Working with upstream repos

Keeping your downstream repo up-to-date

A downstream repository (aka a “fork”) maintainer commonly needs to stay current with upstream work (aka “original”). The case is development continues on the upstream repo while you work on your own origin fork. You want to fetch the upstream changes and apply them to your origin so you don’t make conflicts.


The following steps allow you to achieve this on the command line in a local git repository.

Add the Remote Upstream Repository

This step defines the upstream repository of your fork. First is the syntax followed by an example.

git remote add <any_name_you_choose> [Upstream git URL]
git remote add upstream

Fetch the Upstream Branches

git fetch <the_name_you_chose_earlier>
git fetch upstream

Merge Upstream Changes into your Downstream Repository

From your master branch, use the following merge command to merge the upstream master branch changes into your local source:

git checkout origin/master
git merge upstream/master

You then can either merge into the branch you were previously working on or start a new branch. Since starting a new branch is easy, this sample is merging the master branch into the develop branch.

git checkout origin/develop
git merge origin/master

Workflow Example


  1. You fork from the upstream repo using clone and then create a local copy on your computer.
  2. You create a new branch branch-1 off of the master branch to do your work on.
  3. You push those commits from branch-1 to your own origin repo.
  4. You then create a pull request with the upstream repo into the master branch.
  5. Your pull request is merged into the master branch and development continues on the upstream master branch past your local and origin repo.
  6. You then have to fetch the upstream repo before you continue your work to avoid conflicts
  7. You then push the upstream changes to your origin repo keeping origin up-to-date with upstream.


Access Upstream Origin Local
Own No Yes Yes
Read Yes Yes Yes
Write No Yes Yes
Remote Yes Yes No


Randy Rowland
Randy Rowland
Security Engineer

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