Octokit, Merge Commits, and the Story So Far

In the last post we had reduced our commits by matching them against pull requests; next, we can look for noise in the commit message content itself. Although I have been using the Octokit.NET repository as the target for testing with its low noise, high quality commit messages, we can envisage a less consistent repository that has some noisy commits. For example, how often have you seen or written commit messages like "Fixed spelling", "Fixed bug", or "Stuff"1?

How we detect these noisy commits is important; if our filtering is too simple, we remove too many things and if it is too strict, we remove too few. Rather than go deep into one specific implementation, I just want to introduce the idea of filtering based on message content. In the long term, I think it would be interesting to apply learning algorithms,  but I'm sure some simple, configurable pattern matching should suffice2.

If I run the filtering I have described so far3 on the Octokit.NET latest release, this is what we get:

The value of this is clearer if we see the commit list before processing:

The work so far has reduced a list of 135 commits down to 58, and so far, it looks like we have not lost any really useful "release note"-worthy information. However, the eagle-eyed among you may noticed that our 58 messages contain duplicate information. This is because each pull request is listed twice; once for the pull request title I inserted in place of its individual commits, and again for the merge commit that merged that pull request. These merge commits are not filtered out because they do not belong to the commits inside the pull request. Instead, they are an artifact of merging the pull request4.

At first, I thought the handy MergeCommitSha property of the pull request would help, but it turns out this refers to a test merge and is to be deprecated5. Instead, I realised that the messages I wanted to remove all had "Merge pull request #" in them, followed by the pull request number. This seems like a perfect use case for our pattern matching filtering. Since we have the pull requests, we could use their numbers to match each merge message exactly, but I decided to do the simpler thing of excluding any message starting with "Merge pull request #".

Filtering for messages that begin with "Merge pull request #" gives us a shortlist of just 31 messages:

I think this is a pretty good improvement over the raw commit list. Combining this list with links back to the relevant commits and pull requests should enable someone to discern the content of a release note much faster than using the raw commit list alone. I will leave that as an exercise or perhaps a future post. As always, thanks for reading. If you find yourself using Octokit to trawl your own repositories for release note information, I would love to hear about it in the comments.


  1. We're all friends here, you can admit it 

  2. The filtering should be configurable so that we can tailor it to the repository we are processing 

  3. excluding the last step of filtering by message content 

  4. Perhaps stating the obvious 

  5. https://developer.github.com/v3/pulls/ 

Octokit and Noise Reduction with Pull Requests

Last time in this series on Octokit we looked at how to get the commits that have been made between one release and another. Usually, these commits will contain noise such as lazy commit messages and merge flog ("Fixed it", "Corrected spelling", etc.), merge commits, or commits that formed part of a larger feature change submitted via pull request. Rather than include all this noise in our release note generation, I want to filter those commits and either remove them entirely, or replace them with their associated pull request (which hopefully will be a little less noisy).

Before we filter out the noise, it seems prudent to reduce the commits to be filtered by matching them to pull requests. As with commits, we can query pull requests using a specific set of criteria; however, though we can request the results be sorted a certain way, we cannot specify a date range. To get all the pull requests that were merged before our release, we need to query for all the pull requests and then filter by date locally.

This query can be slow, since we are getting all closed pull requests in the repository. We could speed it up by providing a base branch name in the query criteria. However, to remove as much commit noise as possible, I would like to include pull requests that were merged to a different branch besides just the release branch1. We could make things more performant by managing a list of active release branches and then querying pull requests for each of those branches only rather than the entire repository, but for now, we will stick with the less optimal approach as it keeps the code examples a little cleaner.

Before we can start filtering our commits against the pull requests, we need to get the commits that comprise each pull request. When requesting a collection of items (like we did for pull requests), the GitHub API returns just enough information about each item so that we can filter and identify the ones we really care about. Before we can do things with other properties on the items, we have to request additional information. More information on each pull request can be obtained about a specific pull request by using the Get, Commits, Files, and Merged calls. The Get call returns the same type of objects as the GetAllForRepository method, except that all the data is now populated instead of just a few select properties; the Merged call returns a Boolean value indicating if the PR has been merged (equivalent to the Merged property populated by Get); the Files method returns the files changed by that pull request; and the Commits method returns the commits.

At this point, things are looking pretty good: we can get a list of commits in the release and a list of pull requests that might be in the release. Now, we want to filter that list of commits to remove items that are covered by a pull request. This is easy; we just compare the hashes and remove the matches.

Using the collection of commits for the latest release, we join the commits from the pull requests using the SHA hash and then select all release commits that have no matching commit in the pull requests2. However, we don't want to lose information just because we're losing noise, so we have to maintain a list of the pull requests that were matched so that we can build our release note history. To keep track, we will hold off on discarding any information by pairing up commits in the release with their prospective pull requests instead of just dropping them.

Going back to where we had a list of pull requests merged prior to our release, let us revisit getting the commits for those pull requests and this time, pairing them with the commits in the release to retain information.

Now we have a list of commits paired with their parent pull request, if there is one. Using this we can build a more meaningful set of changes for a release. If I run this on the latest release of the Octokit.NET repository and then group the commits by their paired pull request, I can see that the original list of 135 commits would be reduced to just 58 if each commit that belonged to a pull request were bundled into just one entry.

Next, we need to process the commits to remove those representing merges and other noise. These are things to discuss in the next post of this series where perhaps we will take stock and see whether this effort has been valuable in producing more meaningful release note generation. Until then, thanks for reading and don't forget to leave a comment.


  1. often changes are merged forward from one branch to another, especially if there are multiple release branches to support patch development and such 

  2. The join in this example is an outer join; we are taking the join results and using DefaultIfEmpty() to supply an empty collection when there was nothing to join