Topics ▾ Version 1.3.0 ▾ git-update-ref last updated in 2.11.1


git-update-ref <ref> <newvalue> [<oldvalue>]


Given two arguments, stores the <newvalue> in the <ref>, possibly dereferencing the symbolic refs. E.g. git-update-ref HEAD <newvalue> updates the current branch head to the new object.

Given three arguments, stores the <newvalue> in the <ref>, possibly dereferencing the symbolic refs, after verifying that the current value of the <ref> matches <oldvalue>. E.g. git-update-ref refs/heads/master <newvalue> <oldvalue> updates the master branch head to <newvalue> only if its current value is <oldvalue>.

It also allows a "ref" file to be a symbolic pointer to another ref file by starting with the four-byte header sequence of "ref:".

More importantly, it allows the update of a ref file to follow these symbolic pointers, whether they are symlinks or these "regular file symbolic refs". It follows real symlinks only if they start with "refs/": otherwise it will just try to read them and update them as a regular file (i.e. it will allow the filesystem to follow them, but will overwrite such a symlink to somewhere else with a regular filename).

In general, using

	git-update-ref HEAD "$head"

should be a lot safer than doing

	echo "$head" > "$GIT_DIR/HEAD"

both from a symlink following standpoint and an error checking standpoint. The "refs/" rule for symlinks means that symlinks that point to "outside" the tree are safe: they'll be followed for reading but not for writing (so we'll never write through a ref symlink to some other tree, if you have copied a whole archive by creating a symlink tree).


Written by Linus Torvalds <>.


Part of the git7 suite