Git Subtree for Multiple Directories

Your git repository has grown over time, and it's time for parts of it to become its own separate repo. Depending on how much you want to extract, you have two options: git filter-branch or git subtree split.

Published May 3 2018

Extracting a Single Directory

If you want to extract a single directory as a new Git repository, you're in luck: git subtree split was made specifically for you. You achieve this in two steps: first create a branch in the parent repository that only contains commits pertaining to the directory of choice, then push/pull those into a new, blank repository:

cd big-repo
git subtree split --prefix dir-to-extract -b selective-history

You now have a new branch where dir-to-extract is the root directory, and the only commits are those from the original repository that pertains to files in this directory.

NB! The resulting branch will only contain commits literally committing to dir-to-extract/*. If you've moved files into this directory, the history prior to the move will be lost, and even renames will not be carried over by git subtree.

To make a new repository out of this, do the following:

mkdir slim-repo
cd slim-repo
git init
git pull ../big-repo selective-history:master

Voila! If you want to skip the local copy and just push the repo directly to some upstream, like Github, the whole operation can be performed like so:

cd big-repo
git subtree split --prefix dir-to-extract -b selective-history
git push selective-history:master

Extracting Multiple Directories

What if you wanted to extract not a single directory, but multiple ones? As far as I can tell, git subtree cannot help you. But git filter-branch can. filter-branch can remove and/or rewrite commits in your repository on various criteria.

To keep only history related to two or more directories, we can use --tree-filter in combination with find. This way, we will effectively walk through each and every commit in the repository, removing files that are not the ones we want, and recreate the commit. This will likely reduce in quite a few empty commits, and those can be removed with --prune-empty:

git clone
cd some-fat-repo
git filter-branch \
    --tree-filter 'find . ! \( -path "./terraform*" -o \
                               -path "./packer*" -o \
                               -path "./.git*" -o \
                               -path "." \) \
                        -exec rm -fr {} +' \
    --prune-empty \

This might take some time. When it's done, you'll have a slimmed down repo with only the files in the terraform and packer directories, as well as only commits pertaining to those directories.