Zipper Merge is a BestPractices workflow pattern that uses the DAG structure to help simplify large complex merges.
It's an application of the same principles used by the DaggyFixes pattern, but for the scenario where you want to merge two branches together, rather than make the same change to two branches that must remain separate otherwise.
You're trying to merge two paths of development that diverged some time ago, and that have had significant changes along each path in the meantime.
A / \ / \ B1 C1 | | B2 C2 : : Bn Cn
For one reason or another, these development paths haven't had the series of intermediate smaller merges that might otherwise have happened. Perhaps they were done by developers who were offline for some time, perhaps they were actually different development branches that now need to be propagated back together - it doesn't really matter.
The key point is that you have a lot of merging work to do.
propagate command isn't ideal here, largely because the merging to be done isn't simple.
These commands are most useful for smaller, simpler merges that might occur more often. They happen all the time within a single development branch, and they're usually very easy or trivial to do, because the heads being merged haven't diverged much since their most recent common ancestor.
When there's much more significant divergence, attempts to use these commands to do all the merging in one hit can be frustrating:
lots of files are involved, and
mergewill prompt you for interactive merging assistance for each file where there are conflicts, in apparently random order. There's no easy way to order and organise your merging work.
if something goes wrong (such as one of these interactive merges failing) the entire merge will fail, and you'll have to start again from the beginning. There's no easy way to save and resume your merging work.
if you get through all the content merges, the new revision will be created, even if some of the merges were wrong or buggy. There's no easy way to preview and test the result of the merge before committing it.
You're trying a big-bang approach of merging all of the changes in a single step:
A / \ / \ B1 C1 | | B2 C2 : : Bn Cn \ / \ / M
You want an easy way to do the things that there's no easy way to do in the above points. What you need is a way to break up the merging work into manageable chunks.
The key point about Zipper Merge is that that you don't actually need to do all the merging at once in the one revision.
You could go back up the two development lines finding revisions where
important changes were made, and use
explicit_merge to bring those revisions together a
few changes at a time, progressively zippering together the
development lines with smaller merges until you catch up to the
This is essentially an effort in recreating the intermediate merging nodes that didn't happen previously along the way:
A / \ / \ B1 C1 |\ / | B2 M1 C2 : | /: Bn M2 Cn \ : | Mn / |/ M
DAG history is DAG history - it doesn't really matter what calendar time each node in the graph was actually created, what matters is the placement of the changes in the tree.
You get to work incrementally, saving (and, ideally, testing) your work as you go. You could take as much time as you like progressively working down between the two development lines in a local database, and pushing all your work with the final merged head at the end. Or for a really big and difficult merge, you could even push your work and share the task of zippering together changes amongst several developers.
You also get the added benefit of being able to carefully choose the revisions you merge to minimise the overall work: deferring merges in this way effectively allows you to avoid some unnecessary merges with the benefit of 'hindsight' which you wouldn't have had at the time. By only picking 'important' nodes for merges, you can summarise a string of consecurtive nondisruptive changes on one line into a single merge to the other, for example.
This is one of several reasons we encourage developers not to be scared of unmerged heads, even ones that persist for some time.
It might be convenient to use a special zipper branch name
for this purpose if you like. In this case, you could
approve revisions from each side onto the zipper branch,
one at a time, and
merge that branch to produce the
intermediate zipper merge nodes
Otherwise, if you're happy just using
revision id's, that will produce the same DAG structure result.
Whether or not you use a separate branch, a graph visualisation tool (like monotone-viz) can be very helpful to look at diffs along each side, pick useful nodes to zipper together, and follow your progress.
A good interactive merge assistance tool is also invaluable for each of the small merges. Alternately, 'mtn conflicts' can be used to resolve conflicts non-interactively.
See InterfacesFrontendsAndTools for tools that can help with both.
(please add comments of your own here, too)
There is another style of merging under development that will allow a different approach to the same problem. This is known as a workspace merge, or MergeViaWorkingDir and is a different user interface to the underlying merge algorithms.
Zipper Merge has the advantage of being available now. But even when we have a WorkspaceMerge, the Zipper Merge usage pattern will retain its other advantages. Whichever user interface you prefer, large merges will probably still be best handled in this progressive incremental style within the DAG structure.
Enhancements could be made to add a reasonable amount of smarts in the tool to support a zipper_merge workflow or commmand - for example, helping to automate the process of picking intermediate nodes to merge, rather than using manual inspection of the tree with a viualisation tool. When a conflict is detected, monotone could find the nodes that introduced the conflict higher up the tree, rather than trying to merge the current heads that have inherited this conflict as well as others.