Git is the most frequently used version control system, capable of handling applications from simple websites to large microservice-based applications. The “fatal: not a git repository” error is one of the most common but concerning errors encountered when using Git. We’ll go over how to avoid making this mistake in this post.
What is the “Fatal: Not a Git Repository” Error?
This sounds like a complicated error, but the “fatal: not a git repository” error is common and the reason for it is the user attempting to perform a git command outside of a properly initialized git directory. To run a command associated with git the user must be within a git directory.
If the user is trying to interact with git outside the git directory or improperly initialized git directory they will encounter the “fatal: not a git repository (or any of the parent directories): .git” error.
By establishing an empty folder and attempting to perform a git command, we can replicate this error. Suppose that we have created an empty folder called “test_git” and when we try to execute the git status command we will encounter this error as we are trying to run git commands in an empty directory.
In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, this error can also be a result of a corrupted HEAD file in the “.git” directory.
How to Fix the Error “Fatal: Not a Git Repository”
We can mitigate this by creating a git directory. There are two ways to create a git directory.
- Use the git-init command to initialize a directory as a git directory.
- Clone a git repository to a local directory.
If a user is in an empty directory and wishes to make it a git directory right away, or if they need to initialize git within a project folder, they can simply run the git init command. This will create a hidden.git folder and make the current directory a git directory. The init command will initialize any directory as a git directory regardless if it’s empty or not.
Let’s initialize the “test_git” folder by running the git init command. This will prompt stating that an empty Git repository has been initialized. Then we can run the git status command to inspect the newly initialized repository. This will provide the current status repository including the branch, commits, and files in the index.
The next option is to download (clone) an existing git repository to a local folder. If your code is hosted in a cloud repository like GitHub or Bitbucket you can easily clone it via the git clone command. As the user is cloning an already git initialized directory all the git configurations will be downloaded in the cloning process, thus enabling users to directly run git commands.
Let us assume that a need arises to work on the open-source python web scraping library scapy and the user requires a local copy. First, we will create a new folder named “test_git_clone” then go to the cloud repository in this instance GitHub and get the cloning URL.
The git clone command can then be used. The repository will be downloaded to a folder called “scrapy.” We can now navigate to the “scrapy” folder and try to run a git command; it will be executed immediately because we have downloaded a directory that has already been git initialized.
If we are dealing with an existing git directory, the most probable cause is a corrupted HEAD file. The HEAD file should contain the current working branch. We can check the contents of the HEAD file via Get-Content or cat commands in Windows and Linux respectively.
We can add the current working branch if the file contents differ or are empty. This should only be used as a last resort because modifications to the HEAD file can have a direct influence on the git repository.
How to Avoid “Fatal: Error Not a Git Repository” Error?
Now that we know what causes this problem and how to deal with it when it happens, how can we prevent it from happening in the first place? The solution is straightforward: make sure you’re in a git initialize repository. Checking for a hidden.git directory is the simplest way to do this.
In a windows environment, we can run the following PowerShell commands to find the .git directory;
|Get-ChildItem -Hidden -Recurse
Get-ChildItem -Path .git
In a Linux environment, we can use the following bash commands;
ls -al .git
If there are parent directories, git might have been initiated on a parent directory making all files and directories under the parent directory part of git version control. So make sure to run the above commands in any parent directories associated with the current directory to identify the git directory.
The “Fatal: Error Not a Git Repository” is easily avoidable. In this post, we have covered when we encounter this error, how to fix such an error and outright avoid this error. If you are following the proper git workflow you will be hard-pressed to encounter this error. Just make sure that you are executing git commands within a git initialized directory.