The Curious Case Of Xcode’s Commit Message

Xcode has a behavior with its source code integration, wherein the pending commit message is persisted so that if you cancel a commit, and then go back to commit again later, the text you already typed is preserved.

This is a nice feature.

However, my friend Seth Dillingham lamented on Twitter that for some reason the persisted commit text on his Mac was crashing Xcode. Yikes. No problem, he just needed to find the persisted text and delete it. It should be in some Xcode preferences file, or maybe in ~/Library/Developer, or somewhere else sane like that, right? Right?

Wrong. A little snooping on my part reveals that Xcode saves this bit of text in just about the least likely place I would expect…

Most people consider the OS X pasteboard pretty monolithic, especially since it’s so easy by default to obliterate the contents of the default pasteboard by e.g. copying new text to overwrite the old. But there are in fact multiple default pasteboards in OS X. For example there is a general pasteboard for typical copy and paste, but a different pasteboard for dragging content from one place to another. This is a good thing, because we wouldn’t want a drag to obliterate the copied text we were about to paste.

Have you ever noticed that on OS X, when you search for some text in one app, and then switch to another app to use its “Find” functionality, the same search text is already present in the search field? Thank, or blame, the system standard “Find” pasteboard, which makes this possible.

There are also an endless number of possible custom pasteboards, named by the creator and used for whatever purpose they see fit. Usually this is to accommodate the movement of data within an app in such a way that it doesn’t muck up the standard system pasteboards. But Xcode uses it for something more akin to the “Find” pasteboard described above. They declare and use a whole custom pasteboard to store … drum roll please … the commit message.

If you use Xcode for Source Control, select “Commit…”, type something into the commit message text area, then cancel the commit. Now, from the Terminal:

echo "from AppKit import NSPasteboard\nprint NSPasteboard.pasteboardWithName_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePasteboard\").stringForType_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePboardType\")" | /usr/bin/python

There’s your commit message!

Now, let’s suppose you have run into the same bad luck as Seth, and need to clear out that commit message text to prevent Xcode crashing? NSPasteboard’s “releaseGlobally” method should do the trick:

echo "from AppKit import NSPasteboard\nNSPasteboard.pasteboardWithName_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePasteboard\").releaseGlobally()" | /usr/bin/python

Now you know possibly a bit more about NSPasteboard on the Mac and probably a lot more about how Xcode persists its commit message text. I know I sure do!