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Partial Submodules for Git

git-partial-submodule is a command-line script for setting up and working with submodules while enabling them to use git's partial clone and sparse checkout features.

In top-level repositories, git provides various partial-clone options such as "blobless" clone, which reduce the burden of downloading large repositories. For submodules, only "shallow" clones are supported by git, but shallow clones have usability issues that make the resulting repo difficult to work with. git-partial-submodule clones your submodules as blobless repos, leaving them fully functional while saving bandwidth and disk space compared to a full clone.

Similarly, top-level repositories support sparse checkout, which lets you cut down the worktree to just the files you're interested in. This is particularly relevant for submodules, as their repositories often contain extra contents such as tests, examples, ancillary tools, and suchlike that we don't need if we just want to use the submodule as a library in our project. git-partial-submodule stores sparse checkout patterns in .gitmodules, so they can be managed under version control and automatically applied when the submodules are cloned.


  • git 2.27.0 or later
  • Python 3.8 or later


git-partial-submodule is a single-file Python script. Download the script and put it somewhere in your PATH, or add it to your repository. Or add this repository as a submodule.

Usage add [-b BRANCH] [--name NAME] [--sparse] <repository> <path> clone [<path>...] save-sparse [<path>...] restore-sparse [<path>...]


Creates and clones a new submodule, much like git submodule add, but performs a blobless clone. If --sparse is specified, also enables sparse checkout on the new submodule, with the default pattern set of /* !/*/.


Use this to initialize submodules after a fresh clone of the superproject. Performs blobless clones of any submodules that are not already cloned. Also applies any sparse checkout patterns specified in .gitmodules.


After making changes to the sparse patterns in a submodule, use this to save them to .gitmodules. Patterns are stored space-delimited in the sparse-checkout property.


Reapplies the sparse patterns saved in .gitmodules to the actual submodules. Use this after pulling or switching branches, etc.

Limitations and Cautions

Partial clone and sparse checkout are both still experimental git features that may have sharp edges.

This tool works by fiddling with the internals of your repository in not-officially-supported ways, so it might fail or do the wrong thing in some edge cases I haven't considered (and might leave your repo in a bad state afterward).

Not all of the various command-line options to the underlying git clone, git submodule add, etc. are supported. In particular, recursive clone is not currently supported.

"Cone" mode for sparse checkout is not currently supported.

Spaces in sparse checkout patterns are not currently handled correctly.


Script for setting up and working with "partial" submodules (blobless clone, sparse checkout)







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