Moving commits to another branch

Let’s say you made a few commits and then realized that you did them to the wrong branch. Because git is awesome, it’s really easy to change the branch you committed to.

Let’s learn why!


Every commit stores the SHA-1 hash of its parent commit(s). Think of it as a directed acyclic graph with each node pointing to its parent(s).

Simple Commits


A branch is just a pointer to a commit. Git only stores a single file with the filename being the name of the branch. Inside, there is only the SHA-1 of the top-most commit.

Simple branching

Or to quote the great book Git Internals:

Creating a branch is nothing more than just writing 40 characters to a file.

Go for it and have a look in the .git directory of some git repository.

$ cd .git
$ ls
COMMIT_EDITMSG config         hooks          info           objects
HEAD           description    index          logs           refs
$ cd refs/heads
$ ls

The folder .git/refs/heads stores the branch reference files.

$ cat master

Let’s say you are on the master branch and create another branch named dev.

$ git branch dev
$ cat dev

The new branch dev is pointing to the same commit as master. If we draw that, it would look like this:

New branch dev

Back to the problem …

With the knowledge of commits and branches you can probably come up with a solution yourself.

Commits on wrong branch

At this point you noticed that you want commits D and E on a new branch called feature1.

$ git branch feature1

Create a feature branch

To “remove” the commits from the master branch, you simply move the branch pointer two commits back. Please note the two carets (^) behind HEAD.

$ git reset --hard HEAD^^

Move branch pointer back

Because commits are just referencing their parents, D and E are now unreachable from master. Now you can just switch to your new branch and keep working on it.

$ git checkout feature1

Checkout feature1 branch

I hope you agree with me that this is really easy once you understood what these commands do internally. For further reading, I highly recommend reading the Think-like-a-git website and the mentioned Git Internals book by Peepcode.

Written by Hendrik Purmann

Berlin-based software engineer. Currently interested in cross functional teams, Microservices, GoLang, Kubernetes and the DevOps movement.