‘Git Checkout Remote Branch’ Guide: How To Checkout a File From Another Branch

‘Git Checkout Remote Branch’ Guide: How To Checkout a File From Another Branch

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Discover the power and versatility of the git checkout command and how it can streamline your development process. Git checkout is a crucial command in Git workflows, allowing developers to navigate through their codebase, switch between branches, and manage files with ease. In this blog post, we’ll help you understand the various use cases and best practices for using git checkout with branches, commits, and files.

TL;DR: What is Git Checkout?

Git checkout is a core command in Git that allows developers to switch between branches, view old commits, and restore files to a previous state. It is a powerful tool for managing multiple versions of code and navigating through the codebase. Read on for more advanced methods, background, tips, and tricks.

Understanding Git Checkout

The git checkout command is one of Git’s core commands that allows you to switch between branches, view old commits, and even restore files to a previous state. By “checking out” a branch or commit, you’re essentially telling Git to update your working directory to reflect the state of the repository at that specific point in time. This can be incredibly useful for managing multiple versions of your code or investigating the history of a project.

The Concept of “Checking Out” with Git

In Git, “checking out” refers to the process of updating your working directory to match a specific branch, commit, or file. This can be a powerful tool for navigating your codebase, as it allows you to view and compare different versions of your project. However, checking out also has implications for your Git workflow, as it will change the state of your working directory and may affect your ability to perform certain actions, such as merging or committing changes.

Example: View Old Commits and Operate on Branches

Suppose you’re working on a project and want to investigate a previous version of your code. You can use git checkout to view an old commit like this:

git checkout <commit_sha>

Replace <commit_sha> with the specific commit hash you want to view. This will put your working directory into a “detached HEAD” state, where you can view the project at that specific point in time without affecting your current branch.

To switch back to your original branch, simply use the git checkout command followed by the branch name:

git checkout <branch_name>

Common Use Cases for Git Checkout

Git checkout is a pretty fundamental git feature. Here are the most common use cases for the command:

Switching Between Branches

One of the primary use cases for git checkout is to switch between branches in your repository. To change the branch you’re currently working on, simply run:

git checkout <branch_name>

Creating a New HEAD Branch

If you want to create a new branch and switch to it immediately, you can use the following command:

git checkout -b <new_branch_name>

This will create a new branch called <new_branch_name> and update your working directory to reflect its contents.

Restoring a Historic Version of a Specific File

Another common use case for git checkout is to restore a specific file to a previous state. This can be useful if you’ve made changes to a file that you want to discard or if you need to investigate a specific version of a file in your project’s history.

To restore a file to a previous commit, use the following command:

git checkout <commit_sha> -- <file_path>

Replace <commit_sha> with the commit hash of the version you want to restore and <file_path> with the path to the file in your repository.

Example: Checking Out a File from Another Branch

Suppose you’re working on a feature branch and want to reference a file from the master branch in your project. You can use the git checkout command to bring that file into your current working directory like this:

git checkout master -- <file_path>

This will update the specified file in your working directory to match the version in the master branch. Remember to replace <file_path> with the appropriate file path in your repository.

Git Checkout Best Practices and Tips

It’s easy to get in trouble if you’re not careful. Follow the guidelines below to avoid the most common mistakes:

Working on Branches and Avoiding Detached HEAD States

When using git checkout, it’s important to work on branches and avoid detached HEAD states. A detached HEAD state occurs when you check out a specific commit rather than a branch. While this can be useful for investigating your project’s history, it can also lead to confusion and potential data loss if you make changes while in a detached HEAD state. To avoid this, always create and switch to branches when working on new features or bug fixes.

Guidelines for Collaborating with Remote Repositories

In a collaborative environment, it’s essential to coordinate with your team members when using git checkout. When working with remote repositories, you’ll often need to check out remote branches to collaborate on features or bug fixes. To do this, use the following command:

git checkout -b <local_branch_name> <remote_name>/<remote_branch_name>

This command will create a new local branch <local_branch_name> that tracks the remote branch <remote_branch_name> from the remote repository <remote_name>. You can then push and pull changes from the remote branch as needed.

Evaluate Your Git Workflow to Address Potential Challenges

In a typical Git workflow, you might encounter a scenario where you need to switch between multiple feature branches to review and test changes. In this case, using git checkout to switch between branches can help you manage your codebase efficiently. However, it’s important to be aware of potential merge conflicts when switching between branches with divergent changes. To resolve these conflicts, use Git’s built-in merge tools or consider using a more advanced Git workflow, such as GitFlow or feature branching.

Additional Tips and Tricks for Git Checkout

Here are a few more tips and tricks to help you get the most out of git checkout:

  1. Use the --track option when checking out remote branches: When checking out a remote branch, you can use the --track option to set up an upstream tracking relationship between your local branch and the remote branch. This can be useful for keeping your local branch up-to-date with changes from the remote repository:
git checkout --track <remote_name>/<remote_branch_name>
  1. Utilize the git switch command: Git has introduced a new command called git switch that simplifies the process of switching branches and creating new ones. This command is more user-friendly and intuitive than the traditional git checkout command:
git switch <branch_name>

To create a new branch and switch to it, use the following command:

git switch -c <new_branch_name>
  1. Use Git aliases to streamline common tasks: If you find yourself using certain git checkout commands frequently, consider creating Git aliases to shorten and simplify these commands. For example, you could create an alias to switch between branches quickly:
git config --global alias.sw "checkout"

Now you can use git sw <branch_name> as a shorthand for git checkout <branch_name>.

By employing these additional tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to mastering git checkout and enhancing your overall Git workflow. Remember always to keep learning and exploring new techniques to make the most of this powerful version control system.


In this post, we’ve delved into the many ways git checkout can benefit your Git workflows, including navigating your codebase, managing multiple versions of code, and collaborating with others. By applying these techniques to your projects and exploring other Git commands and workflows, you can further enhance your development process and become more proficient with this powerful version control system.