Cannot delete branch 'X' checked out at 'X' [SOLVED]


Welcome to this comprehensive guide where we unravel the mysteries behind the error message: "error: Cannot delete branch 'xx' checked out at 'xx'." This error often pops up in Git, a widely-used version control system, throwing a wrench in the seamless management of branches within a repository. But worry not! We are here to dissect this error, peeling back its layers to provide you with a clear understanding and practical solutions.

In this tutorial, we will navigate through various scenarios that trigger this error, such as the branch being currently checked out, a rebase being in progress, or inconsistencies where the working directory is unaware of the actual state of branches due to lingering references or other issues. Armed with this knowledge, you will be equipped to identify the root cause swiftly when faced with this error.


Understanding the Error: "Cannot delete branch 'X' checked out at 'X'"

What does the error mean?

The error "Cannot delete branch 'X' checked out at 'X'" is a protective message generated by Git to prevent users from executing a potentially harmful action. It indicates that the branch you are trying to delete ('X') is currently in a state of active use or has ongoing operations in the location ('X') where it is checked out. In simple terms, Git is signaling that the branch in question is currently engaged, possibly being the active branch in a working directory or involved in a process such as a rebase, making its deletion unsafe or impractical at the moment.

Why does Git throw this error?

Git throws the "Cannot delete branch 'X' checked out at 'X'" error as a safeguard to maintain the integrity and consistency of the repository. Deleting an active branch could lead to data loss, disrupt ongoing processes, and leave the repository in a confusing or undefined state. By preventing the deletion, Git ensures that the branch is not removed inadvertently while it's still needed or before necessary changes and processes are finalized, thus helping maintain a stable and reliable working environment within the repository. It acts as a warning and a guide, steering users away from actions that might compromise their work or the repository's well-being.


Possible Causes and Solutions

  1. Branch is Currently Checked Out: You're currently working on the branch you are trying to delete.
  2. Working Directory Unaware: Sometimes, your working directory might not be aware that the branch has already been switched, due to some inconsistencies.
  3. Ongoing Rebase Activity: If there is an ongoing rebase or merge activity then that will also stop you from deleting the branch


1. Branch is Currently Checked Out

Sample Error Message:

error: Cannot delete branch '<branch-to-be-deleted>' checked out at '/path/to/repo'

This error indicates that you're trying to delete a branch that you're currently on. Git prevents this action to avoid losing unsaved work and to maintain a valid working directory.


To resolve this issue, you can switch to a different branch and then attempt to delete the problematic branch again.

Step 1: Checkout another branch

git checkout <another-branch>

This command switches the working directory to another branch, ensuring you’re not on the branch you wish to delete.

Step 2: Delete the branch

git branch -d <branch-to-be-deleted>

This command deletes the branch now that it's no longer checked out.


2. Working Directory Unaware

Sample Error Message:

error: Cannot delete branch '<branch-to-be-deleted>' checked out at '/path/to/repo'

Even after switching to another branch, sometimes Git might still think that the branch you want to delete is still checked out. This inconsistency can occur due to issues like stale worktree references or an out-of-date Git index or other unexpected behaviors.


You can refresh the working directory and prune any stale worktree references to resolve this issue.

Step 1: Refresh the Git index and working directory

git status

This command refreshes the Git index and ensures that the working directory is aware of the current branch.

Step 2: Prune stale worktree references

git worktree prune

This command cleans up any stale or invalid worktree references that might be causing the inconsistency.

Step 3: Try deleting the branch again

git branch -d <branch-to-be-deleted>

Attempt to delete the branch once more after cleaning up the working directory and worktree references.


git worktree prune Vs git worktree remove

1. git worktree prune


  • Cleanup: Removes references to worktrees that no longer exist on the filesystem.
  • Automatic Cleanup: Can automatically clean up stale administrative files left by deleted or moved worktrees.

When to Use:

  • Use git worktree prune when you have manually deleted or moved a worktree directory, and you want to clean up the lingering references left in the repository.
  • It is also used for general maintenance to ensure that there are no stale or dangling references to worktrees.
git worktree prune

2. git worktree remove


  • Explicit Removal: Explicitly removes a worktree and the associated administrative files.
  • Safe Removal: Ensures that there are no uncommitted changes in the worktree being removed, providing a level of safety.

When to Use:

  • Use git worktree remove when you want to safely remove a worktree along with its administrative files.
  • It should be used when you want to ensure that you don’t accidentally lose changes by removing a worktree directory manually.
git worktree remove <path-to-worktree>

Note: The <path-to-worktree> argument is the file path where the worktree is located.


3. Rebase is Currently in Progress

Sample Error Message:

error: Cannot delete branch '<branch-to-be-deleted>' that you are currently rebasing.

While a rebase operation is in progress on a branch, Git locks the branch, preventing it from being deleted. This happens because during a rebase, commits from the branch are temporarily stashed so that they can be reapplied on top of another branch. Deleting the branch during this process would interrupt the rebase and might lead to data loss or repository inconsistencies.


To resolve this issue, you can either complete or abort the rebase before attempting to delete the branch.

Option 1: Complete the Rebase

Step 1: Resolve any conflicts if there are any and continue the rebase.

git rebase --continue

This command continues the rebase after conflicts have been resolved.

Step 2: Once the rebase is completed, switch to another branch.

git checkout <another-branch>

Step 3: Now, try deleting the branch.

git branch -d <branch-to-be-deleted>

Option 2: Abort the Rebase

Step 1: If you want to abort the rebase due to various issues or changes in plan, you can use the following command.

git rebase --abort

This command will stop the rebase and restore the branch to its state before the rebase started.

Step 2: Switch to another branch.

git checkout <another-branch>

Step 3: Try deleting the branch.

git branch -d <branch-to-be-deleted>

By ensuring that no rebase is in progress, you can safely delete the branch without risking repository inconsistencies or data loss. Remember to switch to a different branch before attempting the deletion.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does Git not allow me to delete a branch that is currently checked out?

Git prevents the deletion of a currently checked-out branch as a safety mechanism. Deleting the active branch would leave the working directory in a state with no specific branch context, which could lead to confusion and potential loss of unstaged changes or uncommitted work.

How can I safely delete a branch that is currently involved in a rebase?

If a branch is in the middle of a rebase, it’s best to either complete or abort the rebase before attempting to delete the branch. You can continue the rebase with git rebase --continue after resolving conflicts or abort the rebase using git rebase --abort. Once the rebase is not in progress, you can safely delete the branch.

Why do I still receive the error even after switching to another branch?

Sometimes, Git might hold onto stale references or worktree paths, causing it to believe that the branch is still checked out, even after switching to another branch. Running git worktree prune helps in cleaning up these stale references, and refreshing the working directory can often resolve this issue.

What is the difference between using git worktree prune and manually deleting a worktree directory?

Manually deleting a worktree directory removes the files and the directory, but Git still retains references to the deleted worktree. git worktree prune helps clean up these lingering references in Git’s metadata, ensuring that the state of the working trees is consistent with the actual file system.

Can I force delete a branch that is currently checked out or involved in a rebase?

Force-deleting a checked-out branch or a branch involved in a rebase is not recommended, as it can lead to data loss and repository inconsistencies. Instead, it’s advised to switch to another branch, complete or abort ongoing rebases, and then safely delete the branch.



The error "error: Cannot delete branch 'xx' checked out at 'xx'" is a common issue encountered while managing branches in Git, a distributed version control system. This error essentially prevents the deletion of a branch that is currently in use or has some ongoing operations. Several scenarios can give rise to this error:

  • Branch Currently Checked Out: The error can occur if you attempt to delete a branch that is currently active in your working directory.
  • Rebase in Progress: When a rebase operation involving the branch is ongoing, attempting to delete the branch will result in this error, as Git protects it to prevent any loss of data or inconsistencies.
  • Working Directory Unawareness: Sometimes, the working directory might be out of sync, holding onto stale references, or having lingering paths that can cause this error.

In each scenario, understanding the underlying issue is essential, and different strategies such as switching branches, completing, or aborting ongoing rebases, and cleaning up the working directory and stale references can be applied to successfully delete the branch without encountering this error.

For more insight and detailed documentation related to this error and branch management in Git, you can refer to the official Git documentation:

  • Git Worktree Documentation: Explore more on managing multiple working directories attached to the same repository.
  • Git Branch Documentation: Deep dive into branch management, including creation, listing, and deletion of branches.
  • Git Rebase Documentation: Learn more about rebasing, which is a common source of this error, and understand how to manage and resolve rebases.


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Deepak Prasad

Deepak Prasad

He is the founder of GoLinuxCloud and brings over a decade of expertise in Linux, Python, Go, Laravel, DevOps, Kubernetes, Git, Shell scripting, OpenShift, AWS, Networking, and Security. With extensive experience, he excels in various domains, from development to DevOps, Networking, and Security, ensuring robust and efficient solutions for diverse projects. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn profile.

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