Combining Git repositories with Subtree Merging

Subtree Merging is a Git feature that allows the merging of multiple repositories while retaining their histories.

There are multiple tools at our disposal when it comes to combining git repositories, but today were going to be looking at subtree-merge and how it can be used to combine multiple repositories into a different single repository while retaining the git histories of each of the combined repositories.

For the rest of this article, I will be referring to the repositories that are being merged in as target repositories and to the repository that will house the merged repositories as the parent repository.

Add target repository as a Git remote

The first thing we need to do is add the target repository as a remote to our parent repository. The -f flag will perform a git fetch at the same time as adding the remote to our parent repository.

$ git remote add -f some-repo <REPOSITORY_URL>

Merge in history of target repository

In this step you may need to use the --allow-unrelated-histories flag as git may not want to combine the history of the repositories without it. Also note the use of the --no-commit flag. This allows us to perform some more actions before making the merge commit.

$ git merge -s ours --no-commit some-repo/some-branch

Pull in files from target repository

Here we're essentially taking a copy of all the files in the specified branch of the target repository and putting them into the location in the parent directory specified in the --prefix parameter.

$ git read-tree --prefix=some-directory/some-repo/ -u some-repo/some-branch

Commit the merge changes

Once we have completed all the prior steps, we should be in merging state with the files of the target repository in the directory that we specified. From here we can commit all of this into our parent repository.

$ git commit -m "Merge some-repo into some-directory/some-repo/"

Pulling future updates from target repository

One more thing, we can pull in changes from any of the target repository remotes (assuming they're still there) into our parent repository using the following command.

$ git pull -s subtree some-repo some-branch

I'm sure there are many use cases for this tool, however one that stands out is creating a monorepo from multiple existing repositories; especially as the git history for each repository is preserved and that this technique can be repeated to add more target repositories in the future.