:8080/p/RecipeBook refs/changes/68/68/2
From http://gerrithost:8080/p/RecipeBook
* branch refs/changes/68/68/2 -> FETCH_HEAD
$ git checkout FETCH_HEAD
Note: checking out 'FETCH_HEAD'.
You are in 'detached HEAD' state. You can look around, make experimental
changes and commit them, and you can discard any commits you make in this
state without impacting any branches by performing another checkout.
If you want to create a new branch to retain commits you create, you may
do so (now or later) by using -b with the checkout command again. Example:
git checkout -b new_branch_name
HEAD is now at d5dacdb... Change to a proper, yeast based pizza dough.
Easy as that, we now have the change in our working copy to play with.
You might be interested in what the numbers of the refspec mean.
* The first *68* is the id of the change +mod 100+. The only reason
for this initial number is to reduce the number of files in any given
directory within the git repository.
* The second *68* is the full id of the change. You'll notice this in
the URL of the Gerrit review screen.
* The *2* is the patch-set within the change. In this example we
uploaded some fixes so we want the second patch set rather than the
initial one which the reviewer rejected.
=== Manually Verifying the Change
For simplicity we're just going to manually verify the change.
The Verifier may be the same person as the code reviewer or a
different person entirely. It really depends on the size of the
project and what works. If you have Verify permission then when you
click the _Review_ button in the Gerrit web interface you'll be
presented with a verify score.
.Verifying the Change
image::images/intro-quick-verifying.jpg[Verifying the Change]
Unlike the code review the verify check doesn't have a +2 or -2 level,
it's either a pass or fail so all we need for the change to be
submitted is a +1 score (and no -1's).
=== Submitting the Change
You might have noticed that in the verify screen shot there are two
buttons for submitting the score _Publish Comments_ and _Publish
and Submit_. The publish and submit button is always visible, but will
only work if the change meets the criteria for being submitted (I.e.
has been both verified and code reviewed). So it's a convenience to be
able to post review scores as well as submitting the change by clicking
a single button. If you choose just to publish comments at this point then
the score will be stored but the change won't yet be accepted into the code
base. In this case there will be a _Submit Patch Set X_ button on the
main screen. Just as Code-Review and Verify are different operations
that can be done by different users, Submission is a third operation
that can be limited down to another group of users.
Clicking the _Publish and Submit_ or _Submit Patch Set X_ button
will merge the change into the main part of the repository so that it
becomes an accepted part of the project. After this anyone fetching
the git repository will receive this change as a part of the master
Part of link:index.html[Gerrit Code Review]