Dec 8, 2021 2 min read

What's the Difference Between Git Switch and Checkout?

Table of Contents

When you start learning and using Git, you'll come across the common situation where you have to change branches.

And here, things could become a bit confusing for you. If you look for how to switch branches in git, you'll come across some examples where git switch is used and some examples where git checkout is used.

Git checkout command Git switch command Description
git checkout my-branch git switch my-branch Switch to branch my-branch
git checkout -b my-branch git switch -c my-branch Create and switch to my-branch

So, what's the difference between git switch and git checkout? If both can be used for switching branches, why are there two commands for the same purpose? Let me explain.

Difference between git checkout and git switch

Here's the thing. Git checkout is the old command which was used to create and switch branches. It can also be used to restore changes from a certain commit. But git checkout does more than that. It allows you to copy files from any branch or commit directly into your working tree without switching branches.

As Dan Fabulich notes, git checkout does three things:

  • switch branches
  • copy files from the stage to the working tree
  • copy files from a tree-ish to the working tree

If you don't understand it, that's okay. Just remember that git checkout does more than simple branch switching and the additional functionalities started creating confusion.

And hence, with the release of Git 2.23, its developers introduced two new git commands: git switch and git restore.

The idea behind this move is to let people use git switch for switching branches and git restore for undoing changes from a commit. At the same time git checkout remains there for advanced options to deal with tree-ish.

Which one should you use? Git checkout or git switch?

If you have to switch branches, use the git switch command instead of git checkout. Why? Because it was created for this specific task. For new Git users, it is easier to remember that git switch is for switching branches, git restore is for restoring a commit.

So, it's a good practice to replace the branch creation and switching functionality of git checkout with git switch command.

I hope you are clear about using git switch and checkout now. If you have anything to add, please use the comment section.

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