Namespaced helpers for git branches

I use git everyday and I often need to switch between branches, create one when I start a feature, then delete it afterwards. I need to know which branch I'm currently in, and the list of all available branches.

The bare git commands to do all that are not the easiest to remember. Sometimes you have to call git branch, sometimes it's git checkout or git show-branch.

I've created a bunch of aliases to prevent me from having to remember the exact commands, and abstracting them under a git branch-* namespace. I now simply need to type git branch-list to list all my branches, git branch-delete foo to delete the foo branch or git branch-exists bar to check if the bar branch exists.

Quick note about aliases

You can create aliases in two different ways. Either you create a new entry in your ~/.gitconfig file under the [alias] section, or you create a new script file in your $PATH whith a name starting with git-. By creating a git-foo script, you can invoke it by running git foo automatically.

I've opted for the second approach as it makes writing non-trivial scripts easier, and it gives an easy access to potential arguments. Also note that all git scripts are run from your git root.

Display all the branches

This one is easy and git provides an easy way to call it. It will display a list of all the local branches, and the current one will be prefixed with a *.

$ git branch-list
* develop
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git-branch-list
git branch $@

Note that we pass the $@ to the initial call to allow passing optional arguments (like --all to also get remote branches).

What is the current branch ?

Instead of displaying the whole list of all available branches, you might simply need to know what the current branch is.

$ git branch-current
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git branch-current
git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD 2>/dev/null

This one is a little trickier. To get the name of the current branch, we need to ask git the unambiguous name of the current HEAD, which happens to be the name of the current branch. Note that in detached head mode, this command will return HEAD.

Does the branch foo exists ?

Git also provides a top-level command to get this information. This will return an exit code of 0 if the branch exists, 1 otherwise.

$ git branch-exists foo
$ echo $?
$ git branch-exists master
$ echo $?
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git-branch-exists
git show-branch $1 &>/dev/null

Note that we simply pass the name of the branch to test as the $1 variable and hide any output the command might create. I suggest you configure your terminal prompt so you can easily see if the last command was a success or not.

Creating the foo branch

There are two ways to create branches in git. Either simply creating it and staying on your current one, or creating one and switching to it. I've decided that my alias should do the second command, because more often than not, when I need to create a new branch, I also need to switch to it.

$ git branch-create foo
Switched to a new branch 'foo'
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git-branch-create
git checkout -b $1

This one is easy too, we've simply aliased git branch-create to the git checkout -b we're used to call.

Deleting the local foo branch

We're talking here about deleting a local branch. We'll see how to delete a remote branch in the next part.

$ git branch-delete foo
Deleted branch foo (was 05d51b4).
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git branch-delete
git branch -D $1

This one is pretty easy too, we've simply aliased git branch-delete to git branch -D.

Deleting the remote foo branch

Now we want to delete the foo branch from the remote.

$ git branch-remove-remote foo
 - [deleted]         foo
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# git branch-remove-remote
git push origin --delete $1

This version of the alias is pretty simple and only allows deleting branches from origin. If you want to be able to delete branches from other remotes, have a look at the complete script I'm using.


What I really like about those aliases is how they add consistency to the git command. Instead of using git checkout, git show-branch or git branch for commands that deals with branches, we've adding a namespace and we're now only using command that starts with git branch-. If you have git command autocompletion, this makes using them much much pleasant.

I have aliases to do the same kind of things for tags and remotes, but I'll detail them in a future post.

Tags : #git

Want to add something ? Feel free to get in touch on Twitter : @pixelastic