Matthias Schoettle

PhD Student & Software Developer

Move directory from one repository to another, preserving history

I just moved one directory within a Git repository to a directory within another repository including its history. For example:



The goal is to move directoryToKeep into repositoryB with its history, i.e., all commits that affect directory1. If instead, you want to create a repository just for the contents of directoryToKeep, just skip the last step of the preparation of the source repository.

Here is how I did it, based on this blog post and StackOverflow topic:

1. Prepare the source repository

  1. Clone repositoryA (make a copy, don’t use your already existing one)
  2. cd to it
  3. Delete the link to the original repository to avoid accidentally making any remote changes
    git remote rm origin
  4. Using filter-branch, go through the complete history and remove all commits (or keep all commits affecting directoryToKeep) not related to directoryToKeep.
    git filter-branch --subdirectory-filter <directoryToKeep> -- --all

    From the git documentation:

    Only look at the history which touches the given subdirectory. The result will contain that directory (and only that) as its project root.

    You might need to add --prune-empty to avoid empty commits, in my case it was not necessary.
    This means that the result will be repositoryA containing the contents of directoryToKeep directly, which is also reflected in all the commits. If you want to create a separate repository just for directoryToKeep, skip the next step. If instead you want to move directoryToKeep to repositoryB into its own directory, you basically have two options. You might be fine with the way the commits are and create an additional commit that moves all files into a directory. However, if you are a perfectionist like myself, you can perform the following command to move directoryToKeep into its own directory, which will update all remaining commits accordingly.

  5. Replace directoryToKeep with your actual directory before, and execute the following command using index-filter this time:
    git filter-branch --index-filter '
        git ls-files -sz | 
        perl -0pe "s{\t}{\tdirectoryToKeep/}" |
        GIT_INDEX_FILE=$ \
            git update-index --clear -z --index-info &&
            mv "$" "$GIT_INDEX_FILE"
    ' HEAD
  6. There might be old untracked files. You can clean up the repository with the following commands:
    git reset --hard
    git gc --aggressive
    git prune
    git clean -df
  7. If you just want a new repository for directoryToKeep, you should be able to just push it. Otherwise follow the second step.
    It’s also good at this point to make sure that the result is correct, e.g., using git log.

2. Merge into target repository

  1. Clone repository (make a copy, don’t use your already existing one)
  2. cd into it
  3. Create a remote connection to repositoryA as a branch in repositoryB.
    git remote add <branch-name-repoA> /path/to/repositoryA
  4. Pull from the branch (this assumes you performed the changes above on master)
     git pull --allow-unrelated-histories <branch-name-repoA> master

    Note: Because your branch and master don’t have a common base, git 2.9+ will refuse to merge them without the --allow-unrelated-histories option.

  5. It will create a merge commit to merge the current HEAD with your branch. The editor for the commit message should appear. Enter a meaningful commit message and proceed.
  6. Now you’re done and can push.
  7. Personally, I would just delete the cloned repositories from step 1 and go back to the actual repository.
  8. If everything works, remove directoryToKeep from repositoryA.

Update 19.01.2017: Updated step 2.4 with additional option (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. git 2+ will require an additional flag for the final pull flag:

    ` git pull master –allow-unrelated-histories`

  2. You’re awesome! Saved us a tonne of work!

  3. Would it be possible to write a script for this?

  4. Dimitris Pantazopoulos

    December 10, 2017 at 09:42

    Excellent, thanks a lot.

    Can move the whole repo without steps 1.4, 15 and (optionally) 1.6.

    Thanks again.

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