Last Updated on February 9, 2024

Managing different features and fixes without tangling the core code is crucial. This is where the understanding of branching in GitHub enters the chat. Think of a branch in GitHub as a parallel universe for your project, where you can experiment, develop, and refine new features or fixes, all without impacting the main codebase. It’s a fundamental practice that not only keeps your project organized but also creates a flexible and collaborative development environment.

Understanding these techniques will not only make you a branch master but also improve your workflow, ensuring that your development process is as streamlined and error-free as possible. So, let’s begin this journey to analyze the practicalities and strategies of managing branches effectively in GitHub.

What is a git branch?

In Git, a branch can be thought of as a unique set of code changes with a distinct name. Much like a real tree branch, it stems from the main trunk (the main or master branch) and has its own path of growth. In simpler terms, a branch in GitHub typically diverges from the main trunk, often known as the master branch, allowing parallel development. Just check out the git branch benefits:

  • Isolated environments: Each branch serves as a sandbox for specific tasks, whether it’s for feature development, bug fixing, or experimentation, ensuring the main codebase remains stable.
  • Parallel development: Branches enable multiple team members to work on different aspects of the project simultaneously, improving collaboration and speeding up development.
  • Risk reduction: Changes in a branch do not affect the main codebase, which maintains overall project stability.

What are the reasons for creating a new branch? Well, they can be different. You may need to create a feature branch for focused and isolated development, a bugfix branch to address and test fixes separately, or an experimental branch to keep untested changes away from the main codebase. Everything depends on your needs.

These branches, each serving a specific purpose, ensure that the development process is streamlined and manageable, regardless of the project’s size or complexity.

Ways to create a new branch in GitHub

Mastering branch creation in GitHub is essential for managing code changes effectively. Let’s outline multiple methods to suit your workflow preferences.

Creating a branch via the branches overview

Creating a new branch directly from the GitHub web interface is a straightforward process that doesn’t require any command-line tools. It’s particularly useful for those who prefer a more visual approach or for quick branch creation without leaving the browser.

  1. Go to the main page of your repository on GitHub.
  2. As soon as you open the repository, the “Code” tab will be the first thing you see. Click on the “Main” button a little below it.
How to create a new branch in GitHub1

3. Then you will see a small window where you will need to provide a name for your new branch.Here you can specify branch details:

How to create a new branch
  • Under “Branch name”, enter a name for your new branch.
  • Under “Branch source”, select the source from which you want to create the branch. By default, it will be the current default branch of the repository.
  • If your repository is a fork, you also have the option to choose whether the branch should be created in your fork or the upstream repository.

Click “Create branch” to finalize the process.

Creating a branch using the branch dropdown

For a quick creation of a new git branch from any page within your repository, you should:

  1. Open the branch dropdown: On the main page of your repository, locate the branch dropdown menu. It’s typically at the top of the file tree view or integrated file editor.
  2. Enter new name: In the “Find or create a branch…” text field, type a unique name for your new branch.
  3. Create and switch: Once you create a new branch, you can easily switch branches within the GitHub interface.

Creating a new branch using the command line

It’s possible to do almost anything in GitHub using the command line… And creating a new branch is not an exception. This approach is both simple to use and has no significant drawbacks. Hovewer, you should remember that if you use it locally, other users won’t see your modification until you push it to the remote branch. Thus, your “new” version of the GitHub repo can become too different from the master copy, the existing branch.

So, here is the way to create a new branch via the command line:

  1. Access your command line interface.
  2. Make sure you’re in the directory of your local Git repository.
  3. Create the branch:
    • To create a new branch and remain on your current branch: git branch <your-git-branch-name>To create a new branch and switch to it immediately: git checkout -b <your-git-branch-name>

💡 Note: When you create a new local branch using this method, it’s initially only available in your local repository. To share it with your team, push it to the remote repository using: git push -u origin <your-git-branch-name>.

Orphan branches

An orphan branch is a branch with no commit history. It’s useful for starting from scratch within an existing repository or for documentation purposes.

  1. Create an orphan branch: Use the command git checkout –orphan <your-git-branch-name> in your command line. This will create a new branch, but unlike regular branches, it has no shared history with the main branch.
  2. Initial commit: As this branch has no history, start by creating an initial commit.

Remember, when working with orphan branches, you’re essentially starting a new history independent of your main project’s history.

Are there any other branching alternatives?

Branching in Git is not limited to the standard methods. There are several other alternatives that cater to different preferences and project requirements. Exploring these can enhance your workflow efficiency and adaptability. Why not to look at them more precisely?

Advanced command-line techniques

For developers who are comfortable with the command line, Git offers a suite of advanced features for branch management. These include:

  • Checking out remote branches: git checkout –track origin/<branchname> to create a local branch that tracks a remote branch in your remote repository. This is particularly useful for collaborating on branches that are in the remote repository but not yet in your local one.
  • Renaming branches: git branch -m <oldname> <newname> helps in renaming a branch, especially useful if the scope or purpose of the branch changes.
  • Deleting branches: Carefully use git branch -d <branchname> to delete a branch once its changes have been merged or are no longer needed.

GitHub desktop

GitHub Desktop simplifies Git commands into a user-friendly interface. It’s particularly useful for those who prefer a GUI over command-line operations. Here is the step-by-step instructions to create branches using this method:

  1. Go to the ‘Current Repository’ view, choose the branch you want as your base, and click ‘New Branch’.
  2. Name your branch and click ‘Create’. To make it available on GitHub, click ‘Publish branch’.

IDE integration

Many Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) now have built-in Git support, allowing you to manage branches within the IDE itself. This integration allows you to directly create and switch between branches without leaving the IDE environment. Some IDEs provide a graphical representation of the branch history, making it easier to understand the project’s branching structure.

Each of these alternatives offers unique benefits. The choice of method often depends on personal preference, project needs, and the complexity of the tasks at hand.


To sum up, mastering branching in GitHub is a crucial skill for effective version control and team collaboration. Whether it’s through the straightforward methods provided by the GitHub interface or the more advanced command-line techniques, each approach offers unique benefits tailored to different project needs. Understanding these methods allows you to leverage branching to its full potential, enhancing code management, facilitating parallel development, and ensuring smooth project progress.

Remember, the effectiveness of branching largely depends on how well it’s integrated into your team’s workflow, making it an essential aspect of modern software development. You can read more about git branching strategies in our blog post: From Novice to Pro: Understanding Git Branching Strategies.

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