Diviner Phabricator User Docs Differential User Guide: Large Changes

Differential User Guide: Large Changes
Phabricator User Documentation (Application User Guides)

Dealing with huge changesets, and when not to use Differential.


When you want code review for a given changeset, Differential is not always the right tool to use. The rule of thumb is that you should only send changes to Differential if you expect humans to review the actual differences in the source code from the web interface. This should cover the vast majority of changes but, for example, you usually should not submit changes like these through Differential:

  • Committing an entire open source project to a private repo somewhere so you can fork it or link against it.
  • Committing an enormous text datafile, like a list of every English word or a dump of a database.
  • Making a trivial (e.g., find/replace or codemod) edit to 10,000 files.

You can still try submitting these kinds of changes, but you may encounter problems getting them to work (database or connection timeouts, for example). Differential is pretty fast and scalable, but at some point either it or the browser will break down: you simply can't show nine million files on a webpage.

More importantly, in all these cases, the text of the changes won't be reviewed by a human. The metadata associated with the change is what needs review (e.g., what are you checking in, where are you putting it, and why? Does the change make sense? In the case of automated transformations, what script did you use?). To get review for these types of changes, one of these strategies will usually work better than trying to get the entire change into Differential:

  • Send an email/AIM/IRC to your reviewer(s) like "Hey, I'm going to check in the source for MySQL 9.3.1 to /full/path/to/whatever. The change is staged in /home/whatever/path/somewhere if you want to take a look. Can I put your name on the review?". This is best for straightforward changes. The reviewer is not going to review MySQL's source itself, instead they are reviewing the change metadata: which version are you checking in, why are you checking it in, and where are you putting it? You won't be able to use "arc commit" or "arc amend" to actually push the change. Just use "svn" or "git" and manually edit the commit message instead. (It is normally sufficient to add a "Reviewed By: <username>" field.)
  • Create a Differential revision with only the metadata, like the script you used to make automated changes or a text file explaining what you're doing, and maybe a sample of some of the changes if they were automated. Include a link to where the changes are staged so reviewers can look at the actual changeset if they want to. This is best for more complicated changes, since Differential can still be used for discussion and provide a permanent record others can refer to. Once the revision is accepted, amend your local commit (e.g. by git commit --amend) with the real change and push as usual.

These kinds of changes are generally rare and don't have much in common, which is why there's no explicit support for them in Differential. If you frequently run into cases which Differential doesn't handle, let us know what they are.