As developers, we often face challenges when collaborating on projects. One of the essential tools in modern software development is Git, a distributed version control system that helps manage and track changes in source code. Despite its usefulness, Git can sometimes present obstacles that hinder our work, and one such issue is reconciling divergent branches. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what this error message means, why it occurs, and how to effectively resolve it.

Understanding Divergent Branches

To grasp the concept of divergent branches, it’s vital to understand how Git operates. In Git, branches represent independent lines of development in a repository. Each branch contains a series of commits, representing the changes made to the codebase. When you create a new branch, it initially shares the same commit history as the branch it was created from. However, as you make changes and commit them, the branches will diverge.

Divergent branches occur when two branches have different commit histories, and Git is unable to merge them automatically. This usually happens when developers work on the same file in parallel, leading to conflicts that Git cannot resolve on its own. In such cases, you’ll encounter the following error message: “fatal: need to specify how to reconcile divergent branches.”

Reasons for Divergent Branches

There are several reasons why branches can become divergent, including:

Parallel Development

Developers often work on different features or bug fixes simultaneously, leading to multiple branches with different commit histories. When these branches are merged, conflicts may arise, causing Git to request user intervention.

Outdated Local Branch

If your local branch is behind the remote branch, and you attempt to push your changes, Git will detect the divergence and prevent you from doing so. This is because Git wants to ensure you are aware of any changes that have occurred in the remote branch before incorporating your own modifications.


Rebasing is a Git operation that rewrites the commit history of a branch, allowing you to reapply your changes on top of another branch. If two developers perform rebasing operations on the same branch, they will create divergent branches that cannot be merged without manual intervention.

Methods to Reconcile Divergent Branches

There are various approaches to resolve the issue of divergent branches. We’ll discuss some of the most common methods below:


Merging is the most straightforward approach to reconcile divergent branches. The process involves creating a new commit that combines the changes from both branches, retaining their original commit histories. To merge two branches, follow these steps:

  • Checkout the branch you want to merge into:
    git checkout target_branch
  • Merge the divergent branch into the target branch:
    git merge divergent_branch
  • If Git encounters conflicts, resolve them by manually editing the affected files. Look for conflict markers (<<<<<<<, =======, >>>>>>>) and decide which changes to keep.
  • After resolving conflicts, stage the changes:
    git add file_with_resolved_conflicts
  • Commit the merged changes:
    git commit-m "Merged divergent_branch into target_branch"


Rebasing is another method to reconcile divergent branches. This technique involves rewriting the commit history of one branch to apply its changes on top of another branch. It can result in a cleaner and more linear commit history. To rebase one branch onto another, follow these steps:

  • Checkout the branch you want to rebase:
    git checkout divergent_branch
  • Rebase the branch onto the target branch:
    git rebase target_branch
  • If Git encounters conflicts during the rebase, resolve them by manually editing the affected files. Look for conflict markers (<<<<<<<, =======, >>>>>>>) and decide which changes to keep.
  • After resolving conflicts, stage the changes:
    git add file_with_resolved_conflicts
  • Continue the rebase process:
    git rebase --continue
  • If more conflicts are found, repeat steps c-e until the rebase is complete.
  • Once the rebase is successful, switch to the target branch:
    git checkout target_branch
  • Merge the rebased branch without creating a merge commit:
    git merge divergent_branch --ff-only

Note: Rebasing rewrites the commit history, which can cause confusion and issues for other collaborators if they have already pulled the original history. It is essential to communicate with your team before using rebase in a shared repository.


Cherry-picking is a method of selectively applying specific commits from one branch to another. This approach can be useful when you only want to incorporate certain changes from a divergent branch, without merging or rebasing the entire branch. To cherry-pick a commit, follow these steps:

  • Checkout the branch you want to apply the commit to:
    git checkout target_branch
  • Cherry-pick the desired commit from the divergent branch:
    git cherry-pick commit_hash
  • If conflicts arise, resolve them as described in the previous methods, stage the changes, and continue the cherry-pick process:
    git add file_with_resolved_conflicts git cherry-pick --continue


Divergent branches are a common occurrence in collaborative software development, and understanding how to reconcile them is essential for a smooth workflow. By using techniques such as merging, rebasing, and cherry-picking, you can resolve conflicts and maintain a clean commit history.

It’s important to remember that each method has its pros and cons, and the choice depends on your specific use case and team preferences. Whichever approach you choose, communication is key. Always inform your collaborators about the changes you make to the repository to avoid confusion and ensure a seamless development process.

Disclaimer: The code snippets and examples provided on this blog are for educational and informational purposes only. You are free to use, modify, and distribute the code as you see fit, but I make no warranties or guarantees regarding its accuracy or suitability for any specific purpose. By using the code from this blog, you agree that I will not be held responsible for any issues or damages that may arise from its use. Always exercise caution and thoroughly test any code in your own development environment before using it in a production setting.

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