How to delete lines from your git repository (local + remote)


Oh no 🙈, you’re using git and you accidentally committed things you shouldn’t have (e.g. a password) to your public GitHub repository! 😱

Unfortunately just deleting it and pushing your new changes won’t delete it from your git history.

Git keeps copies of changes

When you use git as your version control system, each time you make a small change to a file and commit that change, git creates a new copy of the changed files somewhere inside the .git folder.

So if your password is part of a file which was changed and committed 10 times, there are 10 copies of that password in git history which can for example be viewed on GitHub in case you pushed your code there.

Delete every single occurrence

This post shows you how to delete every single occurrence of a password (or any other word or sentence) which might be hidden in your git history, locally as well as in the remote repository (for example on GitHub).

In general this entire deletion procedure is a thing you should only do it absolutely necessary. It can have unexpected results for your team-members since you are changing the remote code they are relying on.

Step by step

To replace a list of words (or passwords) with the string ***REMOVED*** (or any other string you may pick), do the following:

  1. Go to BFG Repo-Cleaner website and hit the download button on the right. It should download a .jar file (called bfg-1.13.0.jar or similar) from the homepage.
  2. Place the .jar file somewhere in your file system, for example in the folder ~/bin/ (create the folder if you don’t have one. You can store your personal command line scripts there) and change the filename to bfg.jar so that it is a shorter name. The path to your file should be ~/bin/bfg.jar.
  3. Now copy/backup your files/git repo (in fact the .git/ folder). - How? - I usually temporarily copy the .git/ folder into the parent directory. Inside my project folder I run

    cp -r .git/ .git-backup/
  4. Create a file words.txt with words/passwords you want to remove from all of history. One line for each word. It might look like this if you want to delete all traces of the password qwerty123 (btw, this password may be cracked in 42 minutes):



    • You can later delete this words.txt file right after you finished all the steps.
    • You can also add sentences as lines, for example
    some top secret information
  5. Place the words.txt file inside your project folder (the same folder with the .git/ folder).
  6. In the same folder run the following command:

    java -jar ~/bin/bfg.jar --replace-text words.txt .git

    Note: ~/bin/bfg.jar may be different if you placed and renamed the file differently in step 2.

  7. What has happened?

    • The values of each line in words.txt (the words you want to delete) will be replaced with the string ***REMOVED*** in your local repository.
    • A .git.bfg-report folder with information about the deletion is created.
  8. Run git push -f to force push your locally changed files to the remote repository (you’re now changing git history on your remote).
  9. After running the command in step 6 it will prompt you to run the following command which prunes (in fact deletes) older reflog entries:

    git reflog expire --expire=now --all && git gc --prune=now --aggressive


    • If this command is not run, the deleted information might still be available in the reflog.
    • If you never heard about git reflog you might have heard about git log. The git reflog command shows you a kind of history of git actions which you undertook. Given that it contains some last leftover information of your deleted data and git gc (git cleanup) removes these last traces.

In this post I used the tool BFG Repo-Cleaner. Its homepage contains instructions on how to use it but in this post I explain every step without skipping anything.

Last but certainly not least I thank Robert Tyley for creating the tool!

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Explain Programming

André Kovac builds products, creates software, teaches coding, communicates science and speaks at events.