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Completely remove file from all Git repository commit history

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Tags: git bfg
Clipped on: 2016-03-11

I accidentally committed an unwanted file (filename.orig while resolving a merge) to my repository several commits ago, without me noticing it until now. I want to completely delete the file from the repository history. Is it possible to rewrite the change history such that filename.orig was never added to the repository in the first place?

asked Nov 21 '08 at 4:11
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Grant Limberg
up vote 201 down vote accepted

Please don't use this recipe if your situation is not the one described in the question. This recipe is for fixing a bad merge, and replaying your good commits onto a fixed merge.

Although filter-branch will do what you want, it is quite a complex command and I would probably choose to do this with git rebase. It's probably a personal preference. filter-branch can do it in a single, slightly more complex command, whereas the rebase solution is performing the equivalent logical operations one step at a time.

Try the following recipe:

# create and check out a temporary branch at the location of the bad merge
git checkout -b tmpfix <sha1-of-merge>

# remove the incorrectly added file
git rm somefile.orig

# commit the amended merge
git commit --amend

# go back to the master branch
git checkout master

# replant the master branch onto the corrected merge
git rebase tmpfix

# delete the temporary branch
git branch -d tmpfix

(Note that you don't actually need a temporary branch, you can do this with a 'detached HEAD', but you need to take a note of the commit id generated by the git commit --amend step to supply to the git rebase command rather than using the temporary branch name.)

answered Nov 21 '08 at 13:02
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Charles Bailey
4 upvote
Wouldn't a git rebase -i be faster and still as easy? $ git rebase -i <sh1-of-merge> Mark the correct one as "edit" $ git rm somefile.orig $ git commit --amend $ git rebase --continue However for some reason I still have that file somewhere the last time I did that. Probably missing something. – Wernight Jan 18 '10 at 4:04
5 upvote
git rebase -i is very useful, especially when you have multiple rebase-y operations to perform, but it's a right pain to describe accurately when you're not actually pointing over someone's shoulder and can see what they're doing with their editor. I use vim, but not everyone would be happy with: "ggjcesquash<Esc>jddjp:wq" and instructions like "Move the top line to after the current second line and change the first word on line four to 'edit' now save and quit" quickly seem more complex than the actual steps are. You normally end up with some --amend and --continue actions, as well. – Charles Bailey Jan 18 '10 at 18:54
2 upvote
I did this but a new commit was reapplied on top of the amended one, with the same message. Apparently git did a 3 way merge between the old, unamended commit containing the unwanted file, and the fixed commit from the other branch, and so it created a new commit on top of the old one, to re-apply the file. – user58777 Mar 22 '10 at 19:08
2 upvote
@UncleCJ: Was your file added in a merge commit? This is important. This recipe is designed to cope with a bad merge commit. It's not going to work if your unwanted file was added in a normal commit in history. – Charles Bailey Apr 20 '10 at 10:42
1 upvote
I'm amazed how I could do all this using smartgit and no terminal at all! Thanks for the recipe! – cregox Sep 14 '11 at 21:22

If you haven't committed anything since, just git rm the file and git commit --amend.

If you have

git filter-branch \
--index-filter 'git rm --cached --ignore-unmatch filename.orig' merge-point..HEAD

will go through each change from merge-point to HEAD, delete filename.orig and rewrite the change. Using --ignore-unmatch means the command won't fail if for some reason filename.orig is missing from a change. That's the recommended way from the Examples section in the git-filter-branch man page.

answered Mar 14 '09 at 20:44
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3 upvote
Thanks! git filter-branch worked for me where the rebase example given as an answer didn't: The steps seemed to work, but then pushing failed. Did a pull, then pushed successfully, but the file was still around. Tried to redo the rebase steps and then it went all messy with merge conflicts. I used a slightly different filter-branch command though, the "An Improved Method" one given here: git filter-branch -f --index-filter 'git update-index --remove filename' <introduction-revision-sha1>..HEAD – atomicules Jan 7 '10 at 15:26
1 upvote
I'm not sure which one is the improved method. Git official documentation of git-filter-branch seem to give the first one. – Wernight Jan 18 '10 at 4:20
thanks - you helped solved my smaller problem with the "git rm + git commit --amend" solution – Dror Cohen Aug 2 '11 at 7:00
2 upvote
Check out… I find it the most complete and straight forward solution that involves filter-branch – leontalbot Aug 28 '14 at 2:32
Thanks! I would suggest just one improvement: --prune-empty; this option to git filter-branch will remove any commits that only touched the file you want to remove (since after removal, they would just be empty commits) – BingsF Nov 18 '15 at 16:56

Intro: You Have 5 Solutions Available

The original poster states:

I accidentally committed an unwanted my repository several commits ago...I want to completely delete the file from the repository history.

Is it possible to rewrite the change history such that filename.orig was never added to the repository in the first place?

There are many different ways to remove the history of a file completely from git:

  1. Amending commits.
  2. Hard resets (possibly plus a rebase).
  3. Non-interactive rebase.
  4. Interactive rebases.
  5. Filtering branches.

In the case of the original poster, amending the commit isn't really an option by itself, since he made several additional commits afterwards, but for the sake of completeness, I will also explain how to do it, for anyone else who justs wants to amend their previous commit.

Note that all of these solutions involve altering/re-writing history/commits in one way another, so anyone with old copies of the commits will have to do extra work to re-sync their history with the new history.

Solution 1: Amending Commits

If you accidentally made a change (such as adding a file) in your previous commit, and you don't want the history of that change to exist anymore, then you can simply amend the previous commit to remove the file from it:

git rm <file>
git commit --amend --no-edit

Solution 2: Hard Reset (Possibly Plus a Rebase)

Like solution #1, if you just want to get rid of your previous commit, then you also have the option of simply doing a hard reset to its parent:

git reset --hard HEAD^

That command will hard-reset your branch to the previous 1st parent commit.

However, if, like the original poster, you've made several commits after the commit you want to undo the change to, you can still use hard resets to modify it, but doing so also involves using a rebase. Here are the steps that you can use to amend a commit further back in history:

# Create a new branch at the commit you want to amend
git checkout -b temp <commit>

# Amend the commit
git rm <file>
git commit --amend --no-edit

# Rebase your previous branch onto this new commit, starting from the old-commit
git rebase --preserve-merges --onto temp <old-commit> master

# Verify your changes
git diff master@{1}

Solution 3: Non-interactive Rebase

This will work if you just want to remove a commit from history entirely:

# Create a new branch at the parent-commit of the commit that you want to remove
git branch temp <parent-commit>

# Rebase onto the parent-commit, starting from the commit-to-remove
git rebase --preserve-merges --onto temp <commit-to-remove> master

# Or use `-p` insteda of the longer `--preserve-merges`
git rebase -p --onto temp <commit-to-remove> master

# Verify your changes
git diff master@{1}

Solution 4: Interactive Rebases

This solution will allow you to accomplish the same things as solutions #2 and #3, i.e. modify or remove commits further back in history than your immediately previous commit, so which solution you choose to use is sort of up to you. Interactive rebases are not well-suited to rebasing hundreds of commits, for performance reasons, so I would use non-interactive rebases or the filter branch solution (see below) in those sort of situations.

To begin the interactive rebase, use the following:

git rebase --interactive <commit-to-amend-or-remove>~

# Or `-i` instead of the longer `--interactive`
git rebase -i <commit-to-amend-or-remove>~

This will cause git to rewind the commit history back to the parent of the commit that you want to modify or remove. It will then present you a list of the rewound commits in reverse order in whatever editor git is set to use (this is Vim by default):

pick 00ddaac Add symlinks for executables
pick 03fa071 Set `push.default` to `simple`
pick 7668f34 Modify Bash config to use Homebrew recommended PATH
pick 475593a Add global .gitignore file for OS X
pick 1b7f496 Add alias for Dr Java to Bash config (OS X)

The commit that you want to modify or remove will be at the top of this list. To remove it, simply delete its line in the list. Otherwise, replace "pick" with "edit" on the 1st line, like so:

edit 00ddaac Add symlinks for executables
pick 03fa071 Set `push.default` to `simple`

Next, enter git rebase --continue. If you chose to remove the commit entirely, then that it all you need to do (other than verification, see final step for this solution). If, on the other hand, you wanted to modify the commit, then git will reapply the commit and then pause the rebase.

Stopped at 00ddaacab0a85d9989217dd9fe9e1b317ed069ac... Add symlinks
You can amend the commit now, with

        git commit --amend

Once you are satisfied with your changes, run

        git rebase --continue

At this point, you can remove the file and amend the commit, then continue the rebase:

git rm <file>
git commit --amend --no-edit
git rebase --continue

That's it. As a final step, whether you modified the commit or removed it completely, it's always a good idea to verify that no other unexpected changes were made to your branch by diffing it with its state before the rebase:

git diff master@{1}

Solution 5: Filtering Branches

Finally, this solution is best if you want to completely wipe out all traces of a file's existence from history, and none of the other solutions are quite up to the task.

git filter-branch --index-filter \
'git rm --cached --ignore-unmatch <file>'

That will remove <file> from all commits, starting from the root commit. If instead you just want to rewrite the commit range HEAD~5..HEAD, then you can pass that as an additional argument to filter-branch, as pointed out in this answer:

git filter-branch --index-filter \
'git rm --cached --ignore-unmatch <file>' HEAD~5..HEAD

Again, after the filter-branch is complete, it's usually a good idea to verify that there are no other unexpected changes by diffing your branch with its previous state before the filtering operation:

git diff master@{1}

Filter-Branch Alternative: BFG Repo Cleaner

I've heard that the BFG Repo Cleaner tool runs faster than git filter-branch, so you might want to check that out as an option too. It's even mentioned officially in the filter-branch documentation as a viable alternative:

git-filter-branch allows you to make complex shell-scripted rewrites of your Git history, but you probably don’t need this flexibility if you’re simply removing unwanted data like large files or passwords. For those operations you may want to consider The BFG Repo-Cleaner, a JVM-based alternative to git-filter-branch, typically at least 10-50x faster for those use-cases, and with quite different characteristics:

  • Any particular version of a file is cleaned exactly once. The BFG, unlike git-filter-branch, does not give you the opportunity to handle a file differently based on where or when it was committed within your history. This constraint gives the core performance benefit of The BFG, and is well-suited to the task of cleansing bad data - you don’t care where the bad data is, you just want it gone.

  • By default The BFG takes full advantage of multi-core machines, cleansing commit file-trees in parallel. git-filter-branch cleans commits sequentially (ie in a single-threaded manner), though it is possible to write filters that include their own parallellism, in the scripts executed against each commit.

  • The command options are much more restrictive than git-filter branch, and dedicated just to the tasks of removing unwanted data- e.g: --strip-blobs-bigger-than 1M.

Additional Resources

  1. Pro Git § 6.4 Git Tools - Rewriting History.
  2. git-filter-branch(1) Manual Page.
  3. git-commit(1) Manual Page.
  4. git-reset(1) Manual Page.
  5. git-rebase(1) Manual Page.
  6. The BFG Repo Cleaner (see also this answer from the creator himself).
answered Apr 20 '14 at 23:10
2 upvote
The comprehensive-ness is strong with this one! Great answer. – akshay Dec 21 '15 at 6:41
BFG Repo Cleaner is one of the easiest tools I've worked with. – Noumenon Feb 14 at 20:26

This is the best way:

Just be sure to backup the copies of the files first.


The edit by Neon got unfortunately rejected during review.
See Neons post below, it might contain useful information!

E.g. to remove all *.gz files accidentally committed into git repository:

$ du -sh .git ==> e.g. 100M
$ git filter-branch --index-filter 'git rm --cached --ignore-unmatch *.gz' HEAD
$ git push origin master --force
$ rm -rf .git/refs/original/
$ git reflog expire --expire=now --all
$ git gc --prune=now
$ git gc --aggressive --prune=now

That still didn't work for me? (I am currently at git version

$ du -sh .git ==> e.g. 100M

Not sure why, since I only had ONE master branch. Anyways, I finally got my git repo truely cleaned up by pushing into a new empty and bare git repository, e.g.

$ git init --bare /path/to/newcleanrepo.git
$ git push /path/to/newcleanrepo.git master
$ du -sh /path/to/newcleanrepo.git ==> e.g. 5M 


Then I clone that to a new directory and moved over it's .git folder into this one. e.g.

$ mv .git ../large_dot_git
$ git clone /path/to/newcleanrepo.git ../tmpdir
$ mv ../tmpdir/.git .
$ du -sh .git ==> e.g. 5M 

(yeah! finally cleaned up!)

After verifying that all is well, then you can delete the ../large_dot_git and ../tmpdir directories (maybe in a couple weeks or month from now, just in case...)

answered Feb 4 '10 at 5:52
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Rewriting Git history demands changing all the affected commit ids, and so everyone who's working on the project will need to delete their old copies of the repo, and do a fresh clone after you've cleaned the history. The more people it inconveniences, the more you need a good reason to do it - your superfluous file isn't really causing a problem, but if only you are working on the project, you might as well clean up the Git history if you want to!

To make it as easy as possible, I'd recommend using the BFG Repo-Cleaner, a simpler, faster alternative to git-filter-branch specifically designed for removing files from Git history. One way in which it makes your life easier here is that it actually handles all refs by default (all tags, branches, etc) but it's also 10 - 50x faster.

You should carefully follow the steps here: - but the core bit is just this: download the BFG jar (requires Java 6 or above) and run this command:

$ java -jar bfg.jar --delete-files filename.orig my-repo.git

Your entire repository history will be scanned, and any file named filename.orig (that's not in your latest commit) will be removed. This is considerably easier than using git-filter-branch to do the same thing!

Full disclosure: I'm the author of the BFG Repo-Cleaner.

answered Mar 31 '13 at 12:35
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Roberto Tyley
1 upvote
This is an excellent tool: a single command, it produces very clear output and provides a log file that matches every old commit to the new one. I don't like installing Java but this is worth it. – mikemaccana Dec 7 '14 at 16:27

This is what git filter-branch was designed for.

answered Nov 21 '08 at 10:26
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You can also use:

git reset HEAD file/path

answered Sep 3 '09 at 4:00
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2 upvote
If the file has been added to a commit then this doesn't even remove the file from the index, it just resets the index to the HEAD version of the file. – Charles Bailey Sep 3 '09 at 4:52

Just to add that to Charles Bailey's solution, I just used a git rebase -i to remove unwanted files from an earlier commit and it worked like a charm. The steps:

# Pick your commit with 'e'
$ git rebase -i

# Perform as many removes as necessary
$ git rm project/code/file.txt

# amend the commit
$ git commit --amend

# continue with rebase
$ git rebase --continue
answered Oct 16 '13 at 13:10
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