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Git: how can I force pull a distant repository

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen.

Sometimes you want to set the state of your local branch to its remote version but cannot do so using the git pull command because your local version and the remote one have diverged.

This can happen for several reasons.
For me, the two main ones are:

  • I have checked out on a colleague branch for a review, he has made some changes on it that have changed the branch history, and I want to pull this new version
  • I have messed up my history during a rebase with conflicts and want to start again from the remote version

In these cases, using git pull will try to merge or rebase the remote branch into your local one, which is not the behavior we are looking for.

What we want instead is to start over with the distant branch. Of course, we could naively do so by deleting our local branch before pulling the distant one, but that is a bit cumbersome if you have to do so regularly.

Thankfully, git provides a more handy way to manage this scenario with the reset --hard command.

 git reset --hard origin/my-branch
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git reset is a command that took me some time to understand but is worth knowing.
If you are interested to learn more about it, I have written an article about its possibilities.

Basically, the reset command set our head to the targeted commit, here to the last commit on origin/my-branch.
Using it with the --hard option allows to discard all local changes, committed or not, and therefore force the current state to the distant one.

If you find yourself using it often, I would advise you to set an alias for it.

git config --global alias.rh '!git fetch && git reset --hard origin/$(git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD)'
git rh  # rebase hard on your local repo after having fetched its last state
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One last thing. When modifying your history, you might end up losing commits that you wanted to keep. Fortunately, there is a way to retrieve these commits that are no longer in your branch.

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