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Git init illustration

Git init

git init

git init turns any directory into a Git repository.

What Does git init Do?

git init is one way to start a new project with Git. To start a repository, use either git init or git clone - not both.

To initialize a repository, Git creates a hidden directory called .git. That directory stores all of the objects and refs that Git uses and creates as a part of your project's history. This hidden .git directory is what separates a regular directory from a Git repository.

How to Use git init

Common usages and options for git init

  • git init: Transform the current directory into a Git repository
  • git init <directory>: Transform a directory in the current path into a Git repository
  • git init --bare: Create a new bare repository (a repository to be used as a remote repository only, that won't contain active development)

You can see all of the options with git init in git-scm's documentation.

Examples of git init

git init vs git clone

Starting a new project can be confusing. Sometimes, it's unclear if you should use git init, git clone, or both.

git init: One Person Starting a New Repository Locally

Your project may already exist locally, but it doesn't have Git yet. git init is probably the right choice for you. This is only run once, even if other collaborators share the project.

  • First, initialize the repository and make at least one commit.
  • Once you have initialized the repository, create a remote repository somewhere like
  • Then, add the remote URL to your local git repository with git remote add origin <URL>. This stores the remote URL under a more human-friendly name, origin.
  • Shape your history into at least one commit by using git add to stage the existing files, and git commit to make the snapshot.
  • Once you have at least one commit, you can push to the remote and set up the tracking relationship for good with git push -u origin master.

git clone: The Remote Already Exists

If the repository already exists on a remote, you would choose to git clone and not git init.

If you create a remote repository first with the intent of moving your project to it later, you may have a few other steps to follow. If there are no commits in the remote repository, you can follow the steps above for git init. If there are commits and files in the remote repository but you would still like it to contain your project files, git clone that repository. Then, move the project's files into that cloned repository. git add, git commit, and git push to create a history that makes sense for the beginning of your project. Then, your team can interact with the repository without git init again.

git init Existing Folder

The default behavior of git init is to transform the current directory into a Git repository. For an existing project to become a Git repository, navigate into the targeted root directory. Then, run git init.

Or, you can create a new repository in a directory in your current path. Use git init <directory> and specify which directory to turn into a Git repository.

git init Gone Wrong

git init in the wrong directory

Running git init in the wrong place will create unintended repositories. You may have noticed strange error messages when using Git. Maybe you suspect that another parent directory is also a Git repository.

To fix this, you first need to track down which directory is the unintended repository. Use git status to see if the current directory is tracked by Git. If it is, you can either run ls -al and look for an otherwise hidden .git directory.

If you don't see it, navigate one level up in the directory structure with cd ... Use git status again in combination with ls -al. Repeat this until you find the .git directory.

Once you find the .git directory, and you are sure that you don't want that to be a Git repository, use rm -rf .git. This will remove the .git directory, effectively un-initializing that repository. Run git status again to confirm that Git is no longer tracking any of these files. (It could be possible that multiple layers of .git directories are present.)

Return to your working repository, the one that you expect to be under version control. Things should be working as expected.

Related Terms

  • git clone [url]: Clone (download) a repository that already exists on GitHub, including all of the files, branches, and commits.
  • git status: Always a good idea, this command shows you what branch you're on, what files are in the working or staging directory, and any other important information.
  • git remote -v: Show the associated remote repositories and their stored name, like origin.
  • git remote add origin <url>: Add a remote so you can collaborate with others on a newly initialized repository.
  • git push: Uploads all local branch commits to the remote.
  • git push -u origin master: When pushing a branch for the first time, this type of push will configure the relationship between the remote and your local repository so that you can use git pull and git push with no additional options in the future.

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