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Clone arbitrary single Git commit

git clone allows cloning single commits without history for existing branches and tags through syntax…

git clone --depth 1 --branch <BRANCH_OR_TAG> <REMOTE_URL>

…but not for arbitrary commits. It's not impossible though, and if you want to clone arbitrary single commits — say in CI — it can be done using a trick.

The idea is simple: instead of git clone we combine git init, git remote add, git fetch and git checkout — but how?

Let me demo that for cloning commit 9c6d51b71caeb1e773cabf4ad9ded9bd6e142229 from repository hartwork/git-delete-merged-branches in practice in a Linux Bash terminal:

# 0. Jump to an empty temporary directory
cd "$(mktemp -d)"

# 1. Create an empty Git repository (rather than using "git clone"), without warnings
git -c init.defaultbranch=main init

# 2. Add the target repository as a new remote "origin"
git remote add origin

# 3. Fetch a single commit (and all trees and blobs needed for it)
git fetch --depth 1 origin 9c6d51b71caeb1e773cabf4ad9ded9bd6e142229

# 4. Check out the commit we just fetched, without warnings
git -c advice.detachedHead=false checkout FETCH_HEAD

# 5. Done.

I myself got the idea from GitHub Action actions/checkout — thanks to them!

Did you just learn something of value? Are you struggling with any things Git? Let me know!

Sebastian Pipping

Berlin, 2024