Syncing with a massive Git upstream

2 min read
Guide on
Table of contents

If a repository has an extremely long history or large size in the version control, contributing to it becomes a challenge. If you execute git clone on it, Git will try to download the entire history. This can take up a considerable amount of disk space, network bandwidth and time. How can you handle this scenario?

Start with a shallow clone

Let’s assume that you’ve forked the repository you want to contribute to. Now, clone only a portion of the commit history that is required for you to work with. Let’s say you’re interested only in the last 3 commits from the HEAD. You can shallow clone the repository with the following command.

git clone --depth 3

A shallow clone, as per the docs fetches a history truncated to the specified number of commits. Also, note that the command mentioned above will only fetch the default branch. This happens because --single-branch flag is implied automatically. To fetch the history near the tips of the other branches, --no-single-branch flag should be specified while cloning.

In case you forget specifying --no-single-branch flag, you can examine the fetch configuration.

$ git config --get remote.origin.fetch

and edit it to fetch the history from all the branches.

git config remote.origin.fetch "+refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*"

Execute git remote update origin and Git will fetch the history up to the requested depth.

Add the remote upstream

Add the remote upstream repository so that you can sync with the changes merged into it by other contributors.

git remote add upstream

Just like the fork, you can fetch the history of the upstream up to a certain depth from the HEAD.

git fetch --depth 2 upstream

Checkout a branch from the upstream

Create a new branch from the HEAD of an upstream branch.

git checkout -b latest upstream/dev

Make your changes, commit them and set the local latest branch to track the remote of your fork.

git branch latest --set-upstream-to origin/latest

When you’ll push the changes, origin/latest branch of the fork will be updated. You can then create a PR on the upstream repository for your changes to be merged.