Chapters ▾ 2nd Edition

10.5 Git Internals - The Refspec

The Refspec

Throughout this book, we’ve used simple mappings from remote branches to local references, but they can be more complex. Suppose you were following along with the last couple sections and had created a small local Git repository, and now wanted to add a remote to it:

$ git remote add origin

Running the command above adds a section to your repository’s .git/config file, specifying the name of the remote (origin), the URL of the remote repository, and the refspec to be used for fetching:

[remote "origin"]
	url =
	fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*

The format of the refspec is, first, an optional +, followed by <src>:<dst>, where <src> is the pattern for references on the remote side and <dst> is where those references will be tracked locally. The + tells Git to update the reference even if it isn’t a fast-forward.

In the default case that is automatically written by a git remote add command, Git fetches all the references under refs/heads/ on the server and writes them to refs/remotes/origin/ locally. So, if there is a master branch on the server, you can access the log of that branch locally via any of the following:

$ git log origin/master
$ git log remotes/origin/master
$ git log refs/remotes/origin/master

They’re all equivalent, because Git expands each of them to refs/remotes/origin/master.

If you want Git instead to pull down only the master branch each time, and not every other branch on the remote server, you can change the fetch line to refer to that branch only:

fetch = +refs/heads/master:refs/remotes/origin/master

This is just the default refspec for git fetch for that remote. If you want to do a one-time only fetch, you can specify the specific refspec on the command line, too. To pull the master branch on the remote down to origin/mymaster locally, you can run:

$ git fetch origin master:refs/remotes/origin/mymaster

You can also specify multiple refspecs. On the command line, you can pull down several branches like so:

$ git fetch origin master:refs/remotes/origin/mymaster \
 ! [rejected]        master     -> origin/mymaster  (non fast forward)
 * [new branch]      topic      -> origin/topic

In this case, the master branch pull was rejected because it wasn’t listed as a fast-forward reference. You can override that by specifying the + in front of the refspec.

You can also specify multiple refspecs for fetching in your configuration file. If you want to always fetch the master and experiment branches from the origin remote, add two lines:

[remote "origin"]
	url =
	fetch = +refs/heads/master:refs/remotes/origin/master
	fetch = +refs/heads/experiment:refs/remotes/origin/experiment

You can’t use partial globs in the pattern, so this would be invalid:

fetch = +refs/heads/qa*:refs/remotes/origin/qa*

However, you can use namespaces (or directories) to accomplish something like that. If you have a QA team that pushes a series of branches, and you want to get the master branch and any of the QA team’s branches but nothing else, you can use a config section like this:

[remote "origin"]
	url =
	fetch = +refs/heads/master:refs/remotes/origin/master
	fetch = +refs/heads/qa/*:refs/remotes/origin/qa/*

If you have a complex workflow process that has a QA team pushing branches, developers pushing branches, and integration teams pushing and collaborating on remote branches, you can namespace them easily this way.

Pushing Refspecs

It’s nice that you can fetch namespaced references that way, but how does the QA team get their branches into a qa/ namespace in the first place? You accomplish that by using refspecs to push.

If the QA team wants to push their master branch to qa/master on the remote server, they can run

$ git push origin master:refs/heads/qa/master

If they want Git to do that automatically each time they run git push origin, they can add a push value to their config file:

[remote "origin"]
	url =
	fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*
	push = refs/heads/master:refs/heads/qa/master

Again, this will cause a git push origin to push the local master branch to the remote qa/master branch by default.

Deleting References

You can also use the refspec to delete references from the remote server by running something like this:

$ git push origin :topic

Because the refspec is <src>:<dst>, by leaving off the <src> part, this basically says to make the topic branch on the remote nothing, which deletes it.

Or you can use the newer syntax (available since Git v1.7.0):

$ git push origin --delete topic