Git Trick: Multiple remotes

git is a wonderful little vcs. It took a while for me to warm up to it, but now I could never go back to svn or cvs. RCS still holds a special place in my heart, and is so damn useful I can't give it up completely. But these days, my vcs world is all git-based.

I'm sure there's a way to do this multiple-remote trick in bzr and hg, but I don't use them, so haven't bothered to figure it out. If I need hg, there's always hg-git, which may earn its own entry soon.

git makes it easy to track multiple remote branches, which is ostensibly used for sharing work between colleagues. i.e. I can 'merge steve/master' to bring all Steve's unpublished changes to master into my current local branch. This is great for hacking in small groups or pairs without needing a central server. However, the true power of this, I think, is that any git url can be a remote.

So, for example, I'm building a site based on dabl, and I want to keep it up to date with the latest changes. Now, up until last week, that meant I would check out dabl, check out my code, and then copy the files in and commit. Something like this:

git clone dabl
git clone my-project
cp -R dabl/{libraries,helpers} my-project/
cd my-project
git commit -a -v -m 'Updated dabl'
git push origin master

Now, of course that `git commit -a` wipes out any local changes. That means that, for example, anything in helpers/ that gets modified in both my-project and dabl will be replaced by the dabl version. Usually, that's fine because I've pushed the changes from my-project upstream. Where there would logically be a conflict, it is happily ignored in favor of the upstream version. Of course, upstream is the same procedure but in the reverse direction, and has the same pitfalls.

The solution is to recognize that these are both git repositories in their own right. Just add the dabl repository to my-project. Updating is as easy as:

git fetch dabl
git merge dabl/master

Now, I have the latest version of my upstream code, with all the benefits of merging it in. This is what I really wanted in the first place. I love cp, but it's never going to give me an octopus merge.

But, that's only one half of the problem. Is there any way pushing upstream could be aided by this?

Okay, it would be pretty anti-climactic if the answer to that were no. As it turns out, pushing upstream is the reverse of pulling from upstream (like with the cp "solution"); you just have to be a little more careful. Lets say I need to push HEAD on master upstream:

git checkout dabl/master
git cherry-pick master
git push dabl HEAD:master

Yes, it really is that easy. "master" is a valid commit-ish, so you can cherry-pick it. You can even do exciting things like master^ and master~3. And of course, you can name a commit by its hash or tag if you want to be really safe. In practice, it generally helps to be really safe.

A word of caution: DO NOT make your other remote call its refs "origin." This will give you and everyone you work with headaches as you will switch repositories instead of merging. And I mean "switch" in the svn sense of the word (i.e. "rebase"). Name it something sane and unique, like the name of the project.


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