As an engineer, you're probably familiar with version control systems like Git that let you track changes to your codebase. But are you using one of the most useful features of Git pull requests?

If not, you're missing out. Pull requests are one of the best ways to collaborate on projects and create better code.

In this article, we'll go over the pull request meaning, why you should be using them, and how to create your own pull requests.

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What Is a Pull Request? Understanding the Basics

A pull request definition, or PR, is a way for developers to review and discuss changes made to code before merging it into the main branch. Basically, it's a request for the code owner to pull in your changes.

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The Many Benefits of Using Pull Requests

A pull request allows developers to review code changes before merging them into the main branch.

Here are some of the major benefits of using pull requests:

Increased Collaboration

Pull requests facilitate discussion around code changes. Developers can comment on the changes, suggest improvements, and ask questions before the new code is merged. This collaborative process leads to higher quality code.

Reduced Errors

With multiple developers reviewing and testing the code, pull requests help identify bugs, security issues, and other errors before the changes go live. This additional testing and oversight results in more stable code releases.

Learning Opportunities

Reviewing other developers’ code offers a chance for developers to learn new skills and keep their knowledge up-to-date. Developers can see how their colleagues approach problems and pick up useful techniques and best practices.

Transparency

Pull requests provide visibility into what changes are being made and why. All developers and stakeholders have insight into new features, bug fixes, and other updates before they are released. This transparency leads to a shared understanding of the codebase and project roadmap.

Better Onboarding

For new developers, reviewing pull requests is an opportunity to quickly get up to speed on the codebase and standards. By seeing how more experienced developers make changes, new team members can ramp up faster.

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How do Pull Requests Work?

So you’ve made some changes to a project on GitHub and you’re ready to propose those changes to the maintainers. It’s time to create a pull request!

Here is the pull request process:

  • Make sure you’ve committed your changes to a branch other than the default branch (usually called master). Give the branch a descriptive name, like “new-feature” or “bug-fix”.
  • On GitHub, navigate to the main page of the repository. You'll see the "Pull requests" tab. Click on that tab.
  • Click the "New pull request" button.
  • Choose the branch you made your changes in as the "compare" branch. The "base" branch should be the default branch of the repository, like master.
  • Type a title and description for your pull request.
  • The title should be short but descriptive. The description should give an overview of the changes you made. Provide context and explain your thinking. This will help the maintainers understand your changes and can speed up the review process.
  • Click "Create pull request". That's it, you've created your pull request! The maintainers will review your changes and either merge pull request, request changes, or close them.
  • If changes are requested, make the changes on your branch and push them to GitHub. Your pull request will automatically update. Keep the conversation in the pull request comments going until your changes have been merged.

Best Practices for Managing Pull Requests

Once you’ve created a pull request, it’s important to manage it properly to ensure it gets approved and merged efficiently.

Here are some pull request best practices you need to follow:

Review the code thoroughly

Double check that your code is clean, comment where needed, and adhere to your team’s style guidelines. Fix any linting errors or warnings before creating the PR. This will make the review process smoother and faster.

Be responsive to feedback

Address any comments or questions from reviewers promptly and professionally. Make the requested changes or push back if you disagree, explaining your reasoning. The quicker you respond, the faster your PR can be approved and merged.

Keep your PR up to date

If the target branch has changed since you created your PR, you’ll need to rebase your branch to pick up the new changes. This avoids merge conflicts when your PR is merged. Rebasing and force pushing is generally fine for open pull requests, just be sure to let reviewers know you’ve rebased.

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Be open to constructive criticism

Having your code reviewed by others can be nerve-wracking. Try not to take feedback personally. Reviewers want to improve the code and ensure it’s aligned with project goals. Address their concerns openly and your code will be better for it.

Thank your reviewers

Once your PR has been approved and merged, thank each person who reviewed the code. Reviewing code takes time and effort, so expressing your appreciation will make them more likely to review your PRs in the future.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Creating Pull Request

Submitting Incomplete or Untested Code:

Avoid submitting pull requests with code that is not fully functional or has not been thoroughly tested. Ensure that your code is complete, passes all relevant tests, and meets the project's quality standards before submitting it for review. Submitting incomplete or buggy code can waste reviewers' time and delay the integration of your changes.

Ignoring Reviewers' Feedback:

Pay close attention to the feedback provided by reviewers and address their comments promptly. Ignoring feedback can lead to missed opportunities for improvement, potential bugs, and inconsistencies in the codebase. Engage with reviewers constructively, clarify any doubts, and make necessary changes based on their suggestions.

Making Large, Sweeping Changes:

Break down large changes into smaller, more manageable commits and submit them as separate pull requests. Large changes can be overwhelming for reviewers, making it difficult to provide thorough feedback and identify potential issues. Smaller pull requests are easier to review, discuss, and merge, leading to a more efficient and collaborative workflow.

Misusing Pull Requests for Discussions:

Use pull requests specifically for code review, not for general discussions or non-code-related topics. Keep the focus on the code changes and their impact on the project. If there are broader discussions or design decisions to be made, address them in separate channels, such as issue trackers or team meetings.

Merging Without Proper Review:

Never merge a pull request without proper review and approval from designated reviewers or maintainers. Merging untested or unapproved code can introduce bugs, break existing functionality, and compromise the integrity of the codebase. Ensure that all concerns raised during the review process are addressed and that the code meets the project's standards before merging.

Learn more about Pull Request here:

Pull Request FAQs: Answering Common Questions

What is a pull request?

A pull request, also known as a PR, is a way to propose changes to a Git repository. It allows you to submit your code changes for review and merge them into the main codebase once approved.

What’s the difference between a pull request and a branch?

A branch is simply a separate line of development within your repository. A pull request is a request to merge one branch into another, often a feature branch into the default branch. Pull requests allow teams to review, comment on, and approve changes before they’re merged.

Can I delete a pull request?

Yes, you can delete a pull request at any time. This will delete the pull request itself, but will not delete the branch associated with it. You'll need to delete the branch separately if desired.

Can I reopen a closed pull request?

If a pull request was closed accidentally or prematurely, you can reopen it. Just click "Reopen pull request" on the closed pull request. This will reopen the pull request and allow new commits and reviews.

What are some best practices for pull requests?

Here are some best practices for creating and managing pull requests:

  • Provide a clear and concise description of your changes in the pull request.
  • Break down large changes into smaller, more manageable commits.
  • Respond promptly to reviewers' comments and address their feedback.
  • Use pull requests for code review, not as a means to communicate or discuss ideas.
  • Keep pull requests focused on specific changes and avoid introducing unrelated modifications.

What are some common mistakes to avoid with pull requests?

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when working with pull requests:

  • Submitting pull requests with incomplete or untested code.
  • Ignoring reviewers' feedback or failing to address their comments.
  • Making large, sweeping changes that are difficult to review and merge.
  • Using pull requests for general discussions or non-code-related topics.
  • Merging pull requests without proper review and approval.