Linux creator Linus Torvalds built Git to prove to himself that he wasn’t just a “one-hit wonder.”

In a fireside chat at the Open Source Summit Europe, Torvalds reflected on his motivation to create the most widely used version control system — Git. Even though he has created Linux which is being used in over 25 million devices across the world, he isn’t immune to imposter syndrome.


During the summit which was held on October 28, 2019 at Citi Centre de Congrès de Lyon, France, he said, “We all have self-doubt. Linux was just a reimplementation of Unix. Git proved I could be more than a one-hit wonder.”

Matt Asay

His self-doubt mixed with his irritation with the existing SCMs (Source Control Management) led him to shut himself in a room over a weekend and create what has come to be known as git now.

“The work was clearly mostly during the day, but there’s a few midnight entries and a couple of 2 a.m. ones.” — Torvalds

It is a tool for tracking changes in source code during software development. It is designed for coordinating work among programmers, but it can be used to track changes in any set of files. This means that any change you make to the code is visible along with the timestamp at which such a change happened.

Noble Desktop

It is interesting to observe the birth of git because it all happened over the weekend and the timestamps are there to prove it. When asked about it here is how Linus replied

Did you stay up all weekend to write it or was it just during regular hours?

Torvalds: Heh. You can actually see how it all took shape in the git source code repository, except for the very first day or so. It took about a day to … start committing things into git using git itself, so the first day or so is hidden, but everything else is there. The work was clearly mostly during the day, but there’s a few midnight entries and a couple of 2 a.m. ones.

With over 57K changes committed and 1300 contributors, Git is widely popular and in use everywhere today. I actually went into the repository to dig up the information on the earliest commits. Commit is that version of the code which has reached a milestone and is stable enough to be saved in the code repository. Here’s how the first few commits looked like

Notice the year of this commit
The Information Manager from Hell — Linus Torvalds

The title of the first commit is indicative of Trovalds’ sense of humor. The contents of the README file are equally hilarious.

Trovalds is credited with the creation of Linux as well as Git but now he says he is not a programmer anymore. Instead of coding these days he reads email and the inbound commit messages that explain proposed changes to the Linux kernel.

“Commit messages to me are almost as important as the code itself” — Torvalds
Torvalds’ github page

Even though the mad dash of coding resulted in the birth of git the actual code written during those early days was a small percentage of the whole project. Linus’s initial burst was more about triggering the idea than creating the finished product.

He mentions in the interview — “I’d like to stress that while it really came together in just about ten days or so (at which point I did my first *kernel* commit using git), it wasn’t like it was some kind of mad dash of coding. The actual amount of that early code is actually fairly small.”

This creative genius is also humble enough to credit his team for this project. “I maintained Git for six months, no more,” he acknowledged at the Open Source Summit Europe. “The real credit goes to others. I’ll take credit for the design.”

“Sometimes the code changes are so obvious that no explanation is necessary, but this is rare.” — Torvalds