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Git checkout remote branch: how it works and when to use it

Brian Vermeer πŸ§‘πŸΌβ€πŸŽ“πŸ§‘πŸΌβ€πŸ’»
Java Champion | DevRel | VirtualJug lead | NLJUG lead | Dutch Air Reserve | Taekwondo Master | Flag Football LB/QB
Originally published at snyk.io ・Updated on ・3 min read

Git is a fantastic tool many developers use for version control on their projects. Although there are many other version control systemsβ€”like Subversion (SVN) and Concurrent Versioning System (CVS)β€”git is by far the most commonly used. A good reason for this is the focus on distributed development and the easy way to use branches. Let’s take a look at branches in git and what git checkout remote branch actually means.

What is a branch?

A branch is a simple way to diverge from the main development pipeline. It is commonly used to develop a new feature or bugfix in a branch. This way, you encapsulate the changes and keep your main or master branch clean. Branches in git are very useful as they are effortless and relatively cheap to create. Unlike other version control systems, in git, a branch is not a copy of your code but merely a pointer to the original node where the branch originated.

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How do I checkout a branch?

If you already have a branch on your local machine, you can simply check out or switch to that branch using the command git checkout <branch name>.

When you want to create a new branch from your main branch with the name β€œdev”, for example, use git branch devβ€”this only creates the branch. If you want to work in this branch and commit to it, you need to check out this branch just like before using git checkout dev.

Note: when you check out a branch on your local machine, all commits will be on the new branch and not on the main. Knowing this, you can also make a branch from a branch recursively. This might sound weird, but imagine you are creating a new feature in a new branch and you want to experiment a bit. It totally makes sense to do this in a separate level branch that originates from your feature branch.

How do I checkout a remote branch?

A remote branch is the best way to share your development work with other people in your team. It is good to mention that git checkout remote branch is not an actual existing command. If you want to check out a remote branch someone published, you first have to use git fetch. This command downloads the references from your remote repository to your local machine, including the reference to the remote branch. Now all you need to do is use git checkout .

How do I create a local branch from a remote branch?

After a fetch, you can check out the remote branch as mentioned earlier. This means that there is a local copy of the branch available on your machine. If you would check out a remote branch but name it differently on your local machine you can run:

git checkout -b myLocalName origin/remoteName
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Your local branch name, myLocalName will be connected to the remote branch remoteName. Note that origin is the standard reference to the original remote repository my project was cloned from. This can be different, for instance, when you are working with multiple remotes.

How do I turn my local branch into a remote branch?

If you’re on a local branch myNewFeature and want to share this branch remotely you have to set the upstream to make it a remote branch.

When I want to push my changes, first I have to use -u or --set-upstream like this:

git push -u origin myNewFeature
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Now the local branch also has a remote counterpart. The next time I want to push changes I can just use git push without any parameters.

Discussion (2)

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jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips

I recommend updating to utilize the new switch command. It is safer and can be a little cleaner to explain.

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gklijs profile image
Gerard Klijs

It's great how this works. It even works across forks, so multiple remotes.

So you can for example rebase a branch based on your fork, on a feature branch from the original repo.