Merge Two Git Repositories Into One

A few weeks ago I tweeted: “Just did 2 subtree merges in order to combine 2 partially-related git repos into a single repo and still maintain history. #gitrocks” Wanna learn how to do it? Here we go…


# create new project as the parent
$ mkdir new_parent_project
$ cd new_parent_project
$ git init
$ touch .gitignore
$ git ci -am "initial commit"

# merge project A into subdirectory A
$ git remote add -f projA /path/to/projA
$ git merge -s ours --no-commit projA/master
$ git read-tree --prefix=subdirA/ -u projA/master
$ git ci -m "merging projA into subdirA"

# merge project B into subdirectory B
$ git remote add -f projB /path/to/projB
$ git merge -s ours --no-commit projB/master
$ git read-tree --prefix=subdirB/ -u projB/master
$ git ci -m "merging projB into subdirB"

The most common use case for sub-tree merges, that I’m aware of, is to merge another git repository into a subdirectory in an existing repository. There are quite a few tutorials which cover these steps. In fact, the second two sets of commands above do exactly that. However, I discovered that in order to merge two repositories into a new repository, the new repository must already have a prior commit in it. Otherwise, the sub-tree merges will not work as planned. So, as in the first set of commands above, be sure to create at least one initial commit prior to doing the sub-tree merges. It can be as trivial as committing an empty file. But without it, the merges will not work correctly. Armed with this knowledge, you can follow the tutorial on GitHub on merging sub-trees. Or you can follow along with me here.

Create Parent Repo

First, create a new, empty project to act as the parent project for our two existing repositories.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev
$ mkdir parent

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev
$ cd parent/

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent
$ git init
Initialized empty Git repository in ~/dev/parent/.git/

Now we need to create the initial commit. This is essential.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master #)
$ touch .gitignore

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master #)
$ git ci -am "initial commit"
[master (root-commit) fc6f5ad] initial commit
 0 files changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 .gitignore

Merge Project A Into Subdirectory

Next, we add a remote to the first project we’d like to import. We’ll give the remote a name (projectA) and pass the -f option so that it will fetch the contents of this remote immediately.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master)
$ git remote add -f projectA /path/to/projectA
Updating projectA
warning: no common commits
remote: Counting objects: 16, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (16/16), done.
remote: Total 16 (delta 7), reused 0 (delta 0)
Unpacking objects: 100% (16/16), done.
From /path/to/projectA
 * [new branch]      master     -> projectA/master

Now, let’s run a merge but not commit the result (--no-commit flag). We also need to specify the merge strategy ours with the -s switch.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master)
$ git merge -s ours --no-commit projectA/master
Automatic merge went well; stopped before committing as requested

Now that we are in merging mode, we’ll read in the tree from the remote, taking care to provide a subdirectory into which the subproject will go. This is specified with with --prefix switch. Also, add the -u flag to update the working tree with our changes.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master|MERGING)
$ git read-tree --prefix=projA/ -u projectA/master

The remote has been merged into its own subdirectory and the changes have been staged. Now we can simply commit them.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master +|MERGING)
$ git ci -m "merging project A into subdirectory"
[master 4d2d50d] merging project A into subdirectory

Merge Project B Into Subdirectory

At this point, we have Project A merged into its own subdirectory within our new parent project. Merging in Project B uses the same simple steps as above.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master)
$ git remote add -f projectB /path/to/projectB
Updating projectB
warning: no common commits
remote: Counting objects: 47, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (47/47), done.
remote: Total 47 (delta 23), reused 0 (delta 0)
Unpacking objects: 100% (47/47), done.
From /path/to/projectB
 * [new branch]      master     -> projectB/master

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master)
$ git merge -s ours --no-commit projectB/master
Automatic merge went well; stopped before committing as requested

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master|MERGING)
$ git read-tree --prefix=projB/ -u projectB/master

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master +|MERGING)
$ git ci -m "merging project B into subdirectory"
[master 8f41792] merging project B into subdirectory

Pulling In Updates

If the original repositories (Projects A and B in this example) continue to live on elsewhere as separate projects, you can easily pull in updates to your new parent repo. Using the sub-tree merge strategy, the updates will be applied properly to the applicable subdirectory.

Jason@BRUTUS ~/dev/parent (master)
$ git pull -s subtree projectA master

However, if you no longer have any need for the original repositories, they can be deleted and the remotes in your new parent project can safely be removed.

Below is a screenshot of a repository after two sub-tree merges. The repositories that I merged were two separate userstyles: one for using tab color for notifications (gtab) and another for adding S/MIME icons to gmail’s inbox (gmail). Each of these two projects have their own history that was maintained after the merge. Now they are each in their own subdirectory in a common userstyles git repository. As you can see, the two projects each have their own lines of development that do not include any common ancestry until the merge point.

7 thoughts on “Merge Two Git Repositories Into One”

  1. Hello,

    I followed your steps, but I can’t pull updates to my subtrees.
    Git accuses the following:

    $ git pull -s subtree sub-tree-1 development
    fatal: ‘/Users/caiofbpa/git-subtree-test/sub-tree-1/’ does not appear to be a git repository
    fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly

    Any clue on this?

  2. I discovered my mistake.

    My remotes was pointing to my local filesystem.

    Maybe you should be clearer in the part you say to add remote for /path/to/projectA, just say that it can be a truly remote repo, through ssh or http(s).

    If we add a remote from a real mainstream, it’ll be easier to pull in future changes. 🙂


  3. @Caio Yeah, nice catch. The reason this example uses local repos is that the original repos were being destroyed entirely, so the upstreams didn’t exist.

    I should have been more clear, though, in indicating that any repo reference could be used.

  4. Yes I observed the same issue with individual file history. For my purposes that’s pretty important because we need to be able to see who made a change in a file when we use `git blame` for instance, and importing it this way just shows all the lines as being committed by me when I made the merge commit.

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