Code formatting matters. Even indentation matters. And consistency is more important than minor improvements. But projects usually don't have a clear, complete, verifiable and enforced style guide from day 1, and major improvements may arrive any day. Maybe you find that
SELECT id, name, address FROM persons JOIN addresses ON persons.id = addresses.person_id;
could be better written as / is better written than
SELECT persons.id, persons.name, addresses.address FROM persons JOIN addresses ON persons.id = addresses.person_id;
while working on adding more columns to the query. Maybe this is the most complex of all four queries in your code, or a trivial query among thousands. No matter how difficult the transition, you decide it's worth it. But how do you track code changes across major formatting changes? You could just give up and say "this is the point where we start again", or you could reformat all queries in the entire repository history.
If you're using a distributed version control system like Git you can revert to the first commit ever, and reformat your way from there to the current state. But it's a lot of work, and everyone else would have to pause work (or be prepared for the mother of all merges) while it's going on. Is there a better way to change history which gives the best of all results:
- Same style in all commits
- Minimal merge work
To clarify, this is not about best practices when starting the project, but rather what should be done when a large refactoring has been deemed a Good Thing™ but you still want a traceable history? Never rewriting history is great if it's the only way to ensure that your versions always work the same, but what about the developer benefits of a clean rewrite? Especially if you have ways (tests, syntax definitions or an identical binary after compilation) to ensure that the rewritten version works exactly the same way as the original?