Moving a git local branch from one local to another

You're maybe at one of the many Drupal Co-worker Friday events that are taking place around the world today. You've packed up your laptop and your lunchbox, and you're looking forward to a day out of the house with some human contact.

But yesterday you were halfway through a big piece of work on your project. And you were using a git local branch, of course. Why? Because it keeps your work isolated off the main development branch, allowing other work to continue independently. And because while your commits are only local you're free to reorder them, edit the log messages, fixup mistakes as if they never happened, and so on. In fact, if you so choose, merging your local branch in with the --squash option makes it look like you made all of the work in a single, perfect commit. Wow!

But that branch is on your desktop machine, and today you're on the laptop. How to get it over from one to the other? You don't want to push it to the remote, because then that means you can't rework it, and it doesn't really belong there anyway. You could make one big patch of your branch against the development branch, but then on your laptop you won't have the dozen or so commits you made yesterday (and you work with small, simple commits, because it makes it easier to roll back should you need to, and to see what's been changed). Furthermore, you've a bunch of changes that aren't yet committed because they're work in progress. You need those too, but not mixed in with what's already committed and reasonably stable.

The solution is the git format-patch command. At first try this is a rather weird one, which fills your folder up with cryptic mailbox files (which as far as I can tell are nigh on useless in the modern world of webmail). But it has an option which turns it into something very useful indeed: --stout. So much so that I've added it to my git global config thus:

  fp  = format-patch --stdout

So standing in your repository and doing

  git fp the-dev-branch > my-local-branch.patch

will give you one single file that comprises multiple patches, one for each commit. Copy that to your laptop by your favourite means, and over there do:

  git co -b my-local-branch
  git am  my-local-branch.patch

And all your commits from your desktop machine are reproduced on your laptop.

But what about your work in progress? I was coming to that. Before you begin, make one commit of all of them, perhaps with a log message to remind you it's the work in progress.

Then after you've done 'git am', all we have to do is kill off that final tip commit, while keeping the changes it contains in the filesystem. The command for that is git reset with the --mixed option:

  git reset --mixed HEAD^

All your work in progress changes are now 'unstaged changes', and your laptop's copy of the repository is in exactly the same stage as your desktop machine.

What about going back the other way? Well I'll figure that one out tonight, I expect ;)

PS. The return trip is easily done thus:

When you create the branch on the new machine, but before you apply the patch, add a tag: git tag mytag. Then at the end of the day, do the original process in reverse but take your diff from the tab: git fp mytag > homeward.patch

And on your home machine, remember to kill the 'work in progress' commit before you apply the patch, with 'git reset --hard HEAD^'. That's a hard reset this time, since the changes in that commit are in the new commits you're bringing back.

Hope your Drupal Coworker Friday was as productive as mine!