How to Combine Git Repos

November 1, 2019
But keep the histories of each...

Prior to this semester, I had been keeping my code for every class in a separate repository. This semester, I realized that adding another 4-5 repos to my GitHub account for every term was probably a bad idea. I wanted to consolidate them all into a single git repo, but I didn’t know how to combine the repos and keep the commit history for all of them separate repos. Since my GitHub activity consists almost entirely of commits on schoolwork, I didn’t want my contribution activity to disappear when I deleted the old individual repos.

I did a bit of research, but most of the instructions were vague and unclear. I came up with the steps below by synthesizing others, after a hefty dose of trial and error. Now, my activity timeline on GitHub shows the exact same statistics that it did before combining the repos. It may go against some git/GitHub best practices, but for my purposes, it worked well enough.

A note about conventions

Text within angle brackets (<, >) signifies content that needs to replaced by some actual value. So <url_to_new_repo> literally means the URL for the new repo. You’ll want to copy and paste the commands from the tutorial, and then remove the angle bracket bits and replace them with their corresponding values.

Create an empty repository on GitHub

First, create a new repo on GitHub. Then, clone the empty repo and cd into it:

git clone <url_to_new_repo>
cd <new_repo_name>

Create an empty commit:

git commit --allow-empty -m "Initial commit"

The empty commit is important! Later steps will fail if GitHub does not detect a new commit in the repo!

Prepare each old repository

Note: this entire section deals with the old repos, not the new one.

Make a folder inside each of your other repos, at the top-level of each repo. In Finder, press Cmd+Shift+. to show hidden files, and within each repo, move all the files and folders (except for .git/) into the new folder. Maybe your shell-fu is stronger than mine, but I found this easiest to do graphically, using Finder. Make sure you leave the .git/ folder where it is—if you move it, things will break!

After you have finished moving the files out of the top-level (into the new folders), commit the changes in each repo, and push them:

cd <path_to_old_repo>
git add .
git commit -m "Prepare for merge to <github_username>/<new_repo_name>"
git push origin master

Repeat for all of the repositiories that will be merged.

Consolidate the old repositories into the new one

Note: you will be working in the new repo for the steps in this section.

The steps in this section can be completed either repo by repo (choose a repo, complete steps 1–6, then the next repo, etc.) or you can complete each step for every repo before moving on (step 1 for all repos, step 2 for all repos, etc.). Whatever you find works best to make sure that all the steps get completed in exactly the order they are listed (and none get skipped).

  1. First, get back into the new repo you created in the first section:

    cd <path_to_new_repo>
  2. Then, create a remote for each of the old repos:

    git remote add <old_repo_name> <url_to_old_repo>

    The above step makes the new repo aware of the old repos.

  3. Now that the remotes are added, fetch them to update the new repo with information about the old repos:

    git fetch --all
  4. Then, create a branch for each of the old repos, using the old repo’s master branch as a starting point:

    git checkout -b <old_repo_name> <old_repo_name>/master

    And then list the files to make sure everything is there:


    You should see all the files from the old repo. Assuming everything is showing up, you’re ready to go back to the master branch and start merging the changes into it.

  5. Go back to the master branch, and merge and commit each of the branches from the old repositories:

    git checkout master
    git merge --allow-unrelated-histories <old_repo_name> master -m "Merge <old_repo_name> branch"
  6. Now that you’ve got everything from that repo merged into the new repo, it’s time to do a little cleanup.

    git remote remove <old_repo_name>
    git branch -D <old_repo_name>

So far, so good. Those steps complete the process to merge a single old repo into the new repo. Repeat for all of the repositiories that will be merged.

There’s just one thing left

Once you’ve completed the hard work above, you should be left with a single repo that now has all the files, as well as the complete commit histories, of each of the other repos that you merged into it. Time to push it up!

git push origin master

When you delete your old repositories from your GitHub account, your contribution activity should remain unchanged!