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How to rename the ‘master’ branch on GitHub

First posted in Development and Git; updated 26th February 2021

So renaming master to main is a good idea, but how do we do it? It’s really easy if you’re using GitHub:

  1. Go to your repository (repo) and find the ‘Branches’ link (including a wee branch icon and the number of existing branches), or navigate to https://github.com/myUserName/myRepoName/branches
  2. In the ‘Your branches’ section, hit the pencil icon on the master line
  3. In the ‘Rename this branch’ dialog, get rid of the word master, type main, and press ‘Rename branch’

That updates the branch name centrally; next we need to update the branch name on all of the machines that connect to this repo, run three commands:

git branch -m master main
git fetch origin
git branch -u origin/main main

You can just blindly copy and paste that code block to run all three, but let’s break down what each line is doing:

  1. First we rename the local branch from master to main, to match what we’ve just done on the remote repo: git branch -m master main
  2. Next, we get the most up to date info from the remote repo (in other words, the fact that master is gone and there’s a ‘new’ main branch): git fetch origin
  3. Lastly, we set the ‘upstream’ branch to main for your local main branch, so that pushing and pulling without specifying the branch is possible git branch -u origin/main main

Don’t forget that anything you’ve got that watches for changes to your master branch, like Netlify build hooks, will need to be updated to watch main instead.

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