TL;DR—here’s what I’ll do.

Whenever I work on open-source projects, I usually maintain my own copy, a fork, of the original codebase. Then, when I propose changes, I open up a Pull Request (PR).

When my PR receives a maintainer’s approval, the commits from my fork will happily live inside the original repository; all is good. However, there are cases when a maintainer merges not via a merge commit, but by squashing or rebasing my changes.1

During a rebase, commits are “rewritten” even with the same diff. Git cannot put two and two together, so it will treat my commits as unique.

Now, when I make a new Pull Request for a different issue, those commits will persist! In Github, this messes the Pull Request interface (i.e., “why do I have commits for fixing Issue 1 when this PR is about Issue 2?”).

To add, Github’s “Fetch upstream” button performs a merge, making further Pull Requests dirty and riddled with stray commits—the worst case is to delete my fork and copy it again.

What I do

What I do is maintain a link to the original repository and track the changes from there. Before making a PR, I make sure to rebase those new changes to my fork.

First, let’s create a link to the original remote. You can call it upstream, orig or whatever you want:

$ git remote add upstream

You now have two remotes: one for your fork, and one for the original repository. If you run git remote -v, you will see the following:

$ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)
upstream (fetch)
upstream (push)

Then, I track the remote branches by fetching them from the upstream:

$ git fetch upstream

Lastly, I go back to my fork’s default branch (usually it’s master or main) then rebase the upstream’s changes to this branch.

$ git checkout main
$ git rebase upstream/main

To fully sync my fork, I push the changes from my local to my remote:

$ git push origin +main

The + sign means that it’s a force push. It overwrites whatever you have in your remote and rewrites the history to be similar as the original repo. You will achieve similar results if you pass an -f parameter like so:

# Same as above
$ git push -f origin main

And that’s it! Our fork is now fully-synced with the original repository. The commits should match one-to-one, without merge commits nor strays .2 This is helpful to ensure that my fork is up-to-date with the codebase.

Hope you learned something new today!


  1. I wrote in-depth about git team workflows. Read more if you’re interested in the differences between merging and rebasing. 

  2. Another thing that I do is to make a Pull Request using my fork’s feature branch, not through main. With this method, I ensure that my main branch is always “clean.”