How to Detect the Default Branch in a git Repository

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Over the past few years, many engineering teams have switched their default git branch name from master to a different, potentially less offensive term. I'm all for choosing to name your default branch whatever you'd like, but not having a universal default branch name can complicate some automation.

So how can we detect the default branch name for a git repository? I use a few chained commands:

git remote show REMOTE_REPO_NAME | grep 'HEAD branch' | cut -d' ' -f5

Swap out REMOTE_REPO_NAME with the name of the remote/ upstream repository and you'll get the remote repository's default branch name!

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Discussion

  1. Djangounet

    Cool trick ! Except… it works only if your LANG is “en”…

    My attempt :

    git remote show origin | grep 'HEAD' | cut -d':' -f2 | sed -e 's/^ *//g' -e 's/ *$//g'
    

    Best regards

  2. WA

    This one should be language-neutral:

    git ls-remote --symref https://github.com/cli/cli HEAD | awk -F'[/\t]' 'NR == 1 {print $3}'
    
    
  3. sp

    Hi,
    How to find default branch for all the repositories in an organization ?

  4. Alex Z

    Hi, thanks for it!

    I digged a bit further on git remote and I noticed in its man page the subcommand git remote set-head. Its description begins with “Sets or deletes the default branch (i.e. the target of the symbolic-ref refs/remotes//HEAD)”.

    So, it turns out that we can actually do this:

    $ sed -e ‘s/^.*\///’ < .git/refs/remotes/origin/HEAD
    devel

    It is way faster than actually querying the remote server.

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