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Extract small increments from large changes
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git exfiltrator <against-ref> <subject-ref> <pathspec>

 - <against> defines the target to merge towards.
 - <subject> defines the subject branch that files will be extracted from
 - <pathspec> same as in `git add`, except only able to add files that exist
   between the <subject> and the <against> target found in each commit.

Known Uses

  • Breaking up a large branch or Pull Request into many smaller ones.
  • Releasing (or moving) code that is "ready" without waiting for code that is "not ready"
  • Wanting to remove some feature or migrate development to another branch without losing history.


  • A late stage fix to development processes which generate massive PRs instead of many small PRs.
  • Keeping history of work migrated to a new branch.
  • Avoid using primitive cut+paste techniques.

Known Drawbacks

  • Commit messages will be duplicated into the extracted branch.
  • Operator should know how a git-tree works.


You can install the script using this repo to keep things versioned correctly, or you can try and do it the hack way.

Hacky way: Cut+paste the script to your home folder and run the bash script whenever you want to use it.

Supported way: Clone the repo to your home folder. Make your $PATH envvar able to resolve this script. Once you do, git will understand git exfiltrate (without the -) anywhere you want to use it. Then add this repo to your watchlist/subscriptions on GitHub so you know when/if I provide any updates or useful improvements.

(If someone would like to maintain a .deb or brew dependency I'd be happy to link to it.)



Imagine you're faced with a large feature-branch and it's making too many changes to too many parts of the code (See "uses" below). Consider this trivial example where a feature changes folders a, b, and c inside feature-branch.

Using git-exfiltrate you can extract an entire folder (for example, b) into a new branch which will reduce the impact of merging to master, and still maintain a logical commit history.

*   (master)
|  a/3 | 0
| *   (feature-branch)
| |  b/b2 | 1 +
| |  c/c2 | 1 +
| * 
|    a/a1 | 1 +
|    b/b1 | 1 +
|    c/c1 | 1 +
|  a/2 | 1 +
   a/1 | 1 +

Run git exfiltrator to extract the b folder into a new "extract" branch:

./git-exfiltrate master feature-branch "b/*"

The -extracted branch will be merged into the subject argument provided. Note that the extracted branch has an unrelated history from the original feature-branch. This means master has all of folder b, and a complete timeline of changes related to b, but none of the work from a or c is included.

*   e01009e  (master)
| * ce4ca64  (feature-branch-extracted)
| * f3bf092
* | 4b2ebd6
| * d4c374e  (refs/original/refs/heads/feature-branch-extracted, feature-branch)
| * 4724dbb
* 927799f
* 219e9b2

Typically the next step might be merging the rest of feature-branch into master. Simply git merge feature-branch from master as you normally would.

Note: This step is not required to use the tool, and not the only correct way to use the tool. This is simply a common task which users of this tool will perform.

*   078f69a  (master)
| * d4c374e  (refs/original/refs/heads/feature-branch-extracted, feature-branch)
| * 4724dbb
* |   e01009e
|\ \
| * | ce4ca64  (feature-branch-extracted)
| * | f3bf092
| |/
* | 4b2ebd6
* 927799f
* 219e9b2


I wish I didn't have to create this tool. The reality is that most of this industry is writing massive PRs which are difficult to work with. Changing the default "development mindset" of developers and software managers globally is a hard task. I can't fix the industry with a bash script, but I can fix a git branch.

I hope one day our entire industry (not just some pockets of it) will fully embrace and be capable of working only in small incremental changes.

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