How to Clone Git Repositories with JGit

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How to Clone Git Repositories with JGit

On November 30, 2015, Posted by , In Eclipse, By ,,, , With 15 Comments

Whatever you plan to do with an existing repository, first a clone has to be created. Whether you plan to contribute or just want to peek at its history, a local copy of the repository is needed.

While cloning a repository with JGit isn’t particularly difficult, there are a few details that might be worth noting. And because there are few online resources on the subject, this article summarizes how to use the JGit API to clone from an existing Git repository.

Cloning Basics

To make a local copy of a remote repository, the CloneCommand needs at least to be told where the remote is to be found:

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setURI( "" )

The Git factory class has a static cloneRepository() method that returns a new instance of a CloneCommand. setURI() advises it where to clone from and like with all JGit commands, the call() method actually executes the command.

Though remote repositories – like the name suggests – are usually stored on a remote host, setURI() can also specify a path to a local resource.

If no more information is given, JGit will choose the directory in which the cloned repository will be stored for you. Based on the current directory and the repository name that is derived from its URL, a directory name is built. In the example above it would be ‘/path/to/current/jgit’.

But usually, you would want to have more control over the destination directory and explicitly state where to store the local clone.

The setDirectory() method specifies where the working directory should be and with setGitDir() the location of the metadata directory (.git) can be set. If setGitDir() is omitted, the .git directory is created directly underneath the working directory

The example below

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setURI( "" )
  .setDirectory( "/path/to/repo" )

will create a local repository whose work directory is located at ‘/path/to/repo’ and whose metadata directory is located at ‘/path/to/repo/.git’.

However the destination location is chosen, explicitly through your code or by JGit, the designated directory must either be empty or must not exist. Otherwise, an exception will be thrown.

The settings for setDirectory(), setGitDir() and setBare() (see below) are forwarded to the InitCommand that is used internally by the CloneCommand. Hence more details thereover are explained in Initializing Git Repositories with JGit.

The Git instance that is returned by provides access to the repository itself (git.getRepository()) and can be used to execute further commands targeting this repository. When finished using the repository it must be closed (git.close()) or otherwise the application may leak file handles.

To later regain a Repository (or Git) instance, the path to the work directory or .git directory is sufficient. The article How to Access a Git Repository with JGit has detailed information on the subject.

Upstream Configuration

As a last step the clone command updates the configuration file of the local repository to register the source repository as a socalled remote.

When looking at the configuration file (.git/config) the remote section looks like this:

[remote "origin"]
  url =
  fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*

If no remote name is given, the defaults ‘origin’ is used. To have the CloneCommand use a particular name under which the remote repository is registered, use setRemote().

The refspec given by ‘fetch’ determines which branches should be exchanged when fetching from or pushing to the remote repository by default.

Cloning Branches

By default, the clone command creates a single local branch. It looks at the HEAD ref of the remote repository and creates a local branch with the same name as the remote branch referenced by it.

But the clone command can also be told to clone and checkout certain branch(es). Assuming that the remote repository has a branch named ‘extra’, the following lines will clone this branch.

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setURI( "" )
  .setDirectory( "/path/to/repo" )
  .setBranchesToClone( singleton( "refs/heads/extra" ) );
  .setBranch( "refs/heads/extra" )

With setBranchesToClone(), the command clones only the specified branches. Note that the setBranch() directive is necessary to also checkout the desired branch. Otherwise, JGit would attempt to checkout the ‘master’ branch. While this is isn’t a problem from a technical point of view, it is usually not what you want.

If all branches of the remote repository should be cloned, you can advise the command like so:

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setURI( "" )
  .setDirectory( "/path/to/repo" )
  .setCloneAllBranches( true )

To prevent the current branch from being checked out at all, the setNoCheckout() method can be used.

Listing Remote Branches

If you want to know which branches a remote repository has to offer, the LsRemoteCommand comes to the rescue. To list all branches of a JGit repository, use Git’s lsRemoteRepository() like shown below.

Collection<Ref> remoteRefs = Git.lsRemoteRepository()
  .setHeads( true )
  .setRemote( "" )

In case you would also want to list tags, advise the command with setTags( true ) to include tags.

For reasons I rather don’t want to know, JGit requires a local repository for certain protocols in order to be able to list remote refs. In this case Git.lsRemoteRepository() will throw a NotSupportedException. The workaround is to create a temporary local repository and use git.lsRemote() instead of Git.lsRemoteRepository() where git wraps the temporary repository.

Cloning Bare Repositories

If the local repository does not need a work directory, the clone command can be instructed to create a bare repository.

By default non-bare repositories are created, but with setBare( true ) a bare repository is created like shown below:

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setBare( true )
  .setURI( "" )
  .setGitDir( "/path/to/repo" )

Here the destination directory is specified via setGitDir() instead of using setDirectory().
The resulting repository’s isBare() will return true, getGitDir() will return /path/to/repo and since there is no work directory getWorkTree() will throw a NoWorkTreeException.

Note that ‘bare’ here only applies to the destination repository. Whether the source repository is bare or not doesn’t make a difference when cloning.

Cloning Submodules

If the remote repository is known to have submodules or if you wish to include submodules in case there are any, the clone command can be instructed to do so:

Git git = Git.cloneRepository()
  .setCloneSubmodules( true )
  .setURI( "" )
  .setDirectory( "/path/to/repo" )

The above example advises the clone command to also clone any submodule that is found.

If setCloneSubmodules( true ) wasn’t specified while cloning the repository, you can catch up on the missing submodules later. For more details see the article How to manage Git Submodules with JGit.

Cloning with Authentication

Of course, JGit also allows accessing repositories that require authentication. Common protocols like SSH and HTTP(S) and their authentication methods are supported. A detailed explanation on how to use authentication support can be found in the JGit Authentication Explained article.

What’s Next

If you are wondering what to do next with a repository, you may want to read Getting Started with JGit. The tutorial explains the most commonly used Git commands and their respective JGit counterparts. It walks through the steps to create a repository, fetch contents from a remote, add and remove files to/from the history, inspect the history, and finally push back the changes to the originating repository.

Concluding How to Clone Git Repositories with JGit

For almost all features of the native Git clone command, there is a counterpart in JGit. Even a progress monitor which may be useful when JGit is embedded in interactive applications exists. And for the missing mirror option apparently a workaround exists. Only the often asked for shallow clones (e.g. git clone --depth 2) aren’t yet supported by JGit.

The snippets shown throughout this article are excerpts from a learning test that illustrates the common use cases of the CloneCommand. The full version can be found here:

In order to help with setting up the development environment, you may want to also read An Introduction to the JGit Sources. If you still have difficulties or further questions, please leave a comment or ask the friendly and helpful JGit community for assistance.

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Rüdiger Herrmann

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15 Comments so far:

  1. renga says:

    In my local git repository,i have more than one commits for a can i get status/action has been performed on that commit.I mean ,how can i know on a particular commit ,is that file added newly or is it been modified or is it been labeled..i want the correct eclipse API to get the above details.

    • Rüdiger Herrmann says:

      I am afraid I don’t quite understand your question.In order to examine what a commit has changed compared to its parent commit, use the DiffCommand. Its call() method returns a list of DiffEntries that described each changed file.

      • renga says:

        Sorry i did’t get your point correctly…my requirement is ,For a particular commit .what action has been performed to a particular file. So far i got the log message through RevCommit rev=git.log().call().from that rev ,i am able to get authorname and committed date and time…now i want to get the action for that particular file…consider i have added the file for first i should get the action as Added…can you help in this

        • Rüdiger Herrmann says:

          Did you look at the DiffCommand? It will tell you what files haven added, deleted and changed in a commit compared to its ancestor comit.

  2. Nara says:

    How do you do sparseCheckout programitically using JGIT API .I am able to do using cmd below
    git config core.sparseCheckout true
    echo “SpecificSubFolder” >> .git/info/sparse-checkout

    appreciate any examples

  3. Daniela says:

    I have two questions so far:

    1) Does git need to be installed in the machine where JGit runs?
    2) How soon will JGit include the implementation for shallow clones?

    btw, thank you for this awesome library and for providing tutorials like this one.

    • Rüdiger Herrmann says:

      Hi Daniela,

      though my stake in providing JGit is minimal, I am nonetheless glad you like the tutorials, JGit is a pure Java library implementing the Git version control system (see Therefore native Git need not be installed. However, be aware that since JGit is an independent implementation of Git there are (small) gaps and differences between the two.
      I can’t tell how soon a certain feature will be available in JGit. It is best to track the respective bug report and state your interest there or on the mailing list.


  4. Benoit says:

    I’d like to clone only if the remote repository is bare (since, if I understood correctly, only bare repo can be pushed to). Is it possible to know if the remote repo is bare ?

    • Rüdiger Herrmann says:

      AFAIK it is not possible to check if a repository is bare – as long as you cannot access the repositoy locally.

      However, according to this post (, pushing to a non-bare remote is possible. And at least in theory, the bare state of a repository may change.

      I wouldn’t pro-actively prevent cloning a non-bare repository but rather transform the result when pushing to a non-bare repository fails into a meaningful error message.

  5. Eric says:

    Thanks for the article!

    I was wondering, how can it be done if the source URL is local and you want to make sure there are no -hardlinks?

    In git, we’d normally use : git clone –no-hardlinks /path/to/source /path/to/dest

    Any idea how it can be done?

    PS: We’ve been testing the file:// protocol but for bigger repos (~10Gigs), it’s much slower than the local –no-hardlinks above

    • Eric says:

      ..forgot to add:

      For comparison on the git clone operations done on our big repo via shell:
      – git clone file:///path/to/source/repo /path/to/dest/repo # takes about 25-30 minutes
      – git clone –no-hardlinks /path/to/source/repo /path/to/dest/repo # takes less than 2 minutes

      I suspect that the reason why the file:// protocol is much slower is because it goes through the compression/send/decompression phase while the other one doesn’t

  6. Rüdiger Herrmann says:


    thank you for your feedback. From what I see, the -no-hardlinks option is not supported by JGit. If you find this should be supported, please file an enhancement request:

    Regarding the performance observations, you way want to forward these to the JGit mailing list

    – Rüdiger

    • Eric says:

      Hi Rüdiger,

      Thanks for the reply. Too bad “–local –no-hardlinks” isn’t supported.

      I will look into the suggestions you’ve provided.


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