Working with git branches

Learn how to perform basic tasks with git local and remote branches.

Launch all the commands in this tutorial, from the first to the last, and you will cover almost all operations on branches.
Please notice also that the default branch name is set to main, it may differ according to your settings.

Clone a repo

First of all, since we are going to talk also about remote branches, you need to clone a repo. For instance, suppose I am cloning a brand new repository I just created on GitHub.

git clone

Then, of course, you need to enter in the repository folder…

cd myNewRepo

…but if you are using GitBash on Windows you can also right click the folder and open a bash shell.

Default branch

To get the default branch you can launch

basename $(git symbolic-ref refs/remotes/origin/HEAD)

Show current branch

The first command you need to know in order to use git branches will answer the question

Which is current branch?

The answer is easy, just launch

git branch

Since this is a new repository you should see only the main branch.

Create a local branch

Create a new develop branch and switch to it

git checkout -b develop

Now you are on develop branch, add or edit some file, the for instance, so the below merge command will make sense. Use your favourite editor, that is vim of course!

Do some modification and commit

git commit -am 'added repo infos'

Create a remote branch

Just push the local branch to remote origin.

git push origin develop
Bonus tip: configure git to set upstream automatically.

You could also run just git push but you may see this error

fatal: The current branch develop has no upstream branch.
To push the current branch and set the remote as upstream, use

    git push --set-upstream origin develop

Run git --version and check that is equal or higher than 2.37. If yes, you can run

git config --global push.autoSetupRemote true

With that set, all first-time push on new branches will automatically set the default upstream.

Show differences

Now that you have a branch other than main you may want to add some code or do a revision of code in the branch. It can be handy to compare current branch with main, to do so launch

git diff --name-status main

To compare any pair of branches

git diff --name-status firstbranch..yourBranchName

Fetch updates

If you want to get latest updates

git fetch

Align with main branch

Get latest updates from main branch into your current working branch

git rebase main

Change branch

If you want to go back to main branch launch

git switch main

Note that before switching branch, you may need to commit changes, if any.

Merge two branches

If you want to merge develop into main, launch

git merge develop

Delete a local branch

If you want to delete develop branch locally, launch

git branch -d develop

It must be a merged branch, otherwise use git branch -D to force it.

Show remote branches

Branch develop on remote origin still exists, see

git branch -r

Checkout existing remote branch

When you clone a repo by default git branch will show only main branch. Suppose you want to work on a remote develop branch, launch this to check it out

git checkout -b develop origin/develop

Now you have again a local develop branch and it is your current branch.

Update local branch from remote

If you want to fetch last version of your remote develop branch and merge it to your local develop branch, launch

git pull origin develop

Since in this case there is no difference between remote and local develop branch, git will answer with an Already up-to-date message.

Delete a remote branch

Suppose you want to delete develop remote branch, launch

git push origin :develop

Note that this will not remove your develop local branch.

Cleanup remote branches

Remove local references to remove branches that do not exist anymore. This is useful in case the remote branch was removed somewhere else.

git remote prune origin

You can also run

git fetch -p

which removes any remote-tracking references that no longer exist on the remote, and then it fetches.

Cleanup local branches

You can do the actions in this section with one single command, checkout cleanup_git_branches.

Show branches that are already merged (be careful, it also shows the main branch)

git branch --merged

Remove local branches (excluding main branch) that are already merged

git switch `basename $(git symbolic-ref refs/remotes/origin/HEAD)`; git branch --merged | grep -v `basename $(git symbolic-ref refs/remotes/origin/HEAD)` | while read branch; do git branch -d $branch; done

The output of git branch -v will label as [gone] a branch with no remote reference. So to remove local branches with no remote reference, launch

git fetch -p && for branch in $(git branch -vv | grep '\[gone\]' | awk '{print $1}'); do git branch -D $branch; done