How to transport a branch from one git tree to another

git branch transport

Recently, I had need to move a branch from one repo to another.

Normally, one would do a 'get push' or 'get fetch' to do this. It's fundamental to git. If you are looking for how to do this, you should see something else.

So what abnormal thing am I doing?

git svn.

So I have two git svn trees. They both point to FreeBSD's upstream subversion repo. git svn is cool and all, but has some issues.

First, it creates unique branches between the two trees. The git hashes are different. This makes it harder to move patches between trees. It's possible, but ugly (too ugly to document here).

Second, sometimes (though rarely) git svn loses its mind. If it does this and you have a dozen branches in flight when it happens, what do you do?

Third, git svn fetch, the first time, takes over a day. So recreating the tree isn't to be undertaken lightly.

How to export / import the branch

Git has a nice feature to send mail to maintainers. You can take all the patches on a branch and email-bomb a mailing list. This is a direct result of the Linux (and friends) work flow. Leaving aside the wisdom of that work flow, git support for it is helpful. Because git also implements a 'hey, I was mail bombed, please sift through it and apply it to my tree' functionality.  Between the two we have the makings for a solution to my problem.

The 'export' side it 'git format-patch'. It normally exports it as a bunch of files. However the '--stdout' flag allows you to export it as a stream.

The 'import' side is 'git am'. One could use 'git apply' but it requires you write a loop that 'git am' already does it.

So, recently, when I had another instance of my every year or two 'git svn screwed the tree up' experience, I was able to transport my branches by putting these together and understanding a bit about what is going on with git.

The Hack

bad-tree% git format-patch --stdout main..foo | \
    ssh remote "(cd some/path && git checkout main && \
        git checkout -b foo && git am)"

so that's it.  We format the patches for everything from the mainline through the end of foo. It doesn't matter where 'foo' is off main. The main.. notation is such that it does the right thing (see gitrevisions(7) for all you could do here).

On the receiving side, we cd to git svn repo (or really any repo, this technique generalizes if you're moving patches between projects, though you may need to apply odd pipeline filters to change paths), make sure we have a clean tree with 'git checkout main' (though I suppose I could make that more robust). We create a new branch foo and then we apply the patch. Easy, simple, no muss, no fuss.

BTW I use '&&' above in case I've fat fingered anything, or there's already a foo branch, etc, it will fail as early as possible.

But what about when things go wrong...

Well, things go wrong from time to time. Sadly, this blog doesn't have all the answers, but you'll basically have to slog through it manually. The few times it has happened to me, I've copied the patch over, and consulted git-am to see how each of the weird things I hit had to be dealt with.

'git am --show-current-patch' is the most helpful command I've found to deal with the occasional oops.

I also have found that fewer patches on a branch I have to do this with, the more likely it will apply on the remote side.

One Last Hack

So I was helping out with the OpenZFS merge and as part of that created a bunch of changes to the FreeBSD spl in OpenZFS. I did this the FreeBSD tree, but needed to then create a pull request. I used a variation of this technique to automate sending the branch from one place to another.

cd freebsd
git format-patch --stdout main..zstd sys/contrib/openzfs | \
    sed -e 's=/sys/contrib/openzfs/=/=g' | \
    (cd ../zfs ; git checkout  master && git branch -b zstd && \
        git am)

This nicely moved the patches from one tree to the other to make it easier for me to create my pull request. Your milage may vary, and I've had to play around with the filter to make sure I didn't catch unwanted things in it... I've not taken the time to create a regexp for the lines that I need to apply the sed to for maximum safety, but so far I've gotten lucky that the above path isn't an any of the files I want to transport this way...

Final Though

One could likely also use subtree merging to accomplish this. I've had issues in the past, though, when there wasn't a common ancestor. Caveat Emptor. It's not the right tool for this problem, but it often is for related problems.


Git rebase was originally implemented this way, but with a -3 on the command line, which is quite handy.

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