Recently, I had to move one of my to-do files from its own repository, todo, to my second-brain repository. So I could better keep track of my ideas, and tasks to be done. However, I realised just copying the file over I would lose all the git history the file had.

Strictly speaking, I don’t need the git history of that file, as the most important thing is the current tasks to be completed. I could, also, go look in the older repository if I really needed to see the file history. However, I decided it would be a nice exercise to learn how to copy files over and keep their history.


So how can we do just that? In this example, we will copy a file from todo to second-brain.

So clone both repos i.e.

git clone [email protected]/todo.git
git clone [email protected]/second-brain.git

Then we will use the git-filter-repo tool which we can use to rewrite our git history.

extract the history of a single directory, src/. This means that only paths under src/ remain in the repo, and any commits that only touched paths outside this directory will be removed. - git filter repo README

If you are using the Nix package manager, you can do something like:

nix-shell -p git-filter-repo

Then let’s create a new branch on our source repo (todo), then find all commits that are related to the todo.norg file.

cd todo
git checkout -b filter
git filter-repo --path todo.norg --refs refs/heads/filter --force

git filter-repo --path todo.norg --refs refs/heads/filter --force

# Parsed 69 commits
# New history written in 0.02 seconds...
# HEAD is now at 21e6ae4 chore: Update ToDos
# Completely finished after 0.03 seconds.

git log

# commit 21e6ae42c550b2fdd76a1a7c34f8574eb529175d
# Author: Haseeb Majid <[email protected]>
# Date:   Sun Feb 4 22:46:36 2024 +0000
#     chore: Update ToDos
# commit c0e125be9bddf6666fc321ad3ea1b51e437e4bfc
# Author: Haseeb Majid <[email protected]>
# Date:   Fri Feb 2 22:53:15 2024 +0000
#     chore: Update ToDos

Then go to our target repo second-brain, we will add the todo repo as a local source to git. Then merge in the changes on the filter branch. We also need to pass the –allow-unrelated-histories flag tells Git to allow the merge, even if the histories of the branches don’t share a common commit.

cd second-brain
git checkout -b filter
git remote add todo-source ../todo
git fetch todo-source
git branch todo-source remotes/todo-source/filter
git merge todo-source --allow-unrelated-histories

# Merge changes into main branch
git checkout main
git merge filter

# Delete reference to remote and branch
git remote rm todo-source
git branch -d filter

Now we will have the todo.norg in our second-brain repo with the git history of the file. If we now look at the git log, we would see all those commits updating the to-do file.