Default branch

When you create a new project, GitLab creates a default branch in the repository. A default branch has special configuration options not shared by other branches:

The name of your new project’s default branch depends on any instance-level or group-level configuration changes made by your GitLab administrator. GitLab checks first for specific customizations, then checks at a broader level, using the GitLab default only if no customizations are set:

  1. A project-specific custom default branch name.
  2. A subgroup-level custom default branch name.
  3. A group-level custom default branch name.
  4. An instance-level custom default branch name.
  5. If no custom default branch name is set at any level, GitLab defaults to:
    • main: Projects created with GitLab 14.0 or later.
    • master: Projects created before GitLab 14.0.

In the GitLab UI, you can change the defaults at any level. GitLab also provides the Git commands you need to update your copy of the repository.

Change the default branch name for a project

To update the default branch name for an individual project:

  1. Sign in to GitLab as a user with Administrator permissions.
  2. In the left navigation menu, go to Settings > Repository.
  3. Expand Default branch, and select a new default branch.
  4. (Optional) Select the Auto-close referenced issues on default branch check box to close issues when a merge request uses a closing pattern.
  5. Select Save changes.

API users can also use the default_branch attribute of the Projects API when creating or editing a project.

Change the default branch name for an instance or group

GitLab administrators can configure a new default branch name at the instance level or group level.

Instance-level custom initial branch name

Version history
  • Introduced in GitLab 13.2.
  • It’s deployed behind a feature flag, enabled by default.
  • It cannot be enabled or disabled per-project.
  • It’s recommended for production use.
  • For GitLab self-managed instances, GitLab administrators can opt to disable it.

GitLab administrators of self-managed instances can customize the initial branch for projects hosted on that instance. Individual groups and subgroups can override this instance-wide setting for their projects.

  1. Go to Admin Area > Settings > Repository.
  2. Expand Default initial branch name.
  3. Change the default initial branch to a custom name of your choice.
  4. Select Save changes.

Projects created on this instance after you change the setting use the custom branch name, unless a group-level or subgroup-level configuration overrides it.

Enable or disable custom initial branch name

Setting the default initial branch name is under development but ready for production use. It is deployed behind a feature flag that is enabled by default. GitLab administrators with access to the GitLab Rails console can opt to disable it for your instance.

To disable it:

Feature.disable(:global_default_branch_name)

To enable it:

Feature.enable(:global_default_branch_name)

Group-level custom initial branch name

Version history

Administrators of groups and subgroups can configure the default branch name for a group:

  1. Go to the group Settings > Repository.
  2. Expand Default initial branch name.
  3. Change the default initial branch to a custom name of your choice.
  4. Select Save changes.

Projects created in this group after you change the setting use the custom branch name, unless a subgroup configuration overrides it.

Update the default branch name in your repository

cautionChanging the name of your default branch can potentially break tests, CI/CD configuration, services, helper utilities, and any integrations your repository uses. Before you change this branch name, consult with your project owners and maintainers. Ensure they understand the scope of this change includes references to the old branch name in related code and scripts.

When changing the default branch name for an existing repository, you should preserve the history of your default branch by renaming it, instead of deleting it. This example renames a Git repository’s (example) default branch.

  1. On your local command line, navigate to your example repository, and ensure you’re on the default branch:

    cd example
    git checkout master
    
  2. Rename the existing default branch to the new name (main). The argument -m transfers all commit history to the new branch:

    git branch -m master main
    
  3. Push the newly created main branch upstream, and set your local branch to track the remote branch with the same name:

    git push -u origin main
    
  4. If you plan to remove the old default branch, update HEAD to point to your new default branch, main:

    git symbolic-ref refs/remotes/origin/HEAD refs/remotes/origin/main
    
  5. Sign in to GitLab as an administrator and follow the instructions to change the default branch for this project. Select main as your new default branch.
  6. Protect your new main branch as described in the protected branches documentation.
  7. (Optional) If you want to delete the old default branch:
    1. Verify that nothing is pointing to it.
    2. Delete the branch on the remote:

      git push origin --delete master
      

      You can delete the branch at a later time, after you confirm the new default branch is working as expected.

  8. Notify your project contributors of this change, because they must also take some steps:

    • Contributors should pull the new default branch to their local copy of the repository.
    • Contributors with open merge requests that target the old default branch should manually re-point the merge requests to use main instead.
  9. In your repository, update any references to the old branch name in your code.
  10. Update references to the old branch name in related code and scripts that reside outside your repository, such as helper utilities and integrations.

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