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This section only applies to submodules of native Git repositories, but not of SVN clones. For SVN repositories, refer to Externals (Normal Mode Only).

Often, software projects are not completely self-contained, but share common parts with other software projects. Git offers a feature called submodules, which allows you to embed one Git repository into another. This is similar to SVN's externals feature.

A submodule is a nested repository that is embedded in a dedicated subdirectory of the working tree (which belongs to the parent repository). The submodule is always pointing at a particular commit of the embedded repository. The definition of the submodule is stored as a separate entry in the parent repository's git object database.

The link between working tree entry and foreign repository is stored in the .gitmodules file of the parent repository. The .gitmodules file is usually versioned, so it can be maintained by all users and/or changes are propagated to all users.

Setting submodule repositories involves an initialization process, in which the required entries are added to the .git/config file. The user may later adjust it, for example to fix SSH login names.

Cloning Repositories with Submodules

If you clone an existing repository containing one or more submodules via Repository|Clone, make sure the option Include Submodules is selected, so that all first-level submodules are automatically initialized and updated. Without this option, you may initialize the submodules later by hand via Remote|Submodule|Initialize. Only performing the initialization will leave the submodule directory empty. For a fully functional submodule, you'll also need to do a pull on it, as described in Updating Submodules.

Adding, Removing and Synchronizing Submodules


Submodules are showing up in the Repositories as well as the Files view. Submodule operations (from the parent repository perspective) will be performed in the Files view. 'Normal' Git operations on the submodule repository itself will be performed in the Repositories view.

To "ignore" a not-yet initialized submodule which you are not interested in, invoke Remote|Submodule|Deactivate. This will make the submodule vanish from the Files view unless View|Show Ignored Files is selected. Technically, submodule.<name>.active=false will be set in the parent repository .git/config.

To remove a submodule from the working tree, select the submodule in the Files view, invoke Remote|Submodule|Deinit. After deiniting you will probably want to Deactivate it, too.

To add a new submodule to a repository, invoke Remote|Submodule|Add on the repository in the Repositories view and follow the dialog instructions.

To remove a submodule from the repository, select the submodule in the Files view, invoke Remote|Submodule|Unregister, and then commit your changes. After the submodule is unregistered, you may delete the submodule directory.

If the URL of a submodule's remote repository has changed, you need to modify the URL in the .gitmodules file and then synchronize the submodule, via Remote|Submodule|Synchronize, so that the new URL is written into Git's configuration.

Updating Submodules

After a submodule has been set up, the usual workflow is that some files in the submodule repository are modified externally, and you perform an update on the submodule, i.e. you pull the new changes into your local submodule repository. You can perform an update either by doing a pull on the submodule itself, or, if the outer repository is connected to a remote repository, by configuring SmartGit to automatically update all submodules when you do a pull on the outer repository. These two cases will be described in the following subsections. Note that in either case, pulling will fetch new commits without changing the submodule if it has a detached HEAD. See Working within Submodules for more information on the latter.

Pulling on the Submodule

Select the submodule in the Repositories view and invoke Remote|Pull. After the pull, the submodule will have a different appearance in the Repositories view if new commits have been fetched and a rebase or merge has been performed. This different appearance indicates that the submodule has changed and that you need to commit the change in the outer repository.

Pulling on the Outer Repository

Open the repository settings via Repository|Settings, and in the Pull section, enable Update registered submodules, so that SmartGit automatically updates all registered submodules when pulling on the outer repository. Additionally, you may also enable And initialize new submodules; with this, SmartGit will update not only registered submodules when pulling, but also uninitialized submodules, after having initialized them. The aforementioned Update option will only fetch commits as needed, i.e. when a commit is referenced by the outer repository as the current state of the submodule. If you want to fetch all new commits instead, enable the option Always fetch new commits, tags and branches from submodule. Note that when you do a pull on the outer repository, you need to pull with subsequent rebase or merge, otherwise new submodule commits will only be fetched, without changing the submodule state (i.e. the commit the submodule is currently pointing at).

Working within Submodules

You can view the history of a submodule repository by opening its Log. To do so, select the submodule in the Repositories view and invoke Log from the submodule's context menu. You can also restrict the Log to a certain branch within the submodule: Select the submodule in the Repositories view, then select the submodule branch in the Branches view, and then invoke Log from the context menu of the branch.

In the submodule Log, you can switch the submodule to another commit by selecting the commit in the Log graph and invoking Check Out from the commit's context menu. If you want to switch to the tip of a certain branch, you can also just double-click on the branch in the Branches view.

After switching the submodule to another commit, the submodule will be shown as 'changed' in the Files view. That means you can either commit the change in the outer repository or roll back the change. For the latter, select the submodule in the Files view and invoke Reset from its context menu.

If you modify and commit files within the submodule (as part of the outer repository, not externally), the submodule will also show up as 'changed'. Then, after committing the changes, you can push them back to the remote submodule repository via Push from the context menu of the Branches view. Note that you may lose your work in the submodule if you make changes on a detached HEAD. To avoid this, check out a submodule branch before making the changes.

Submodule States and Transitions



The submodule has not yet been initialized.

  • Use Initialize or Pull to initialize/fetch this submodule.
  • Use Deactivate to get the submodule rid from the Files view. It will only show up if View|Show Ignored Files is selected.
  • Use Unregister to remove the submodule from the repository.


The submodule has been Deactivated.

  • Use Initialize or Pull to initialize/fetch this submodule.


The submodule has been initialized, but contents have not been fetched yet.

  • Use Pull to fetch this submodule.

As IndexThe submodule is correctly initialized and pointing to the same commit as registered in the parent repository's HEAD and Index.

The submodule has been scheduled for addition in the parent repository.

  • Use Commit to confirm the addition.
  • Use Discard to unscheduled the addition.

The submodule has been scheduled for removal in the parent repository.

  • Use Commit to confirm the removal.
  • Use Discard to unscheduled the removal and (if necessary) reset to the submodule commit registered in the parent repository.

The submodule points to a different commit than registered in the parent repository's Index. This is usually the result after e.g. you've done a commit in the submodule repository.

  • Use Stage to stage the change in the parent repository's Index.
  • Use Commit to update the submodule link in the parent repository.
  • Use Discard to reset the submodule to the commit recorded in the parent repository's Index.
  • Use Reset to reset the submodule to the commit recorded in the parent repository's HEAD.

The submodule is in conflicting state where it's unclear to which commit it should point.

  • Check the Log and make sure to Check Out the appropriate commit in the submodule repository, then confirm with Stage.
  • Use Discard to reset the submodule to the commit recorded in the parent repository's Index.
  • Use Reset to reset the submodule to the commit recorded in the parent repository's HEAD.

Submodule conflicts are usually complex to resolve and may require additional commits in the submodule itself. Hence, if you are unsure, better contact the other authors of the conflicting submodule conflicts.

Nested root

The nested Git repository is not properly linked as submodule.

  • Use Stage to scheduled the Git repository as submodule in the parent repository
  • Otherwise, if this Git repository should not be a submodule, use Ignore or completely get rid of the sub-directory.
MissingMight happen if initializing a submodule has failed, e.g. after cancelling the credentials dialog. Use Initialize to initialize/fetch again.
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