git - how to move files with history to another repository

Git allows joining unrelated repositories via remotes which, in turn, allows moving files and change history between them.

Some cases when this might be needed:

  • Extract part of a big repository into a separate repository, preserving change history
  • Splitting big repository to a set of smaller repositories
  • Merge smaller repository into a bigger one (merge in library from the external repository)

Preserving the history has an important effect: after we do the change, for example, extract a part of a bigger repository into a separate repository, we can continue moving changes between them (merge updates from the big repository to the small one and back).

Below, I am assuming the first case (extract part of the big repository), other cases can be implemented with similar technique.


Assuming we have a source (upstream) repository and we want to extract a top-level /lib folder into a separate repository, first, create a destination repository:

mkdir dest-repo
cd dest-repo
git init

Add a main repository as remote and checkout master branch:

git remote add -f upstream
git checkout -b upstream_master upstream/master
git subtree split --prefix=lib/ -b upstream_lib

What we do above is: add the source (upstream) repository as a remote, checkout its master branch to the destination repository and then use git subtree split to create upstream_master_lib branch containing only /lib folder with all the change history.

Now we can merge the upstream files and history from the /lib folder to the target master branch:

git checkout master
git merge upstream_lib
git push origin HEAD

Update from upstream

Pull recent upstream repository master branch and re-split it to a new branch:

git checkout upstream_master
git pull
git subtree split --prefix=lib/ -b upstream_lib_YYYY.MM.DD

Merge the update:

git checkout master
git merge upstream_lib_YYYY.MM.DD
git push origin HEAD
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