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Never Experience Whitespace Shame Again

We've all been there before. You finish up the latest and greatest feature, or better yet, refactoring, and open up the pull request for everyone to marvel at your latest work of art. Unsurprisingly to you, a bunch of notifications roll in five minutes later. Being the amazing developer that you are, you expect these to be high fives and thumbs ups about how great you are. Unfortunately for you, these notifications are about whitespace.

In the cardinal sins of programming, whitespace is up there along with unintentional new lines and tabs instead of spaces. Using syntax highlighters, whitespace can even be highlighted to look like the color of blood. You may as well have murdered your source code! Thankfully, there are tons of tools to remove whitespace from files. Your text editor can probably do this for you, or maybe a shell script. But my personal favorite is good ol' git.

Meet git-stripspace

To most people, git is just an amazing revision control system. Along with that, git also ships with some other pretty handy tools. git-stripspace is one of these such tools. git-stripspace does exactly what its name says, it strips trailing whitespace from the end of lines!

Let's fire up our command line and get acquainted.

Sample Input

For the rest of this post we will assume you have a file named whitespace.txt with the following contents. I'll use dollar signs ($) to denote where the whitespace ends, but don't actually put the dollar signs in the file because then git-stripspace won't be able to work its magic.

this is a   $
file with a bunch     $


of whitespace!    $

Strip It Real Good

git-stripspace is a a subcommand to the main git command. You can run it by typing the following into your shell:

git stripspace < whitespace.txt

Let's run that command and take a look at the output. Again, the dollar signs are only there to denote the real end of the lines.

this is a$
file with a bunch$

of whitespace!$

Hotdog! As promised, the whitespace is gone. But you'll also notice, we had two new lines in between lines 3 and 5 and now we have only one new line. That's because git-stripspace is actually an overachiever. On top of stripping whitespace it also:

  • collapses multiple newlines into a single new line
  • removes blank new lines from the beginning of files
  • adds a proper line ending to the end of the file

Taking It Further

Using git-stripspace like this is fine and dandy and all but we could just as easily forget to run this over our files. Also, we're programmers and being lazy (in a good way!) is an important part of our culture. Let's automate this.

git allows you to add filters that then get run at a certain event. One of these events is clean which gets run just before you commit changes. We can use this clean event to run git-stripspace every time we commit changes to files. We'll never commit whitespace crime again!

git config --global filter.trimWhitespace.clean git-stripspace

The command above creates a filter named "trimWhitespace" that will run all of our staged files through the git-stripspace program every time we commit. The --global flag applies this globally so all of our git repos on our local machine can benefit from this. After you run this command you should have an entry that looks like this in your .gitconfig:

[filter "trimWhitespace"]
    clean = git-stripspace

The End Of The Line

Besides saving you from future whitespace shaming, I hope this was also a useful look into a great tool that git provides. For more great git reading I recommend the excellent git-scm book.