Migrating the Git default branch from master to mainEdit

For new repositories, set the Git init.defaultBranch to "main", overriding the Git default of "master". This affects newly created repositories.

Likewise, all major Git hosting platforms (eg. GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket) provide options in their GUI to set the preferred default branch for newly created repositories, as well as changing it for existing repositories. To my knowledge, the "default for the default" is now main on most or all of them.

GitHub allows you to rename a branch and "redirect" requests from the old branch to the new one. I haven’t used this feature, because I am not a huge fan of the idea of requiring users who have previously cloned a repo to have to take manual steps to adjust their set-up to track your upstream configuration changes.

So, as reported here, I recently "migrated" the main branch on my dotfiles repo from "master" to "main" in the following way.

  1. Create a new "main" branch locally, based on "master":

    git checkout -b main
  2. Tweak settings to make local master track local main rather than the other way around, while local main will track the remote main on the origin:

    git config branch.master.merge refs/heads/main
    git config branch.master.remote .
    git config branch.main.remote origin
    git config branch.main.merge refs/heads/main
  3. Add a hook to .git/hooks/pre-push that will update the local master whenever main is pushed, and a remote post-receive hook that does the analogous job on git.wincent.com, where I am running my own git-daemon.

  4. Push main for the first time.

  5. Set the default branch to main in GitHub, GitLab, and BitBucket.

  6. Additionally, on git.wincent.com, it is necessary to update the HEAD so that git clone operations from it check out main instead of master:

    sudo -u git git symbolic-ref HEAD refs/heads/main

Appendix: gitweb

I looked into the source code for gitweb to see how it figures out which order to display the branch heads in the UI. At the time I write this, it’s currently showing this order for my dotfiles repo:

  • master
  • main
  • pu
  • next
  • media

It is using --sort=-committerdate in its git_get_heads_list() function as seen here:

open my $fd, '-|', git_cmd(), 'for-each-ref',
    ($limit ? '--count='.($limit+1) : ()), '--sort=-committerdate',
    '--format=%(objectname) %(refname) %(subject)%00%(committer)',
    or return;

I was able to confirm the ordering by running this on the server:

sudo -u git git for-each-ref --count=10 --sort=-committerdate --format='%(objectname) %(refname) %(subject)%00%(committer)'

I submitted a patch upstream to change that to:

sudo -u git git for-each-ref --count=10 --sort=-committerdate --sort=-HEAD --format='%(objectname) %(refname) %(subject)%00%(committer)'

but I have no idea whether it is the kind of behavior change that they’ll accept. We’ll see.