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    • Nicky Meuleman
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Table of contents
  1. Overview of existing branches
  2. Deleting local branches
    1. Deleting a single local branch
    2. Deleting many local branches at once
  3. Deleting remote branches
    1. Deleting non-existent tracking branches
    2. Deleting a single remote branch
    3. Deleting many remote branches at once

Clean up old git branches

After working on a git repository for a while, chances are high the number of branches that repository has is large. That number keeps on growing, too!

Time for some housekeeping to reduce that number.

I’m considering the branch named “master” to be the default one. Likewise, the remote named “origin” is treated as the place where the repository lives on the internet. In my case, GitHub.

The codesnippets are meant to be ran in the root of the folder which is a git repository. Start off navigating to the repository you want to clean and switch to the “master” branch.

git checkout master

If this repository has a remote, make sure your local version is up to date.

git pull

Overview of existing branches

Before you get started deleting branches, let’s view which one there are.

To list all local branches

git branch

To list all remote branches

git branch -r

To list all branches (local and remote)

git branch -a

A picture of all branches in an example repository.

Listing all branches

Not every branch that was listed above should be deleted. The branches that already got merged are probably a good candidate to clean out.

List all local merged branches.

git branch --merged

List all local unmerged branches.

git branch --no-merged

List all remote merged branches.

git branch -r --merged

List all remote unmerged branches.

git branch -r --no-merged

Deleting local branches

Deleting a single local branch

git branch -d <branchname>

In my example project I could delete the branch named lint with

git branch -d lint

An important note is that the lint branch has already been merged. If it wasn’t, running that command would throw an error. Good thing too! Unmerged branches could hold important work. If you are sure you want to delete an unmerged branch:

git branch -D <branch>

In my example project I could delete the unmerged branch named fauna with

git branch -D fauna

Deleting many local branches at once

Deleting branches one by one gets boring quickly. We’re developers, we try not to do repetitive work when we can automate it!

And we can, by piping the output from one command into another.

To delete all merged local branches:

git branch --merged | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | xargs git branch -d

Let’s break it down.

The output from a command is “piped into” the next command with the |. It then serves as the input for the command after the |.

git branch --merged: Lists all local branches that have been merged.

egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)": Excludes the branches named “master” and “dev”.

xargs git branch -d: Deletes every remaining git branch.

If you wish to completely clean house and delete unmerged branches, change --merged to -no--merged and change the lowercase -d to the uppercase -D.

# DANGER! Only run these if you are sure you want to delete unmerged branches.
# delete all local unmerged branches
git branch --no-merged | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | xargs git branch -D
# delete all local branches (merged and unmerged).
git branch | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | xargs git branch -D

Deleting remote branches

Deleting non-existent tracking branches

You might have branches locally that have since been deleted remotely.

git remote prune <remote> --dry-run

This command will list all branches that were set up to follow remote branches if that remote branch has been deleted. To delete the branches it listed, leave off the --dry-run.

In my example project with the single remote named “origin” that becomes

git remote prune origin

That deleted the branches remotes/origin/apollo-frontend and some others for me. Those were deleted on GitHub, but not locally.

Deleting a single remote branch

git push <remote> --delete <branch>

In my example project I could delete the branch remotes/origin/lint with

git push origin --delete lint

This will work for both merged and unmerged branches, but only for branches you own!

Deleting many remote branches at once

To delete all merged remote branches:

git branch -r --merged | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | sed 's/origin\///' | xargs -n 1 git push origin --delete

Let’s break it down.

The output from a command is “piped into” the next command with the |. It then serves as the input for the command after the |.

git branch -r --merged: Lists all remote branches that have been merged.

egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)": Excludes the branches named “master” and “dev”.

sed 's/origin\///': The previous command returns strings of the form “origin/<branch>”. This filters the “origin/” out.

xargs -n 1 git push origin --delete: Deletes every remaining git branch.

Like with local branches, if you wish to completely clean house and delete unmerged branches, change --merged to --no-merged.

# DANGER! Only run these if you are sure you want to delete unmerged branches.
# delete all remote unmerged branches
git branch -r --merged | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | sed 's/origin\///' | xargs -n 1 git push origin --delete
# delete all remote branches (merged and unmerged).
git branch -r | egrep -v "(^\*|master|dev)" | sed 's/origin\///' | xargs -n 1 git push origin --delete

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