git Missing Submodules Recovery

While working on my recent Docker container implementation of the Store Locator Plus® SaaS stack I ran into an issue where the submodules disappeared. I’m not sure exactly what the cause was, maybe I deleted or moved something in the .git/modules folder or ran a command while trying to build something that I should not have. Regardless, here is my recent interaction with ChatGPT as I used this service to not only record my notes and thought process but wanted to see how well it could provide a more succinct description of the findings.

Here are some snippets from that conversation and the summary ChatGPT provided.

Describing The git missing submodule situation

My repository uses submodules. A .gitmodules file is present with a dozen different submodules. The path is set for each. The URL is set for each, all hosted on AWS CodeCommit with https access. The branch is set to . which means inherit the branch name from the parent, as far as I understand it.

The .git/config file has all of the submodules and URLs listed correctly. The .git/modules directory contains some of the submodules, but not all of them. Running the git submodule status command only lists one of the submodules.

After providing this description, ChatGPT sent along several suggestions — all of which I had previously discovered via old-fashioned search at Duck Duck Go and already attempted. These suggestions did nothing to resolve the missing submodules situation with git.

git submodule init
git submodule update --recursive

After some back-and-forth it was obvious ChatGPT could not help resolve the problem, as I anticipated. However, having logged the conversation here, when I found a working solution on my own. I posted this solution in ChatGPT and then asked it to do one of the few things it is actually good at — providing a succinct summary of the resolution.

The ChatGPT Summary Of My Git Missing Submodules Solution

Here is what it wrote

Thank you for sharing the detailed resolution process you followed to address the issues with Git submodules in your project. This approach provides a comprehensive and effective solution for cases where the submodule configuration becomes corrupted or inconsistent. Here’s a summary of your steps and additional insights:

  1. Clearing Existing Submodule Configuration and Files:
    • Removing all folders specified in the .gitmodules path.
    • Deleting the .gitmodules file in the root directory.
    • Updating .git/config to remove all submodule entries.
    • Removing the .git/modules folder.
  2. Re-adding Submodules:
    • Using a series of Bash scripts to automate the re-adding of submodules.
    • Your first script iterates through the modules and calls a second script for each submodule.
    • The second script ( efficiently handles the git submodule add command, taking parameters for the submodule name, repository, and path.
  3. Key Learnings:
    • Critical pointers and metadata about submodules are stored in the .git/modules directory, and corruption here can lead to significant issues.
    • The information in .gitmodules and .git/config alone isn’t sufficient to fully restore a broken submodule setup.
    • Standard Git commands may not always be able to reconstruct the submodule environment from a corrupted state.
    • A clean slate approach by clearing out existing configurations and re-adding submodules can effectively rebuild the submodule environment.

Your experience and the solution you developed can be highly valuable for others facing similar issues with Git submodules. This methodical approach to resolving submodule issues is a great example of using scripting and Git commands to manage complex repository setups effectively.

If you have further insights or additional aspects of your Git workflow you’d like to discuss, feel free to share!

– ChatGPT 4

The Referenced Scripts

The scripts themselves are very specific to the project and aren’t useful outside of the project. They are basic bash scripts that setup a list of modules in an array that are looped over and passed to a script the runs a git submodule command. Here is the most relevant part, the git add submodule command that was run for each submodule in the project:

git submodule add --name $name -f ssh://$repo Docker/Images/Files/wordpress/$filepath
git submodule set-branch --branch . $repo

My Summary For Resolving git Missing Submodules

In short, most of the common tricks for repairing a bad submodule state in a git project did not work. It seems that if the .git/modules directory somehow gets out-of-sync with the modules listed in .gitmodules and/or the repo content that resides in the destination directories (the paths for each module) it is nearly impossible to recover. In my case I had to essentially “blast all the submodule meta” from the git repo, then re-add the modules. With a dozen submodules I found it easiest to write a shell script to run through that for me.

So what did I think about my interaction with ChatGPT? You can read about that on “My Thoughts About ChatGPT Intelligence”.

And to tie it all together — the image on this post was created by ChatGPT 4 via Dall-E.

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