git – deleting local branches that were merged upstream

Like most people, we’re using git right at the centre of our puppet config management workflow. As I’ve mentioned previously, it features prominently in my top 10 most frequently used commands.

Our workflow is based around feature branches, and quite often we end up in a situation where we have a lot of local branches which have already been merged in the copy held upstream on github/gitlab/etc.

Today, I looked and noticed that while we only had 4 active branches on the gitlab server I had 41 branches locally, most of which related to features fixed a long time ago.

This doesn’t cause much of a problem although it can get confusing (especially if you’re likely to re-use a branch name in the future) – 41 branches is enough that deleting them one at a time by hand is tedious.

It looks like some gui tools/IDEs will take care of this for you, but I’m a command line kinda guy, and the git command line tools don’t seem to quite have this functionality baked in.

After a bit of poking about, I came up with the following approach which deletes any branch which no longer exists upstream.


# Delete all stale remote-tracking branches in origin.
git remote prune origin

# "git branch -vv" now includes the word "gone" against branches which the previous command removed, so
# use awk to identify those branches and plumb the list into "git branch -d" which will delete them locally
git branch -vv | awk '/: gone\]/ { print $1 }' | xargs git branch -D

The above seemed to do the right thing for the two repos I tested it on, but well… you might want to try it on something unimportant before you trust it!

NB if a branch has only ever existed locally (and never appeared under origin), it should leave it alone. But I’ve not tested that bit either.

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About Paul Seward

Paul is a Linux sysadmin looking after the servers behind the ResNet and eduroam networks, and the main campus DNS infrastructure at the University of Bristol.

He’s been using unix of one flavour or another for more than 2 decades, and is still constantly surprised by useful commands he didn’t know existed.