Codebase archaeology

When considering changing code it can be helpful to try and first understand the rationale behind why it was implemented that way originally. One of the best ways to do this is by using a combination of git tools:

  • git blame

  • git log -S

  • git log -G

  • git log -p

  • git log -L

As well as the discussions in various places on the GitHub repo.

git blame

The git blame command will show you when (and by who) a particular line of code was last changed.

For example, if we checkout Bitcoin Core at v22.0 and we are planning to make a change related to the m_addr_send_times_mutex found in src/net_processing.cpp, we might want to find out more about its history before touching it.

With git `blame we can find out the last person who touched this code:

# Find the line number for blame
$ grep -n m_addr_send_times_mutex src/net_processing.cpp
233:    mutable Mutex m_addr_send_times_mutex;
235:    std::chrono::microseconds m_next_addr_send GUARDED_BY(m_addr_send_times_mutex){0};
237:    std::chrono::microseconds m_next_local_addr_send GUARDED_BY(m_addr_send_times_mutex){0};
4304:    LOCK(peer.m_addr_send_times_mutex);
$ git blame -L233,233 src/net_processing.cpp

76568a3351 (John Newbery 2020-07-10 16:29:57 +0100 233)     mutable Mutex m_addr_send_times_mutex;

With this information we can easily look up that commit to gain some additional context:

$ git show 76568a3351

commit 76568a3351418c878d30ba0373cf76988f93f90e
Author: John Newbery <>
Date:   Fri Jul 10 16:29:57 2020 +0100

    [net processing] Move addr relay data and logic into net processing

So we’ve learned now that this mutex was moved here by John from net.{cpp|h} in it’s most recent touch. Let’s see what else we can find out about it.

git log -S

git log -S allows us to search for commits where this line was modified (not where it was only moved, for that use git log -G).

A 'modification' (vs. a 'move') in git parlance is the result of uneven instances of the search term in the commit diffs' add/remove sections.

This implies that this term has either been added or removed in the commit.

$ git log -S m_addr_send_times_mutex
commit 76568a3351418c878d30ba0373cf76988f93f90e
Author: John Newbery <>
Date:   Fri Jul 10 16:29:57 2020 +0100

    [net processing] Move addr relay data and logic into net processing

commit ad719297f2ecdd2394eff668b3be7070bc9cb3e2
Author: John Newbery <>
Date:   Thu Jul 9 10:51:20 2020 +0100

    [net processing] Extract `addr` send functionality into MaybeSendAddr()

    Reviewer hint: review with

     `git diff --color-moved=dimmed-zebra --ignore-all-space`

commit 4ad4abcf07efefafd439b28679dff8d6bbf62943
Author: John Newbery <>
Date:   Mon Mar 29 11:36:19 2021 +0100

    [net] Change addr send times fields to be guarded by new mutex

We learn now that John also originally added this to net.{cpp|h}, before later moving it into net_processing.{cpp|h} as part of a push to separate out addr relay data and logic from net.cpp.

git log -p

git log -p (usually also given with a file name argument) follows each commit message with a patch (diff) of the changes made by that commit to that file (or files). This is similar to git blame except that git blame shows the source of only lines currently in the file.

git log -L

The -L parameter provided to git log will allow you to trace certain lines of a file through a range given by <start,<end>.

However, newer versions of git will also allow you to provide git log -L with a function name and a file, using:

git log -L :<funcname>:<file>

This will then display commits which modified this function in your pager.

git log --follow file…​

One of the most famous file renames was src/main.{h,cpp} to src/validation.{h,cpp} in 2016. If you simply run git log src/validation.h, the oldest displayed commit is one that implemented the rename. git log --follow src/validation.h will show the same recent commits followed by the older src/main.h commits.

To see the history of a file that’s been removed, specify " — " before the file name, such as:

git log -- some_removed_file.cpp

PR discussion

To get even more context on the change we can leverage GitHub and take a look at the comments on the PR where this mutex was introduced (or at any subsequent commit where it was modified). To find the PR you can either paste the commit hash (4ad4abcf07efefafd439b28679dff8d6bbf62943) into GitHub, or list merge commits in reverse order, showing oldest merge with the commit at the top to show the specific PR number e.g.:

$ git log --merges --reverse --oneline --ancestry-path 4ad4abcf07efefafd439b28679dff8d6bbf62943..upstream | head -n 1

d3fa42c79 Merge bitcoin/bitcoin#21186: net/net processing: Move addr data into net_processing

Reading up on PR#21186 will hopefully provide us with more context we can use.

We can see from the linked issue 19398 what the motivation for this move was.