The Easy Way™
It turns out that this is such a common and useful practice that the overlords of Git made it really easy, but you have to have a newer version of Git (>= 1.7.11 May 2012). See the appendix for how to install the latest Git. Also, there's a real-world example in the walkthrough below.
Prepare the old repo
git subtree split -P
<name-of-folder> must NOT contain leading or trailing characters. For instance, the folder named
subproject MUST be passed as
Note for Windows users: When your folder depth is > 1,
<name-of-folder> must have *nix style folder separator (/). For instance, the folder named
path1\path2\subproject MUST be passed as
Create the new repo
mkdir ~/<new-repo> && cd ~/<new-repo>
git init git pull
Link the new repo to GitHub or wherever
git remote add origin <firstname.lastname@example.org:user/new-repo.git>
git push -u origin master
<big-repo>, if desired
git rm -rf <name-of-folder>
Note : This leaves all the historical references in the repository. See the Appendix below if you're actually concerned about having committed a password or you need to decreasing the file size of your
These are the same steps as above , but following my exact steps for my repository instead of using
tree ~/node-browser-compat node-browser-compat ├── ArrayBuffer ├── Audio ├── Blob ├── FormData ├── atob ├── btoa ├── location └── navigator
I want to split out a single folder,
btoa, into a separate Git repository
cd ~/node-browser-compat/ git subtree split -P btoa -b btoa-only
I now have a new branch,
btoa-only, that only has commits for
btoa and I want to create a new repository.
mkdir ~/btoa/ && cd ~/btoa/ git init git pull ~/node-browser-compat btoa-only
Next, I create a new repo on GitHub or Bitbucket, or whatever and add it as the
git remote add origin email@example.com:node-browser-compat/btoa.git git push -u origin master
Note: If you created a repo with a
LICENSE, you will need to pull first:
git pull origin master git push origin master
Lastly, I'll want to remove the folder from the bigger repo
git rm -rf btoa
Latest Git on macOS
To get the latest version of Git using Homebrew:
brew install git
Latest Git on Ubuntu
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install git git --version
If that doesn't work (you have a very old version of Ubuntu), try
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:git-core/ppa sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install git
If that still doesn't work, try
sudo chmod +x /usr/share/doc/git/contrib/subtree/git-subtree.sh sudo ln -s \ /usr/share/doc/git/contrib/subtree/git-subtree.sh \ /usr/lib/git-core/git-subtree
Thanks to rui.araujo from the comments.
Clearing your history
By default removing files from Git doesn't actually remove them, it just commits that they aren't there anymore. If you want to actually remove the historical references (i.e. you have a committed a password), you need to do this:
git filter-branch --prune-empty --tree-filter 'rm -rf <name-of-folder>' HEAD
After that, you can check that your file or folder no longer shows up in the Git history at all
git log -- <name-of-folder> # should show nothing
However, you can't "push" deletes to GitHub and the like. If you try you'll get an error and you'll have to
git pull before you can
git push - and then you're back to having everything in your history.
So if you want to delete history from the "origin" - meaning to delete it from GitHub, Bitbucket, etc - you'll need to delete the repo and re-push a pruned copy of the repo. But wait - there's more! - If you're really concerned about getting rid of a password or something like that you'll need to prune the backup (see below).
The aforementioned delete history command still leaves behind a bunch of backup files - because Git is all too kind in helping you to not ruin your repo by accident. It will eventually delete orphaned files over the days and months, but it leaves them there for a while in case you realize that you accidentally deleted something you didn't want to.
So if you really want to empty the trash to reduce the clone size of a repo immediately you have to do all of this really weird stuff:
rm -rf .git/refs/original/ && \ git reflog expire --all && \ git gc --aggressive --prune=now git reflog expire --all --expire-unreachable=0 git repack -A -d git prune
That said, I'd recommend not performing these steps unless you know that you need to - just in case you did prune the wrong subdirectory, y'know? The backup files shouldn't get cloned when you push the repo, they'll just be in your local copy.