A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create Branches in GitLab

Creating branches in GitLab is a fundamental skill for developers and teams working on collaborative projects. Branches allow you to work on new features, bug fixes, or experiments without affecting the main codebase. This guide will walk you through the step-by-step process of creating branches in GitLab, both through the GitLab UI and using Git commands, ensuring you have the knowledge to manage your code effectively.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the importance of branches in GitLab can enhance your workflow and project management.
  • You need at least the Developer role to create a new branch in a GitLab project.
  • Branches can be created from the GitLab UI or using Git commands, offering flexibility in your workflow.
  • Proper branch management, including regular merging and keeping branches up-to-date, is crucial to avoid conflicts.
  • Protecting branches and enforcing quality checks can help maintain the integrity of your codebase.

Understanding the Importance of Branches in GitLab

Why Branches Matter

Git branches are effectively a pointer to a snapshot of your changes. When you want to add a new feature or fix a bug—no matter how big or how small—you spawn a new branch to encapsulate your changes. This makes it harder for unstable code to get merged into the main code base, and it gives you the chance to clean up your future’s history before merging it into the main branch.

As you read, remember that Git branches aren’t like SVN branches. Whereas SVN branches are only used to capture the occasional large-scale development effort, Git branches are an integral part of your everyday workflow.

Common Use Cases for Branches

Branches are used in various scenarios to ensure clean and organized repository management. Some common use cases include:

  • Feature Development: Isolating new features until they are ready for production.
  • Bug Fixes: Quickly addressing issues without affecting the main codebase.
  • Experimentation: Trying out new ideas without the risk of breaking existing functionality.

Branching Strategies

To manage your branches effectively, it’s crucial to adopt a branching strategy. Some popular strategies include:

  1. Git Flow: A robust framework for managing larger projects with multiple releases.
  2. GitHub Flow: A simpler approach suitable for smaller projects and continuous deployment.
  3. GitLab Flow: Combines aspects of both Git Flow and GitHub Flow, tailored for GitLab’s features.

Each strategy has its own set of rules and best practices, so choose one that fits your project’s needs.

Prerequisites for Creating a Branch in GitLab

Required Permissions

Before you can create a branch in GitLab, you need to ensure you have the necessary permissions. You must have at least the Developer role for the project. If you are unsure of your role, you can check it in the project settings.

Setting Up Your Environment

To set up your environment for creating a branch, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure you have Git installed on your local machine.
  2. Clone the repository to your local machine using the command:
    git clone <repository_url>
  3. Navigate to the project directory:
    cd <project_directory>

Checking Your GitLab Role

To check your role in a GitLab project:

  1. Go to your project in GitLab.
  2. Click on the Members tab in the left sidebar.
  3. Look for your username in the list and check the role assigned to you.

If you do not have the required permissions, contact your project Maintainer or Administrator to grant you the necessary access.

By ensuring you have the right permissions and a properly set up environment, you can smoothly create branches and manage your workflow in GitLab. If you are using GitLab Ultimate, additional features and controls are available to enhance your branching strategy.

Navigating to Your Project in GitLab

Using the Search Function

To find your project quickly, use the search function located on the left sidebar. Type the name of your project into the search bar and select it from the list of results. This is the fastest way to navigate to your project if you have multiple projects or repositories.

Accessing Your Project Dashboard

Once you’ve selected your project, you’ll be directed to the project dashboard. This dashboard provides an overview of your project, including recent activity, issues, and merge requests. It’s your central hub for managing the project.

Locating the Repository Section

In the project dashboard, navigate to the repository section by selecting ‘Code’ from the left sidebar. Here, you can view all the files, branches, and commits associated with your project. The repository section is essential for managing your project’s codebase and collaborating with team members.

Navigating efficiently within GitLab can save you a lot of time and streamline your workflow. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these steps to enhance your productivity.

Creating a New Branch via the GitLab UI

GitLab branch creation

Accessing the Branches Section

To create a new branch from the GitLab UI, you must first navigate to your project. On the left sidebar, select Code and then click on Branches. This will take you to the branches section where you can manage all your branches.

Initiating a New Branch

In the upper-right corner of the branches section, you’ll find a button labeled New branch. Click on this button to start the process of creating a new branch.

Configuring Branch Details

Once you’ve clicked on the New branch button, you’ll be prompted to enter a name for your new branch. Make sure the name is descriptive and follows your project’s naming conventions. In the Create from dropdown, you can select the base of your branch: an existing branch, an existing tag, or a commit SHA. After configuring these details, click on Create branch to finalize the process.

Creating a new branch via the GitLab UI is straightforward and ensures that your development process remains organized and efficient.

Choosing the Base for Your New Branch

When creating a new branch in GitLab, it’s crucial to choose the right base. This ensures that your new branch starts from the correct point in your project’s history. Selecting the appropriate base can help avoid potential merge conflicts and streamline your development process.

Creating a Branch Using Git Commands

Command Line Basics

To create a branch using Git commands, you need to have Git installed and access to a terminal window. Ensure your repository is initialized and you are in the correct directory.

Creating and Switching Branches

There are two primary methods to create and switch to a new branch:

  1. Create and switch to a new branch in one command:
    git checkout -b <branch-name>
  2. Create a branch first, then switch to it:
    git branch <branch-name>
    git checkout <branch-name>

Pushing Your Branch to GitLab

Once your branch is created and you have made your changes, you need to push it to GitLab:

  1. Add your changes:
    git add .
  2. Commit your changes:
    git commit -m "Your commit message"
  3. Push the branch to GitLab:
    git push origin <branch-name>

Tip: Regularly push your changes to avoid losing any progress and to keep your team updated.

Managing Branches in GitLab

Viewing All Branches

To view and manage your branches in the GitLab user interface:

  1. On the left sidebar, select Search or go to and find your project.
  2. Select Code > Branches.

On this page, you can:

  • View all branches in your repository.
  • Filter branches by name or status.
  • See the latest commit for each branch.

Renaming Branches

Renaming a branch in GitLab is straightforward but requires the right permissions. Ensure you have at least the Developer role for the project. To rename a branch:

  1. Navigate to the Branches section as described above.
  2. Find the branch you want to rename and select the ‘Rename’ option.
  3. Enter the new branch name and confirm the change.

Deleting Branches

Deleting branches that are no longer needed helps keep your repository clean. To delete a branch:

  1. Go to the Branches section.
  2. Locate the branch you wish to delete and click on the ‘Delete’ button next to it.
  3. Confirm the deletion when prompted.

Note: Deleting a branch is a permanent action and cannot be undone. Make sure the branch is no longer needed before proceeding.

Protecting Your Branches

Ensuring the security and integrity of your branches is crucial for maintaining a stable and reliable codebase. GitLab provides multiple methods to protect individual branches, ensuring they receive oversight and quality checks from their creation to their deletion.

Setting Up Branch Protection

To protect a branch, navigate to your project settings and expand the Branch rules section. Here, you can add a new branch rule or modify existing ones. Configure protected branches to restrict who can commit to a branch, merge other branches into it, or merge the branch itself into another branch.

Enforcing Quality Checks

Quality checks are essential for maintaining high standards in your codebase. You can configure approval rules to set review requirements, including security-related approvals, before a branch can merge. Additionally, integrate with third-party status checks to ensure your branch contents meet your standards of quality.

Managing Protected Branches

The Branch rules overview page shows all branches with any configured protections and their protection methods. To view this list, you must have at least the Maintainer role for the project. From here, you can view details about each branch’s protections and make necessary adjustments.

Protecting your branches not only secures your code but also enforces a disciplined workflow, ensuring that only reviewed and approved changes make it into your main codebase.

Best Practices for Branch Management

Regularly Merging Changes

To keep your project up-to-date and avoid conflicts, it’s essential to regularly merge changes from the main branch into your feature branches. This practice ensures that your branch is always in sync with the latest developments and reduces the risk of merge conflicts when your work is ready to be integrated.

Keeping Branches Up-to-Date

As your project grows, your team creates more branches, preferably by following branch naming patterns. Each branch represents a set of changes, which allows development work to be done in parallel. Development work in one branch does not affect another branch. Keeping branches up-to-date with the main branch is crucial for smooth development.

Avoiding Merge Conflicts

Merge conflicts can be a significant hurdle in development. To minimize these issues, always pull the latest changes from the main branch before starting new work and before pushing your changes. This practice helps in identifying potential conflicts early and makes the final merge process smoother.

Tip: Use meaningful branch names that follow your project’s naming conventions to make it easier to identify the purpose of each branch.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Branch Creation Errors

When creating a new branch, you might encounter errors that prevent the branch from being created. Common issues include insufficient permissions and incorrect branch names. Ensure you have the necessary permissions and that your branch name adheres to the naming conventions set by your project.

Permission Denied Issues

Permission denied errors often occur due to inadequate access rights. Verify your GitLab role and permissions. If you are not an owner or maintainer, you may need to request elevated permissions from your project administrator.

Resolving Merge Conflicts

Merge conflicts can be a headache, but they are manageable. When working with Git, it’s common to encounter issues where not all branches seem to appear when you list them using the git branch command. To resolve conflicts, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the conflicting files.
  2. Open each file and look for conflict markers.
  3. Edit the file to resolve the conflicts.
  4. Mark the conflicts as resolved using git add.
  5. Commit the changes.

Tip: Regularly merging changes from the main branch into your feature branch can help minimize conflicts.

Advanced Branching Techniques

Using Feature Branches

Feature branches are essential for isolating development work on new features. By creating a feature branch, you ensure that the main branch remains stable while new features are being developed. This approach allows multiple developers to work on different features simultaneously without interfering with each other’s work. Feature branches should be regularly merged back into the main branch to keep the project up-to-date and to avoid integration issues.

Implementing Release Branches

Release branches are used to prepare for a new production release. Once a release branch is created, only bug fixes, documentation generation, and other release-oriented tasks should be performed on this branch. This ensures that the release is stable and free from new feature-related bugs. Release branches are particularly useful in projects with a regular release cycle.

Working with Hotfix Branches

Hotfix branches are critical for addressing urgent issues in the production environment. When a critical bug is found, a hotfix branch is created from the main branch to quickly address the issue. After the fix is implemented, the hotfix branch is merged back into both the main and development branches to ensure the fix is included in future releases. This technique is especially important for maintaining the stability and reliability of the production environment.

In GitLab Premium, you can automate the creation and management of these branches using predefined branch naming patterns and rules. This helps streamline your workflow and ensures consistency across your project.


Creating branches in GitLab is a fundamental skill that empowers developers to manage their codebase efficiently. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can easily create and manage branches using the GitLab UI, command line, or API. Whether you’re working on a new feature, fixing a bug, or experimenting with ideas, branching allows you to do so without disrupting the main codebase. Remember, mastering branch management not only enhances your workflow but also contributes to the overall quality and stability of your projects. Happy coding!

Frequently Asked Questions

What permissions are required to create a branch in GitLab?

You must have at least the Developer role for the project to create a branch in GitLab.

How do I create a new branch from the GitLab UI?

To create a new branch from the GitLab UI: 1. Go to your project. 2. Select Code > Branches. 3. Click on the New branch button. 4. Enter a Branch name. 5. Select the base of your branch (existing branch, tag, or commit SHA). 6. Click Create branch.

What are some common use cases for branches in GitLab?

Branches are commonly used for developing new features, fixing bugs, and experimenting with new ideas without affecting the main codebase.

How can I create a branch using Git commands?

You can create a branch using Git commands by running: `git checkout -b ` to create and switch to the new branch, or `git branch ` to create the branch only.

What is branch protection and how do I set it up in GitLab?

Branch protection in GitLab ensures that certain branches receive oversight and quality checks. To set it up, go to your project settings, navigate to Repository > Protected Branches, and configure the protection rules for your branches.

How do I view all branches in my GitLab project?

To view all branches in your GitLab project, go to your project, select Code > Branches. This page will list all the branches in your project.

What should I do if I encounter a ‘Permission Denied’ error when creating a branch?

If you encounter a ‘Permission Denied’ error, ensure that you have the necessary permissions (at least Developer role) and check with your project administrator if needed.

How can I avoid merge conflicts when working with branches?

To avoid merge conflicts, regularly merge changes from the main branch into your feature branch, keep your branches up-to-date, and communicate with your team about ongoing changes.

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