git fresh branch

28 Nov 2014

Tonight while clicking around the web I discovered tj/git-extras, a set of useful git tools maintained by TJ Holowaychuk1. Once installed, your git command is overloaded with a bunch of new, useful commands.

It’s easy to install, but it does add quite a lot of stuff, and I was worried for a moment that it would clobber some existing aliases of my own. One, git squash, comes dangerously close to my beloved git squasher, but doesn’t actually conflict.

If you are worried about it, you can safely pick and choose which extras you want by saving individual scripts and just making sure they’re all on your PATH and executable.

The readme explains their purposes nicely, but I want to emphasize one in particular: git fresh-branch <branch name> which does stuff I didn’t know was possible.

Let’s say you’re maintaining an open source library that has existed long enough to accumulate many commits and files. Let’s say you want to create a github page for that library to explain what it’s all about and how to use it. The way github pages works, you should create a new branch in the same repo with the branch name gh-pages, and on that branch you keep a set of assets that will become a static website. But when you create a new branch, it will have all of the code from your open source library, and an entire history of commmits. I can imagine doing something like this:

# create a new branch
git checkout -b gh-pages
# delete all of the existing files
git ls-files | xargs rm
# stage those deletes
git add -A
# commit the change
git commit -m 'BURN IT DOWN'

# create the first version of the site
echo 'hello! use my gem!' > index.html
git add index.html
git commit -m 'gh-pages init'
git push origin gh-pages

And then I’d wait for GitHub to do its magic and expect to see my great page online in a few minutes.

It’s kind of awkward having a ‘BURN IT DOWN’ commit, but I didn’t know there was an alternative. With git extras, that could look more like this:

# create a new branch WITH NO HISTORY AT ALL
git fresh-branch gh-pages

# create the first version of the site
echo 'hello! use my gem!' > index.html
git add index.html
git commit -m 'gh-pages init'
git push origin gh-pages

How the heck does it work? We can look at the fresh-branch script online, but I’ll include the latest version here for reference:



test -z $branch && echo "branch required." 1>&2 && exit 1

git symbolic-ref HEAD refs/heads/$branch
rm .git/index
git clean -fdx

I guess a lot of the work is being done by symbolic-ref.

While researching this post, I noticed that git-extras also offers a gh-pages script that is even more tailored to the use case from my example. Of course! :leaves:

edit: I probably should have slept on this post and actually explored more how it’s working under the hood. But I did not.

  1. Formerly ‘visionmedia’ on GitHub