Change a Git remote HEAD to point to something besides master


How do I set a Git remote’s HEAD reference to point to something besides “master”?

My project has a policy not to use a “master” branch (all branches are to have meaningful names). Furthermore, the canonical master repository is only accessible via ssh://, with no shell access (like GitHub or Unfuddle).

My problem is that the remote repository still has a HEAD reference to refs/heads/master, but I need it to point to a different branch. This is causing two problems:

  1. When cloning the repo, there this,

    warning: remote HEAD refers to nonexistent ref, unable to checkout.

    That’s confusing and inconvenient.

  2. The web-based code browser depends on HEAD as a basis for browsing the tree. I need HEAD to point to a valid branch, then.


There was almost the same question on GitHub a year ago.

The idea was to rename the master branch:

Making master have what you want people to use, and do all other work in branches.

(a “git-symbolic-ref HEAD refs/head/published” would not be propagated to the remote repo)

This is similar to “How do I delete origin/master in Git“.

As said in this thread: (emphasis mine)

git clone” creates only a single local branch.
To do that, it looks at the HEAD ref of the remote repo, and creates a local branch with the same name as the remote branch referenced by it.
So to wrap that up, you have repo A and clone it:

  • HEAD references refs/heads/master and that exists
    -> you get a local branch called master, starting from origin/master
  • HEAD references refs/heads/anotherBranch and that exists
    -> you get a local branch called anotherBranch, starting from origin/anotherBranch
  • HEAD references refs/heads/master and that doesn’t exist
    -> “git clone” complains

Not sure if there’s any way to directly modify the HEAD ref in a repo.

(which is the all point of your question, I know 😉 )

Maybe the only way would be a “publication for the poor”, where you:

But that would involve write access to the server, which is not always possible.

As I explain in “Git: Correct way to change Active Branch in a bare repository?“, git remote set-head wouldn’t change anything on the remote repo.

It would only change the remote tracking branch stored locally in your local repo, in remotes/<name>/HEAD.

With Git 2.29 (Q4 2020), “git remote set-head(man)” that failed still said something that hints the operation went through, which was misleading.

See commit 5a07c6c (17 Sep 2020) by Christian Schlack (cschlack).
(Merged by Junio C Hamano — gitster in commit 39149df, 22 Sep 2020)

remote: don’t show success message when set-head fails

Signed-off-by: Christian Schlack

Suppress the message ‘origin/HEAD set to master’ in case of an error.

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