Thoughts of Geoff

Some writing by Geoff Petrie

Git Tip: Use Prune to Update Local Repo Branches

I have multiple places where I work and I use Git to support that. The general Git workflow I’ve adopted is similar to the one Scott Chacon describes.

In Scott’s post he explains that anything in master is deployable, and any time you want to work on something you branch from master with something descriptively named. This is what I want to talk about now.

I use this process of branching to keep my changes manageable. By naming my branches descriptively I know that if I’m building a new user profiling tool, and changing the css of a navigational piece and updating a SQL query in the same branch, then the commit isn’t going to be terribly clean. Plus, now the branch has no meaning to me when I get feedback from a tester. This branch would make even less sense if I had someone else coding with me.

To keep branches meaningful I make a lot of branches off of master. I’ve come to the standard practice of pushing pretty much any branch I’m working on, no matter how minor, to the remote. This makes it simple to fetch and merge on my dev server instance instead of scp’ing the work I’ve done to the server. The process is just feels a little crisper.

After the testers have given the thumbs up on the work and I do my final code review, I merge the branch to master, push it out to production and delete that feature/bugfix branch. All-in-all it is a generally good system.

But what inevitably happens is the dev server has a bunch of branches that are no longer useful and don’t have a remote counterpart to them. It gets to be a bit of a mess when you run git branch and see a dozen old branches sitting there.

To fix this issue I found a great, quick command:

git remote prune origin

Where origin is the name of the remote.

From the manual:


git remote prune [-n | --dry-run] <name>

Deletes all stale remote-tracking branches under <name>. These stale branches have already been removed from the remote repository referenced by <name>, but are still locally available in "remotes/<name>".

With --dry-run option, report what branches will be pruned, but do not actually prune them.

prune is one of those commands that you may not use very often, but it is nice to know it’s there when you need it.


I found this particular Stack Overflow answer useful when I was looking for information on how to handle dead remote branches.

Image “Four volunteers prune some plants that were growing over the trail.” from United States Government Work