Dave Bernhard

Web Developer

📚 Reading: The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

Deleting merged branches in git

🕯 Flame|First lit on October 15, 2021
4 min read
Table of contentsStack Overflow heroesAlways list before you deleteChecks done? Time to deleteTake the time to take care

If you're anything like me – poor soul, I'm so very sorry for you – then your git branching strategies will likely leave you with a litter of dead twigs in your git repository. It's not a disaster, but for those of us that like things clean and organised, it's just enough to spasm an eyebrow every time we spend as much as five seconds scanning our list of branches searching for an exact name.

Once a branch is merged, there's no reason not to get the tree surgeons with their toolbelts and chainsawsSeriously. What a cool job. If I had a do-over, it would be high on the list. round to lop it off. It's dead now. Let it go. There there.

Of course, tree surgery is manual labour, and everyone knowsAlways be careful when somebody claims this. In my experience, it's far more likely that nobody truly knows anything that developers prefer to automate everything they possibly can.

So, how can we quickly get rid of all the branches we no longer need without accidentally deleting those that have not yet been merged?

Stack Overflow heroes

It's worth noting here that, although the Git documentation is comprehensive, Stack Overflow will usually be your best bet for doing very specific things with Git. I owe the entirety of the following snippets to Adam Dymitruk and Michael Freidgeim in their answer to this question.

Always list before you delete

This is done in the answer too, but I think it's worth calling out explicitly. Before you go to delete anything – even if the deletion weren't permanent, because recovering deletees can be a real time-sucking pain – and especially when using a regular expression, always list what you're trying to delete first. Take the extra few seconds to scan the list and confirm that you will be deleting the items you wish to, and only the items you wish to.

So, first try git branch --merged. This will show you a list of local branches that have been merged into your remote. You will very likely see some branches you don't want to delete, namely your main development branch, be it master, main or dev.

So, let's list again with an argument passed to exclude those three:

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

If there are any other branches that you are still working on that you would like to keep, you can add them to the regex. To also skip skip_branch_name:

git branch --merged | egrep -v "(^\*|master|main|dev|skip_branch_name)"

Checks done? Time to delete

And finally, once you have confirmed that you have the right list and that you won't be deleting anything by accident, you can safely execute the command to delete merged branches. N.B. Remember to add any branches you're working on to the regex!

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

Take the time to take care

And there you have it. An unnecessarily long post to explain what has already been posted on Stack Overflow. But it's worth emphasising the process that was implicit in the answer, I think. In this example, we're taking the time to list the branches we want to delete and double check them before doing so. But it's not only in deletion that it pays dividends to take care. In making software, there are myriad ways to cut corners. In testing – automated or manual – and in considering all edge cases, and in architecting future-proof solutions, and in many more. It is always worth taking the extra time.