# Branching

# Creating and checking out new branches

To create a new branch, while staying on the current branch, use:

git branch <name>

Generally, the branch name must not contain spaces and is subject to other specifications listed here (opens new window). To switch to an existing branch :

git checkout <name>

To create a new branch and switch to it:

git checkout -b <name>

To create a branch at a point other than the last commit of the current branch (also known as HEAD), use either of these commands:

git branch <name> [<start-point>]
git checkout -b <name> [<start-point>]

The <start-point> can be any revision (opens new window) known to git (e.g. another branch name, commit SHA, or a symbolic reference such as HEAD or a tag name):

git checkout -b <name> some_other_branch
git checkout -b <name> af295
git checkout -b <name> HEAD~5
git checkout -b <name> v1.0.5

To create a branch from a remote branch (opens new window) (the default <remote_name> is origin):

git branch <name> <remote_name>/<branch_name>
git checkout -b <name> <remote_name>/<branch_name>

If a given branch name is only found on one remote, you can simply use

git checkout -b <branch_name>

which is equivalent to

git checkout -b <branch_name> <remote_name>/<branch_name>

Sometimes you may need to move several of your recent commits to a new branch. This can be achieved by branching and "rolling back", like so:

git branch <new_name>
git reset --hard HEAD~2 # Go back 2 commits, you will lose uncommitted work.
git checkout <new_name>

Here is an illustrative explanation of this technique:

Initial state       After git branch <new_name>    After git reset --hard HEAD~2
                             newBranch                        newBranch
                                 ↓                                ↓
A-B-C-D-E (HEAD)         A-B-C-D-E (HEAD)                 A-B-C-D-E (HEAD)
        ↑                        ↑                            ↑
      master                   master                       master

# Listing branches

Git provides multiple commands for listing branches. All commands use the function of git branch, which will provide a list of a certain branches, depending on which options are put on the command line. Git will if possible, indicate the currently selected branch with a star next to it.

Goal Command
List local branches git branch
List local branches verbose git branch -v
List remote and local branches git branch -a OR git branch --all
List remote and local branches (verbose) git branch -av
List remote branches git branch -r
List remote branches with latest commit git branch -rv
List merged branches git branch --merged
List unmerged branches git branch --no-merged
List branches containing commit git branch --contains [<commit>]


  • Adding an additional v to -v e.g. $ git branch -avv or $ git branch -vv will print the name of the upstream branch as well.
  • Branches shown in red color are remote branches

# Delete a remote branch

To delete a branch on the origin remote repository, you can use for Git version 1.5.0 and newer

git push origin :<branchName>

and as of Git version 1.7.0, you can delete a remote branch using

git push origin --delete <branchName>

To delete a local remote-tracking branch:

git branch --delete --remotes <remote>/<branch>
git branch -dr <remote>/<branch> # Shorter

git fetch <remote> --prune # Delete multiple obsolete tracking branches
git fetch <remote> -p      # Shorter

To delete a branch locally. Note that this will not delete the branch if it has any unmerged changes:

git branch -d <branchName>

To delete a branch, even if it has unmerged changes:

git branch -D <branchName>

# Quick switch to the previous branch

You can quickly switch to the previous branch using

git checkout -

# Check out a new branch tracking a remote branch

There are three ways of creating a new branch feature which tracks the remote branch origin/feature:

  • git checkout --track -b feature origin/feature,
  • git checkout -t origin/feature,
  • git checkout feature - assuming that there is no local feature branch and there is only one remote with the feature branch.

To set upstream to track the remote branch - type:

  • git branch --set-upstream-to=<remote>/<branch> <branch>
  • git branch -u <remote>/<branch> <branch>


  • <remote> can be: origin, develop or the one created by user,
  • <branch> is user's branch to track on remote.

To verify which remote branches your local branches are tracking:

  • git branch -vv

# Delete a branch locally

$ git branch -d dev

Deletes the branch named dev if its changes are merged with another branch and will not be lost. If the dev branch does contain changes that have not yet been merged that would be lost, git branch -d will fail:

$ git branch -d dev
error: The branch 'dev' is not fully merged.
If you are sure you want to delete it, run 'git branch -D dev'.

Per the warning message, you can force delete the branch (and lose any unmerged changes in that branch) by using the -D flag:

$ git branch -D dev

# Create an orphan branch (i.e. branch with no parent commit)

git checkout --orphan new-orphan-branch

The first commit made on this new branch will have no parents and it will be the root of a new history totally disconnected from all the other branches and commits.

source (opens new window)

# Rename a branch

Rename the branch you have checked out:

git branch -m new_branch_name

Rename another branch:

git branch -m branch_you_want_to_rename new_branch_name

# Push branch to remote

Use to push commits made on your local branch to a remote repository.

The git push command takes two arguments:

  • A remote name, for example, origin
  • A branch name, for example, master

For example:


As an example, you usually run git push origin master to push your local changes to your online repository.

Using -u (short for --set-upstream) will set up the tracking information during the push.


By default, git pushes the local branch to a remote branch with the same name. For example, if you have a local called new-feature, if you push the local branch it will create a remote branch new-feature as well. If you want to use a different name for the remote branch, append the remote name after the local branch name, separated by ::


# Searching in branches

To list local branches that contain a specific commit or tag

git branch --contains <commit>

To list local and remote branches that contain a specific commit or tag

git branch -a --contains <commit>

# Move current branch HEAD to an arbitrary commit

A branch is just a pointer to a commit, so you can freely move it around. To make it so that the branch is referring to the commit aabbcc, issue the command

git reset --hard aabbcc

Please note that this will overwrite your branch's current commit, and as so, its entire history. You might loose some work by issuing this command. If that's the case, you can use the reflog (opens new window) to recover the lost commits. It can be advised to perform this command on a new branch instead of your current one.

However, this command can be particularly useful when rebasing or doing such other large history modifications.

# Overwrite single file in current working directory with the same from another branch

The checked out file will overwrite not yet commited changes you did in this file.

This command will check out the file file.example (which is located in the directory path/to/) and overwrite any changes you might have made to this file.

git checkout some-branch path/to/file

some-branch can be anything tree-ish known to git (see Revision Selection (opens new window) and gitrevisions (opens new window) for more details)

You have to add -- before the path if your file could be mistaken for a file (optional otherwise). No more options can be supplied after the --.

git checkout some-branch -- some-file

The second some-file is a file in this example.

# Syntax

  • git branch [--set-upstream | --track | --no-track] [-l] [-f] <branchname> [<start-point>]
  • git branch (--set-upstream-to=<upstream> | -u <upstream>) [<branchname>]
  • git branch --unset-upstream [<branchname>]
  • git branch (-m | -M) [<oldbranch>] <newbranch>
  • git branch (-d | -D) [-r] <branchname>…​
  • git branch --edit-description [<branchname>]
  • git branch [--color[=<when>] | --no-color] [-r | -a] [--list] [-v [--abbrev=<length> | --no-abbrev]] [--column[=<options>] | --no-column] [(--merged | --no-merged | --contains) [<commit>]] [--sort=<key>] [--points-at <object>] [<pattern>…​]

# Parameters

Parameter Details
-d, --delete Delete a branch. The branch must be fully merged in its upstream branch, or in HEAD if no upstream was set with --track or --set-upstream
-D Shortcut for --delete --force
-m, --move Move/rename a branch and the corresponding reflog
-M Shortcut for --move --force
-r, --remotes List or delete (if used with -d) the remote-tracking branches
-a, --all List both remote-tracking branches and local branches
--list Activate the list mode. git branch <pattern> would try to create a branch, use git branch --list <pattern> to list matching branches
--set-upstream If specified branch does not exist yet or if --force has been given, acts exactly like --track. Otherwise sets up configuration like --track would when creating the branch, except that where branch points to is not changed

# Remarks

Every git repository has one or more branches. A branch is a named reference to the HEAD of a sequence of commits.

A git repo has a current branch (indicated by a * in the list of branch names printed by the git branch command), Whenever you create a new commit with the git commit command, your new commit becomes the HEAD of the current branch, and the previous HEAD becomes the parent of the new commit.

A new branch will have the same HEAD as the branch from which it was created until something is committed to the new branch.