“Unable to Update a Local Ref” Error in Git

Git is one of the most powerful and popular version control systems. Nearly every developer has come across Git or a Git-related object such as a repository, commit, issue, etc.

When you are getting started with Git, you might encounter the “git unable to update local ref” error message when running the “git push” command.

In this guide, we will learn what this error means, why it occurs, and how we can resolve it in our Git repository in a safe manner.

Why Does this Error Occur?

Let us start by exploring what this error means and why it occurs. There are two main reasons why you might encounter this error message when running the “git push” command:

  1. You have a broken or corrupt reference to a specific branch
  2. Your repo contains a lose commit

Let us see what we can do about going on to fix this issue.

Method 1: Delete a Reference to Master

The most basic technique is attempting to remove the reference to the master branch and then re-fetch the repo.

You can do this by removing the entry in the “.git/refs” directory.

For example, start by navigating to the target repository.

$ cd ~/repositories/src/Frames

Next, delete the reference to the origin/master remote branch on the local machine by directly removing the corresponding file from the “.git” directory.

$ rm -rf .git/refs/remotes/origin/master

Once you removed the reference, re-run the “fetch” command as follows:

$ git fetch

Method 2: Update Ref to Branch

Another method that you can try is updating the reference to your local branch. We can do this using the “git update-ref” command as follows:

$ git update-ref -d refs/remotes/origin/master

Replace “master” with the name of the branch that you wish to update.

Method 3: Cleanup (Destructive)

If the error message still persists, you can take a step further and perform a cleanup of the repo and the target branch.

This involves telling Git to remove any unnecessary files and optimize the repo. This can lead to data loss so backup your changes before running any of the following commands.

To remove unnecessary files and optimize it, run the following command:

$ git gc --prune=now

This should run the Git garbage collector manually and optimize the repo.

To remove the non-existing branches, run the following command:

$ git remote prune origin

This removes the branch from the remote repository.


In this post, we explored what the “unable to update local ref” error means in Git, why it occurs, and how to resolve it.

About the author

John Otieno

My name is John and am a fellow geek like you. I am passionate about all things computers from Hardware, Operating systems to Programming. My dream is to share my knowledge with the world and help out fellow geeks. Follow my content by subscribing to LinuxHint mailing list