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Git — the big picture

Project description

git-big-picture is a visualization tool for Git repositories. You can think of it as a filter that removes uninteresting commits from a DAG modelling a Git repository and thereby exposes the big picture: for example the hierarchy of tags and branches. git-big-picture supports convenience output options and can filter different classes of commits. It uses the Graphviz utility to render images that are pleasing to the eye.

A Small Example

Imagine the following Graph:

         0.1.1   0.1.2
           |       |
0.0    G---H---I---J---K---L---M maint
 |    /
 A---B---C---D---E---F master
     |    \         /
    0.1    N---O---P topic

Where the following commits have Branches and Tags:

A -> 0.0
B -> 0.1
F -> master
H -> 0.1.1
J -> 0.1.2
M -> maint
P -> topic

The reduced graph of interesting commits would be:

     \ /

But since the commits would be labeled with their refs, it would look more like (within the limits of ASCII art):

        \     /

Demo Video

Chuwei Lu has made a YouTube video showing how to use git-big-picture:


Courtesy of Graphviz, git-big-picture can output nice images.

Here is the original repository from the example above:

And here is the reduced version:

We also have a real world examples from:


  • Python >=3.7

  • Git (1.7.1 works)

  • Graphviz utility

  • pytest and Cram (only for running tests)


As of v0.10.1 you may install it from PyPI:

$ pip install git-big-picture

Alternatively, just run it straight from a Git clone:

$ git clone git://
$ cd git-big-picture
$ python3 -m venv venv      # creates a virtualenv
$ source venv/bin/activate  # activates the virtualenv
$ pip install -e .          # installs to the virtualenv
$ git-big-picture --help

Alternatively, use pip to install it system wide or just for the user.

$ pip install .
(may need root privileges)
$ pip install --user .

Git Integration

After installation using pip, you can easily integrate this script as a regular Git command, by making sure that executable git-big-picture is found during ${PATH} lookup. E.g. you could append a line like export PATH="${HOME}/.local/bin:${PATH}" to your ~/.bashrc if you are using Bash.

You may then use git big-picture (w/o the first dash) as you would any other Git command:

$ git big-picture -h

Or create an alias:

$ git config --global alias.bp big-picture
$ git bp -h


The graph operations are written in Python and output the graph-data in the easy-to-write Graphviz syntax. This is converted into an image using the Graphviz dot utility. Graphviz supports a multitude of image formats, e.g. SVG and PDF. Check that Graphviz is installed by invoking: dot -V.


$ git-big-picture --help
usage: git-big-picture OPTIONS [REPOSITORY]

Visualize Git repositories

positional arguments:
  REPOSITORY            path to the Git working directory
                        (default: current directory)

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  --version             show program's version number and exit
  --pstats FILE         run cProfile profiler writing pstats output to FILE
  -d, --debug           activate debug output

output options:
  Options to control output and format

  -f FMT, --format FMT  set output format [svg, png, ps, pdf, ...]
  --history-direction {downwards,leftwards,rightwards,upwards}
                        enforce a specific direction of history on Graphviz
                        (default: rightwards)
  --simplify            remove edges implied by transitivity using Graphviz
                        filter "tred" (default: do not remove implied edges)
  -g, --graphviz        output lines suitable as input for dot/graphviz
  -G, --no-graphviz     disable dot/graphviz output
  -p, --processed       output the dot processed, binary data
  -P, --no-processed    disable binary output
  -v CMD, --viewer CMD  write image to tempfile and start specified viewer
  -V, --no-viewer       disable starting viewer
  -o FILE, --outfile FILE
                        write image to specified file
  -O, --no-outfile      disable writing image to file
  -w SECONDS, --wait SECONDS
                        wait for SECONDS seconds before deleting the temporary
                        file that is opened using the viewer command (default:
                        2.0 seconds); this helps e.g. with viewer commands that
                        tell other running processes to open that file on their
                        behalf, to then shut themselves down

filter options:
  Options to control commit/ref selection

  -a, --all             include all commits
  -b, --branches        show commits pointed to by branches
  -B, --no-branches     do not show commits pointed to by branches
  -t, --tags            show commits pointed to by tags
  -T, --no-tags         do not show commits pointed to by tags
  -r, --roots           show root commits
  -R, --no-roots        do not show root commits
  -m, --merges          include merge commits
  -M, --no-merges       do not include merge commits
  -i, --bifurcations    include bifurcation commits; a bifurcation commit is a
                        commit that is a parent to more than one other commits,
                        i.e. it marks the point where one or more new branches
                        came to life; bifurcation commits can also be thought of
                        as the counterpart of merge commits
  -I, --no-bifurcations
                        do not include bifurcation commits
  -c, --commit-messages
                        include commit messages on labels
  -C, --no-commit-messages
                        do not include commit messages on labels

git-big-picture is software libre, licensed under the GPL v3 or later license.
Please report bugs at  Thank you!

Usage Examples

There are two related groups of options, the output and the filter options. Output options govern the output and format produced by the tool. Filter options govern which commits to include when calculating the reduced graph.

Using Output Options

Generate PNG version of current Git repository and save to our-project.png:

$ git-big-picture -o our-project.png

Generate SVG (default format) image of the repository in ~/git-repo and view the result in Firefox:

$ git-big-picture -v firefox ~/git-repo/

If you specify the format and a filename with extension, the filename extension will be used:

$ git-big-picture -f svg -o our-project.png
$ file our-project.png
our-project.png: PNG image data, 216 x 325, 8-bit/color RGB, non-interlaced

If you don’t have an extension, you could still specify a format:

$ git-big-picture -f pdf -o our-project
warning: Filename had no suffix, using format: pdf

Otherwise the default format SVG is used:

$ git-big-picture -o our-project
warning: Filename had no suffix, using default format: svg

If you would like to use an alternative viewer, specify viewer and its format:

$ git-big-picture -f pdf -v xpdf

You can also open the viewer automatically on the output file:

$ git-big-picture -v xpdf -o our-project.pdf

Output raw Graphviz syntax:

$ git-big-picture -g

Output raw Graphviz output (i.e. the image):

$ git-big-picture -p

Note however, that the options in the two examples above are both mutually exclusive and incompatible with other output options.

$ git-big-picture -g -p
fatal: Options '-g | --graphviz' and '-p | --processed' are mutually exclusive.
$ git-big-picture -g -v firefox
fatal: Options '-g | --graphviz' and '-p | --processed' are incompatible with other output options.

Manually pipe the Graphviz commands to the dot utility:

$ git-big-picture --graphviz ~/git-repo | dot -Tpng -o graph.png

Using Filter Options

The three options --branches --tags and --roots are active by default. You can use the negation switches to turn them off. These use the uppercase equivalent of the short option and the prefix no- for the long option. For example: -B | --no-branches to deactivate showing branches.

Show all interesting commits, i.e. show also merges and bifurcations:

$ git-big-picture -i -m

Show only roots (deactivate branches and tags):

$ git-big-picture -B -T

Show merges and branches only (deactivate tags):

$ git-big-picture -m -T

Show all commits:

$ git-big-picture -a


The standard git config infrastructure can be used to configure git-big-picture. Most of the command line arguments can be configured in a big-picture section. For example, to configure firefox as a viewer

$ git config --global big-picture.viewer firefox

Will create the following section and entry in your ~/.gitconfig:

    viewer = firefox

The command line negation arguments can be used to disable a setting configured via the command line. For example, if you have configured the viewer above and try to use the -g | --graphviz switch, you will get the following error:

$ git-big-picture -g
fatal: Options '-g | --graphviz' and '-p | --processed' are incompatible with other output options.

… since you already have a viewer configured. In this case, use the negation option -V | --no-viewer to disable the viewer setting from the config file:

$ git-big-picture -g -V


git-big-picture uses pre-commit, both locally and in the CI. To activate the same local pre-commit Git hooks for yourself, you could do:

$ pip install pre-commit
$ pre-commit install --install-hooks

When you do a commit after that, pre-commit will run the checks configured in file .pre-commit-config.yaml.


The Python code is tested with test runner pytest:

$ ./

The command line interface is tested with Cram:

$ PATH="venv/bin:${PATH}" ./test.cram


You can use the [-d | --debug] switch to debug:

$ git-big-picture -d -v firefox

Although debugging output is somewhat sparse…


There are two ways to profile git-big-picture, using the built-in --pstats option or using the Python module cProfile:

Using --pstats:

$ git-big-picture --pstats=profile-stats -o graph.svg

… will write the profiler output to profile-stats.

Profile the script with cProfile

$ python -m cProfile -o profile-stats git-big-picture -o graph.svg

In either case, you can then use the excellent visualisation tool gprof2dot which, incidentally, uses Graphviz too:

$ gprof2dot -f pstats profile-stats | dot -Tsvg -o profile_stats.svg


  • v1.2.2 — 2022-09-27

    • Under the Hood

      • Fix cram tests for grep >=3.8 (#233)

  • v1.2.1 — 2022-03-26

    • Bugs Fixed

      • Fix output with argument --processed (#197, #199)

  • v1.2.0 — 2022-03-01

    • New Features and Improvements

      • Add argument --simplify to removed edges implied by transitivity based on Graphviz filter tred (#180, #182)

      • Switch default history direction from upwards to rightwards (#184)

      • Add support for Python 3.10 (#162)

      • Use python3 rather than python in Cram tests (#89)

    • Dropped Features

      • Drop support for end-of-life Python 3.6 (#162)

  • v1.1.1 — 2021-01-20

    • Bugs Fixed

      • Fix version number in man page (#86)

    • Under the Hood

      • Move Git user setup into Cram tests (to make them work better outside of CI) (#85)

      • Extend changelog + release 1.1.1 (#87)

  • v1.1.0 — 2021-01-20

    • New Features and Improvements

      • Add manpage from Debian package (#79)

      • Improve --help output (#80)

      • Document the meaning of term “bifurcation commit” (#80, #84)

    • Under the Hood

      • Remove TODOs from README (#77, #78)

      • Make CI prevent copies of --help output from going out-of-sync (#80)

      • Extend changelog + release 1.1.0 (#81)

      • Migrate back to Cram (#82)

      • Extend .gitignore (#83)

  • v1.0.0 — 2021-01-13

    • Security Fixes

      • CVE-2021-3028 — Fix local code execution through attacker controlled branch names (#62)

    • New Features and Improvements

    • Dropped Features

      • Drop support for end-of-life versions of Python (2.7, 3.4, 3.5) (#38)

    • Bugs Fixed

      • Handle Ctrl+C gracefully (#70)

      • Stop leaving temp files behind (#25, #49)

      • Be robust with regard to branch names that contain quotation marks (#27, #62)

      • readme: Fix a typo and word casing (#43)

      • Fix typo “piture” (#51)

    • Under the Hood

      • screenshots: Reduce image size using lossless zopflipng 1.0.3 (#39)

      • Apply move of Git repository to all URLs but Travis CI (#40)

      • Replace Travis CI by GitHub Actions (#41)

      • Make CI cover support for macOS (#44)

      • Make GitHub Dependabot keep our GitHub Actions up to date (#45, #46)

      • Integrate pre-commit for dev and CI (#47, #53, #55)

      • For safety, stop using shlex.split (outside of tests) (#48, #65)

      • Migrate from unmaintained Cram to maintained Scruf (#50, #64)

      • Delete empty requirements.txt (#52)

      • Migrate from optparse to argparse (#54)

      • Fix variable mix-up (#57)

      • Start using standard setuptools entry point (#58)

      • Address dead test code (#60)

      • Start measuring code coverage (#61)

      • Replace nose by pytest for a test runner (#63, #67)

      • Start auto-formatting using yapf (#66)

      • Replace ASCII “–” with “—” (em dash) in description (#69)

      • Readme: Improve section on people involved (#71)

      • tests: Cover option precedence on the command line (#72)

      • Pin and auto-update test requirements (#73, #75)

      • Document changes of release 1.0.0 (#74)

      • Release version 1.0.0 (#76)

  • v0.10.1 — 2018-11-04

    • Fix PyPI release

  • v0.10.0 — 2018-11-04

    • First release after 6 years

    • Support for Python: 2.7, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7 (#13, #14, #24)

    • Add Python classifiers to

    • Tempfile suffix now matches format (#28)

    • Continuous integration via (#29)

    • Fixed installation instructions (#26)

  • v0.9.0 — 2012-11-20

    • rst-ify readme

    • Fix long standing bug in graph search algorithm

    • Fix long standing conversion from tabbed to 4-spaces

    • Overhaul and refactor the test-suite

    • Remove old --some crufty code and option

    • Add ability to find root-, merge- and bifurcation-commits

    • Overhaul command line interface with new options

    • Add command line interface tests using Cram

    • Overhaul documentation to reflect changes

  • v0.8.0 — 2012-11-05

    • Snapshot of all developments Mar 2010 - Now

    • Extended command line options for viewing and formatting

    • Option to filter on all, some or decorated commits

    • Simple test suite for python module and command line


Licensed under GPL v3 or later, see file COPYING for details.


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