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How to Fix the “fatal: not a git repository” Error

June 24, 2022

If you’ve worked with Git long enough, you’ve probably run across the “fatal: not a git repository” error. In this tutorial, learn some of the reasons why the error shows up—and how to fix it.

Julie Chipko
Data Scientist

We’ve all been there. You think you’ve mastered the Git workflow, and then, suddenly, you hit an error you’ve never seen before. It’s practically inevitable that you’ll run into confusing and sometimes intimidating error messages as you work with Git, so the first thing to remember is that other people have likely had the same issue. In this article, you’ll learn how to resolve one very common Git error and build an understanding of why it happens:


fatal: not a git repository (or any of the parent directories): .git

What Does fatal: not a git repository (or any of the parent directories): .git Mean?

At first glance, especially if you’re new to Git, the references to a repository and <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> in the error message may not make sense. A repository, or repo, for short, is a directory where Git keeps all your project’s history, including all the changes you make to your project’s files. When you create a Git repository, Git will set up a <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> folder within your project directory that holds this history. When you try to run any Git command, it will first check for this <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> folder to access all the information it has about your project. If Git can’t find the information, you’ll receive the error above.

One thing to note is that Git will also check the parent directories of your current directory for the <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> folder; hence, the <terminal inline>(or any of the parent directories)<terminal inline> part of the error message. This design feature allows you to navigate to child directories in a project tracked by Git and still use Git commands.

Basic Troubleshooting

In short, the <terminal inline>fatal: not a git repository<terminal inline> error indicates that your current working directory isn’t tracked by Git. If you find yourself experiencing this error, these are the two most important things you should check:

  • Did you mistype the path to the repo?
  • Was the repo properly created?

If you’ve already checked and confirmed these, continue onto the “Advanced Troubleshooting” section below. Otherwise, read on.

Did You Mistype the Path to the Repo?

The first thing you should check if you hit this common error is whether you’ve navigated to or properly referenced the path to the repo. To check this, navigate to the repo:


cd <directory_name>

Then you’ll need to check if a <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> directory exists in it. Something that can be confusing is that the <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> repository is hidden by default in file managers, like Explorer or Finder. You can tell if a file is a hidden file if it starts with a period: ..

You can use the <terminal inline>ls -al<terminal inline> command to print a list of files and folders within your current directory, including hidden files and directories, like the <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> directory (for Windows, use <terminal inline>dir /a<terminal inline>).

A screenshot showing how to print a list of files and folders in your current directory
A screenshot showing how to print a list of files and folders in your current directory


In the screenshot above, you can see that the <terminal inline>git_example<terminal inline> directory does contain a <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> directory.

If the <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> repository doesn’t exist in your working directory, make sure you didn’t initialize it in a different one instead. If not, continue to the next step.

Was the Repo Properly Created?

If you’re sure that you have the correct working directory, but the <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> directory doesn’t exist, then something may have gone wrong when you tried to create the repo. You can fix it in one of two ways:

To begin, you can initialize the repo by running the following command:


git init
A screenshot showing how to initialize a Git repo
A screenshot showing how to initialize a Git repo


Alternatively, you can clone an existing repo by following these steps:

  1. Navigate to the repo you want to clone on GitHub.
  2. Click the green Code button, choose the appropriate option, and copy the link.
A screenshot showing how to copy the link to a GitHub repo
A screenshot showing how to copy the link to a GitHub repo

  1. Run <terminal inline>git clone <url><terminal inline>.
  2. Navigate to this repository: <terminal inline>cd <repo_name><terminal inline>.
A screenshot showing how to clone a repo
A screenshot showing how to clone a repo


Make sure you don’t skip the last step. When you clone a repo, Git will create a new child directory within your current working directory to hold your project, so you will have to navigate into it.

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Advanced Troubleshooting

If the troubleshooting steps above didn’t solve your issue, then you may have an issue with the <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file. This file contains one line indicating your current branch, acting as a pointer to it.

The term branch may also be unfamiliar to you if you’re new to Git. A branch is a version of your repository that you can use to test changes to your project. Every repository has a <terminal inline>main<terminal inline> branch that acts as your source of truth and should be the version that gets deployed into your production environment. Whenever you want to make a change to the <terminal inline>main<terminal inline> branch, you can create a separate version of your project, or branch, where you can test the changes. Once you create a new branch, Git will update the <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file to indicate your current working branch.

However, in some cases, the <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file can become corrupted, which can also trigger the <terminal inline>fatal: not a git repository (or any of the parent directories): .git<terminal inline> error. To check the <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file, you can use the <terminal inline>cat .git/HEAD<terminal inline> command to print the contents.

A screenshot showing how to print the contents of the  file
A screenshot showing how to print the contents of the `HEAD` file


In the screenshot above, you can see what the contents of a correct <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file look like. When you use this command, you should see your current branch name instead of <terminal inline>main<terminal inline>.
If it doesn’t contain the current branch you’re working on, then you’ll have to update the file. You can use the following command to do so:


echo 'ref: refs/heads/<branch_name>' > .git/HEAD

Conclusion

Hitting the <terminal inline>fatal: not a git repository<terminal inline> error doesn’t have to be stressful. If you receive this error, remember that Git is trying to tell you that your current working directory isn’t being tracked, so follow the basic steps outlined in this article, summarized below:

  • Make sure you correctly typed the name of the directory.
  • Check that you correctly created the repo. If the directory doesn’t contain a <terminal inline>.git<terminal inline> repo, use <terminal inline>git init<terminal inline> to properly initialize the repo or clone an existing repo.
  • Make sure your <terminal inline>HEAD<terminal inline> file contains the correct information on your current branch. If not, update the contents of the file to the following: <terminal inline>ref: refs/heads/<branch_name><terminal inline>.

By following the troubleshooting steps summarized above, you’ll be able to resolve the error in just a few minutes for almost every case.

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Julie Chipko
Data Scientist

Julie is a Data Scientist at Bloomberg LP, and was previously a Data Science Team Lead at Dataquest.io. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick.

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