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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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How to move commits to a different Git branch

I’ve been coding something and I went down a certain route with it. After 2-3 days of going down that route I realized it’s too much work and not really needed. Better to scrap it all off. Thanks to Git I can easily do that!

But I had spent some effort on it, and I had to learn some stuff to code that, so I didn’t want to throw it all away into the ether either. I wanted to keep it away somewhere else. Thanks to Git, that too is easily possible.

First off, here’s how my commits look currently:

Just one branch. With a bunch of commits.

I had some changed files at this point so my working tree is ahead of the latest commit, but I didn’t want to commit these changes. Instead, I wanted to move these elsewhere as I said above. No problem, I created a new branch and committed to that.

So now my commits look like these:

Now, I would like to move D and E too to the new branch. These are commits I made as part of this work I was doing, and while I can delete all those portions from the code that will give a convoluted history and doesn’t feel very neat. Why not just move these two commits over to the new branch, so my master branch is at the commit I want.

Before doing that, look at the above commit history from the point of view of the new branch:

Notice how the commits I want are actually already a part of the new branch. There’s nothing for me to actually move over. The commits are already there and whatever happens to the master branch these will stay as it is. So what I really need to do is reset the master branch to the commit I want to be, making it forget the unnecessary commits!

That’s easy, that’s what git reset is for.

And that’s it, now the commits look like this:

Perfect!

When doing a git reset remember to do git reset --hard. If you don’t do a hard reset git does a mixed reset – this only resets HEAD to the new commit you specify but the working tree still has the files from the latest commit (in the example above HEAD will point to commit C but the files will still be from commit E). And git status will tell you that there are changes to commit.  Doing a hard reset will reset both HEAD and the working tree to the commit you specify.

Since I have a remote repository too, I need to push these changes upstream: both the new branch, and the existing branch overwriting upstream with my local changes (essentially rewriting history upstream).

While doing this work I also learnt it’s possible to detach HEAD and go to a particular commit (within the same branch) to see how code was at that point. Basically, git checkout to a commit rather than a branch. See this tutorial. The help page has some examples too (go down to the “Detached HEAD” section).