From: "W. Trevor King" <>

The current `update` command incorporates the superproject's gitlinked
SHA-1 ($sha1) into the submodule HEAD ($subsha1).  Depending on the
options you use, it may checkout $sha1, rebase the $subsha1 onto
$sha1, or merge $sha1 into $subsha1.  This helps you keep up with
changes in the upstream superproject.

However, it's also useful to stay up to date with changes in the
upstream subproject.  Previous workflows for incorporating such
changes include the ungainly:

  $ git submodule foreach 'git checkout $(git config --file 
$toplevel/.gitmodules submodule.$name.branch) && git pull'

With this patch, all of the useful functionality for incorporating
superproject changes can be reused to incorporate upstream subproject
updates.  When you specify --remote, the target $sha1 is replaced with
a $sha1 of the submodule's origin/master tracking branch.  If you want
to merge a different tracking branch, you can configure the
`submodule.<name>.branch` option in `.gitmodules`.  You can override
the `.gitmodules` configuration setting for a particular superproject
by configuring the option in that superproject's default configuration
(using the usual configuration hierarchy, e.g. `.git/config`,
`~/.gitconfig`, etc.).

Previous use of submodule.<name>.branch

Because we're adding a new configuration option, it's a good idea to
check if anyone else is already using the option.  The foreach-pull
example above was described by Ævar in

  commit f030c96d8643fa0a1a9b2bd9c2f36a77721fb61f
  Author: Ævar Arnfjörð Bjarmason <>
  Date:   Fri May 21 16:10:10 2010 +0000

    git-submodule foreach: Add $toplevel variable

Gerrit uses the same interpretation for the setting, but because
Gerrit has direct access to the subproject repositories, it updates
the superproject repositories automatically when a subproject changes.
Gerrit also accepts the special value '.', which it expands into the
superproject's branch name.

Although the --remote functionality is using `submodule.<name>.branch`
slightly differently, the effect is the same.  The foreach-pull
example uses the option to record the name of the local branch to
checkout before pulls.  The tracking branch to be pulled is recorded
in `.git/modules/<name>/config`, which was initialized by the module
clone during `submodule add` or `submodule init`.  Because the branch
name stored in `submodule.<name>.branch` was likely the same as the
branch name used during the initial `submodule add`, the same branch
will be pulled in each workflow.

Implementation details

In order to ensure a current tracking branch state, `update --remote`
fetches the submodule's remote repository before calculating the
SHA-1.  However, I didn't change the logic guarding the existing fetch:

  if test -z "$nofetch"
    # Run fetch only if $sha1 isn't present or it
    # is not reachable from a ref.
    (clear_local_git_env; cd "$path" &&
      ( (rev=$(git rev-list -n 1 $sha1 --not --all 2>/dev/null) &&
       test -z "$rev") || git-fetch)) ||
    die "$(eval_gettext "Unable to fetch in submodule path '\$path'")"

There will not be a double-fetch, because the new $sha1 determined
after the `--remote` triggered fetch should always exist in the
repository.  If it doesn't, it's because some racy process removed it
from the submodule's repository and we *should* be re-fetching.

Signed-off-by: W. Trevor King <>
 Documentation/config.txt        |  9 +++++----
 Documentation/git-submodule.txt | 24 +++++++++++++++++++++++-
 Documentation/gitmodules.txt    |  5 +++++                | 26 +++++++++++++++++++++++++-
 t/     | 31 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 5 files changed, 89 insertions(+), 6 deletions(-)

diff --git a/Documentation/config.txt b/Documentation/config.txt
index 11f320b..de39b1c 100644
--- a/Documentation/config.txt
+++ b/Documentation/config.txt
@@ -1994,10 +1994,11 @@ status.submodulesummary::
-       The path within this project, URL, and the updating strategy
-       for a submodule.  These variables are initially populated
-       by 'git submodule init'; edit them to override the
-       URL and other values found in the `.gitmodules` file.  See
+       The path within this project, URL, the updating strategy, and the
+       remote branch name for a submodule.  These variables are initially
+       populated by 'git submodule init'; edit them to override the URL and
+       other values found in the `.gitmodules` file.  See
        linkgit:git-submodule[1] and linkgit:gitmodules[5] for details.
diff --git a/Documentation/git-submodule.txt b/Documentation/git-submodule.txt
index b4683bb..39aa02d 100644
--- a/Documentation/git-submodule.txt
+++ b/Documentation/git-submodule.txt
@@ -13,7 +13,7 @@ SYNOPSIS
              [--reference <repository>] [--] <repository> [<path>]
 'git submodule' [--quiet] status [--cached] [--recursive] [--] [<path>...]
 'git submodule' [--quiet] init [--] [<path>...]
-'git submodule' [--quiet] update [--init] [-N|--no-fetch] [--rebase]
+'git submodule' [--quiet] update [--init] [--remote] [-N|--no-fetch] [--rebase]
              [--reference <repository>] [--merge] [--recursive] [--] 
 'git submodule' [--quiet] summary [--cached|--files] [(-n|--summary-limit) <n>]
              [commit] [--] [<path>...]
@@ -236,6 +236,28 @@ OPTIONS
        (the default). This limit only applies to modified submodules. The
        size is always limited to 1 for added/deleted/typechanged submodules.
+       This option is only valid for the update command.
+       Instead of using the superproject's recorded SHA-1 to update the
+       submodule, use the status of the submodule's remote tracking branch.
+       The remote tracking branch defaults to origin/master, but the branch
+       name may be overriden by setting the `submodule.<name>.branch`
+       option in either `.gitmodules` or `.git/config` (with `.git/config`
+       taking precedence).
+This works for any of the supported update procedures (`--checkout`,
+`--rebase`, etc.).  The only change is the source of the target SHA-1.
+For example, `submodule update --remote --merge` will merge upstream
+submodule changes into the submodules, while `submodule update
+--merge` will merge superproject gitlink changes into the submodules.
+In order to ensure a current tracking branch state, `update --remote`
+fetches the submodule's remote repository before calculating the
+SHA-1.  This makes `submodule update --remote --merge` similar to
+running `git pull` in the submodule.  If you don't want to fetch (for
+something closer to `git merge`), you should use `submodule update
+--remote --no-fetch --merge`.
        This option is only valid for the update command.
diff --git a/Documentation/gitmodules.txt b/Documentation/gitmodules.txt
index 4effd78..4004fa6 100644
--- a/Documentation/gitmodules.txt
+++ b/Documentation/gitmodules.txt
@@ -47,6 +47,11 @@ submodule.<name>.update::
        This config option is overridden if 'git submodule update' is given
        the '--merge', '--rebase' or '--checkout' options.
+       A remote branch name for tracking updates in the upstream submodule.
+       If the option is not specified, it defaults to 'master'.  See the
+       `--remote` documentation in linkgit:git-submodule[1] for details.
        This option can be used to control recursive fetching of this
        submodule. If this option is also present in the submodules entry in
diff --git a/ b/
index ab6b110..b63d869 100755
--- a/
+++ b/
@@ -8,7 +8,8 @@ dashless=$(basename "$0" | sed -e 's/-/ /')
 USAGE="[--quiet] add [-b branch] [-f|--force] [--reference <repository>] [--] 
<repository> [<path>]
    or: $dashless [--quiet] status [--cached] [--recursive] [--] [<path>...]
    or: $dashless [--quiet] init [--] [<path>...]
-   or: $dashless [--quiet] update [--init] [-N|--no-fetch] [-f|--force] 
[--rebase] [--reference <repository>] [--merge] [--recursive] [--] [<path>...]
+   or: $dashless [--quiet] update [--init] [--remote] [-N|--no-fetch] 
[-f|--force] [--rebase] [--reference <repository>] [--merge] [--recursive] [--] 
    or: $dashless [--quiet] summary [--cached|--files] [--summary-limit <n>] 
[commit] [--] [<path>...]
    or: $dashless [--quiet] foreach [--recursive] <command>
    or: $dashless [--quiet] sync [--] [<path>...]"
@@ -26,6 +27,7 @@ cached=
@@ -509,6 +511,9 @@ cmd_update()
+               --remote)
+                       remote=1
+                       ;;
@@ -569,6 +574,12 @@ cmd_update()
                name=$(module_name "$sm_path") || exit
                url=$(git config submodule."$name".url)
+               branch=$(git config submodule."$name".branch)
+               if test -z "$branch"
+               then  # fall back on .gitmodules
+                       branch=$(git config -f .gitmodules 
+               fi
+               branch="${branch:-master}"
                if ! test -z "$update"
@@ -603,6 +614,19 @@ Maybe you want to use 'update --init'?")"
                        die "$(eval_gettext "Unable to find current revision in 
submodule path '\$sm_path'")"
+               if test -n "$remote"
+               then
+                       if test -z "$nofetch"
+                       then
+                               # Fetch remote before determining tracking $sha1
+                               (clear_local_git_env; cd "$sm_path" && 
git-fetch) ||
+                               die "$(eval_gettext "Unable to fetch in 
submodule path '\$sm_path'")"
+                       fi
+                       sha1=$(clear_local_git_env; cd "$sm_path" &&
+                               git rev-parse --verify origin/"$branch") ||
+                       die "$(eval_gettext "Unable to find current 
origin/$branch revision in submodule path '\$sm_path'")"
+               fi
                if test "$subsha1" != "$sha1" -o -n "$force"
diff --git a/t/ b/t/
index 1542653..a567834 100755
--- a/t/
+++ b/t/
@@ -135,6 +135,37 @@ test_expect_success 'submodule update --force forcibly 
checks out submodules' '
+test_expect_success 'submodule update --remote should fetch upstream changes' '
+       (cd submodule &&
+        echo line4 >> file &&
+        git add file &&
+        test_tick &&
+        git commit -m "upstream line4"
+       ) &&
+       (cd super &&
+        git submodule update --remote --force submodule &&
+        cd submodule &&
+        test "$(git log -1 --oneline)" = "$(GIT_DIR=../../submodule/.git git 
log -1 --oneline)"
+       )
+test_expect_success 'local config should override .gitmodules branch' '
+       (cd submodule &&
+        git checkout -b test-branch &&
+        echo line5 >> file &&
+        git add file &&
+        test_tick &&
+        git commit -m "upstream line5" &&
+        git checkout master
+       ) &&
+       (cd super &&
+        git config submodule.submodule.branch test-branch &&
+        git submodule update --remote --force submodule &&
+        cd submodule &&
+        test "$(git log -1 --oneline)" = "$(GIT_DIR=../../submodule/.git git 
log -1 --oneline test-branch)"
+       )
 test_expect_success 'submodule update --rebase staying on master' '
        (cd super/submodule &&
          git checkout master

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