I dropped a large binary object in Git ... now what?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 02/06/2015 - 00:03

Clipboard01or how do I remove a file from Git, including the history. This came out of a discussion with some ALM Rangers (in fact the title was from Willy-Peter himself!) and I thought it is too good not to share. In addition I’ve added some other information I learnt since then!

Before you start

Make a copy of your git repo before you start! We are going to mess with your repo, so if you have a backup and something goes wrong you can just rollback.


If you have ever made a mistake on a computer, you know it the moment you finger lifts off the enter key. So you may just want to undo that last commit quickly and use the revert command in git, which appears to remove it, but the problem is that remains in the history. So this means that everyone needs to get it when the clone or pull the repo.


If the very last commit added the offending file and you NOT pushed your repo yet there is a simple process to solve it. First delete the file. Then run another commit with the --a and --amend switches. 

  • --a  tells git to automatically stage all modified & delete files.
  • --amend tells git to rewrite the last commit.
  • if the only thing was that file, then you may need to add a --allow-empty switch to tell git to accept a commit with nothing in it.

For example, if I want to remove the password.txt file.

del password.txt

git commit --a --amend


What if it isn’t the last commit, but a few back. Once again if you have not pushed your repo an option would be to rewrite history (you may want to look at that link, it goes in DEEP detail on what rewriting history means). Step one is to kick off a rebase and in the editor go to the commit with the issue and change it from a pick to an edit, for example:

git rebase -i origin/master 


(in the picture above, I am going to remove the file added in commit 47f73e6)

You will then be dropped back to the command prompt, and you can step through the commits you set to edit. You can make the changes (either edit the file or delete it) and then use the same amend as before. Once you have finished that you step the rebase forward by doing rebase --continue.

For example:

del password.txt

git commit --a --amend

git rebase --continue


What if you have pushed? Or perhaps you need something more? Git includes a solution for this, called filter-branch which was totally unknown to me before this discussion. Filter-branch is not only useful to remove files but you could also change the details of a number of commits (for example: updating your email associated with your commits).

Lets get rid of the file, for example password.txt

git filter-branch --tree-filter "rm -f password.txt" HEAD

Note – on Windows you will use double quotes (“) like above, but on Linux it would be a single quote (‘). Once done you need to push to git, but you will need to use --force and --all switches to do it.

git push --force --all

Your next issue is that all your team members still have the file (if they already have pulled), so they need to clean up to. The way they do this is to run rebase but using the onto switch this time. For example:

git rebase --onto origin/master master

Those members who haven’t pulled since that file got into the repo, can pull as normal and do not need to worry about this.


There is also a stand alone tool called BFG Repo Cleaner. There is a nice set of documentation for it and it is blindingly fast! One nice thing is you can say remove all files above a certain size or or x number of the largest files.


One thing to do once you have done all of this, is run a garbage collection by using the gc command, which may return disk space from orphaned files. To do this run:

git gc – --auto

That’s it! Have you ever messed up a file (I have, I committed my Azure password once in a file!)? Share what happened and how you fixed it!