github forking

2011-09-09 16:25:23 -0700

I don't think GitHub's default workflow for forking a repo is ideal for my needs. Most of the time when I fork a repo, my aim is to fix something or add a small new feature which I will eventually submit upstream as a pull request. While I am hacking away or living with my modifications for a while before I submit them, I want to continue to be able to easily pull in upstream changes as well. So whenever I fork a repo, I want the following:

  • The master branch will track the pristine upstream master. Whenever I have no changes of my own pending, I can just switch my work tree to use master to keep up with the latest changes with a simple git pull.
  • A volatile hack branch where I work on my changes. This is volatile since I'll regularly be rebasing onto the head of master.
  • A volatile pullme branch where I will put changes that are ready for a pull request submission. I may want to continue to hack away in hack while I'm waiting for the resolution of my pull request, so this is analogous to a release branch. But this is volatile since, for the sake of simplicity, I'll be resetting it whenever I'm ready to submit a new pull request.

(By volatile, I mean that I can feel free to rewrite the history on these branches without repercussions.)

So here's how I go about forking a GitHub repo:

git clone <upstream_repo>         # e.g.
cd <upstream_repo_name>           # e.g. homebrew
git remote add fork <forked_repo> # e.g.
git config branch.hack.remote fork
git config branch.hack.merge refs/heads/hack
git branch --no-track hack origin/master
git push fork hack:refs/heads/hack
git checkout hack

At this point here's how things look branches-wise:

$ git branch -r
* hack
  remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master

remotes/fork/master is what the GitHub website uses for it's default branch. I like to clean this up to remove any chance of ambiguity about the name master. To me, master always means the authoritative branch from the canonical repository, never a branch in my fork. Here is how I tidy this up:

  1. Click the Admin button on the forked repo's GitHub page.
  2. Change the Default Branch to "hack".
  3. Delete the forked repo's master with git push fork :master.

If there were a way to name the default branch when you first fork, or to subsequently rename it via a commandline git command, that would simplify things a bit.

To rebase my changes onto incoming upstream, which I do periodically as I'm hacking, and again immediately before submitting a pull request:

git pull --rebase origin master

When I'm finally ready to submit a pull request, here is what I do:

git branch -f pullme hack
git push fork pullme:refs/heads/pullme

This essentially replaces the pullme branch with the current state of the hack branch.

And after my pull request is accepted, I switch back to master.

git checkout master