[FIXED] error: cannot open .git/fetch_head: permission denied


Author: Steve Alila
Reviewer: Deepak Prasad

Introduction - error: cannot open .git/fetch_head: permission denied

The error message "error: cannot open .git/fetch_head: permission denied" is a common issue that users encounter while working with Git repositories. This error is primarily associated with permission issues within the repository’s .git/ directory, hindering the user's access to specific files necessary for Git operations. In this discussion, we will unravel the possible causes behind this error, focusing on various permission-related issues such as user permissions, group permissions, directory permissions, and incorrect file permissions. We will navigate through each cause, offering detailed insights and practical solutions to rectify the error, ensuring a smoother and more efficient Git experience.

Our aim is to provide a comprehensive understanding and the tools necessary to resolve this error, allowing users to continue their work without disruption.


1. Permission-Related Issues and Solutions

1.1 User Permissions

The current user might not have the necessary read and write permissions to access or modify the .git/FETCH_HEAD file.


Change the ownership of the file to the current user.

sudo chown $(whoami) .git/FETCH_HEAD

After changing ownership, ensure that the user has read and write permissions.


1.2 Group Permissions

The user might belong to a group that doesn’t have the necessary permissions.


Change the group of the file, and ensure that the group has read and write permissions.

sudo chgrp <group-name> .git/FETCH_HEAD
chmod g+rw .git/FETCH_HEAD

Alternatively, you can add the user to a group that already has the necessary permissions.


1.3 Directory Permissions

It’s not just individual files; the directories containing them also need to have appropriate permissions. The .git/ directory and its subdirectories should be accessible and writable by the user.


You can recursively change the permissions of the .git/ directory.

chmod -R +rw .git/


1.4 Incorrect File Permissions

The .git/FETCH_HEAD file itself might not have the correct permissions set, preventing the user from modifying it.


Explicitly set the read and write permissions for the file.

chmod +rw .git/FETCH_HEAD


1.5 Elevated Privileges

Using elevated privileges like sudo unnecessarily can change the ownership and permissions of the repository files, causing access issues later.


Avoid using sudo unless absolutely necessary.

If sudo has been used previously and has caused ownership issues, you might need to rectify the ownership and permissions as described in the previous points.


2. SELinux or AppArmor Policy

Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) and AppArmor are security modules that manage access control policies. They can sometimes restrict the access of certain processes, such as Git, to specific files or directories, like .git/FETCH_HEAD, resulting in a permission denied error.


  • You might consider adjusting the SELinux or AppArmor policies to allow the necessary access.
  • Temporarily permissive modes could be used for diagnosing the issue, but this should not be used as a permanent solution due to security risks.


Temporarily set SELinux to permissive mode:

sudo setenforce 0

To persistently change the mode, modify the SELinux configuration file (/etc/selinux/config) and set SELINUX=permissive.


To stop an AppArmor profile for diagnosing:

sudo apparmor_parser -R /etc/apparmor.d/usr.bin.git

To reload the profile:

sudo apparmor_parser -r /etc/apparmor.d/usr.bin.git


3. Docker Volume Permissions

When using Git within a Docker container, there might be issues with volume permissions if the volumes are not correctly mounted or configured, resulting in a permission denied error.

  • Ensure that the Docker volumes are correctly mounted with the necessary permissions and ownership.
  • You might need to adjust the Dockerfile or docker-compose file to correctly setup volume permissions.

Example of a docker-compose volume configuration:

  - ./my-repo:/usr/src/app

Setting permissions in Dockerfile:

RUN chown -R user:user /path/to/directory


4. Network File System (NFS) Issues

When a Git repository is located on a Network File System (NFS), there could be permission discrepancies due to differences in user IDs and group IDs between the NFS server and client, causing the permission denied error.


  • Ensure that the user and group IDs are correctly mapped between the NFS client and server.
  • You might need to adjust the NFS server's export configuration to correctly map the user and group IDs.

NFS server export configuration example (/etc/exports):

/path/to/export  *(rw,sync,all_squash,anonuid=1000,anongid=1000)

Mounting the NFS share on the client:

sudo mount -t nfs server:/path/to/export /mnt/mountpoint


Frequently Asked Questions

What causes the "error: cannot open .git/fetch_head: permission denied" error in Git?

This error commonly occurs due to insufficient file or directory permissions in the Git repository. It arises when the user or system process running the Git command doesn’t have adequate permissions to access or modify the .git/FETCH_HEAD file. Ensuring that the user has the necessary permissions to read from and write to the file, as well as the encompassing directories, is crucial in resolving this issue.

How do I fix the permission denied error for the .git/FETCH_HEAD file?

To address this, you might consider changing the ownership and permissions of the .git/FETCH_HEAD file. You can use commands like chmod and chown to modify the file permissions and ownership, respectively. For instance, executing sudo chown $(whoami) .git/FETCH_HEAD will change the file’s ownership to the current user, potentially resolving the permission denied error.

Do I need to adjust permissions for the entire .git/ directory or just the .git/FETCH_HEAD file?

Adjusting permissions for the entire .git/ directory might be necessary if multiple files within the directory are having permission issues. However, a more conservative approach is to start by modifying permissions for the specific file causing the error, which in this case is .git/FETCH_HEAD. Only consider broadening permissions to the entire .git/ directory if the error persists with other files within the directory.

How do SELinux or AppArmor policies impact Git operations?

SELinux or AppArmor policies can sometimes restrict Git operations if the policies prevent access to necessary files or directories. Adjusting these policies to allow Git the required access, either by modifying existing policies or creating new ones tailored to your needs, can help mitigate this issue. However, it's essential to do this without compromising the system's overall security.

What should I consider when working with Git repositories in Docker containers or Network File Systems (NFS)?

When working with Git in Docker containers, ensuring that volumes are correctly mounted and have the appropriate permissions is vital. Additionally, for repositories located on Network File Systems (NFS), ensuring correct mapping of user and group IDs between NFS client and server, and adjusting the NFS server's export configurations as necessary, can help resolve permission errors.

Is using sudo with Git commands recommended?

sing sudo with Git commands is generally not recommended unless absolutely necessary, as it can lead to permission and ownership issues within the repository. Utilizing sudo can inadvertently change the ownership of repository files and directories to the root user, causing permission denied errors for non-root users later on. It's advisable to manage repository permissions to allow necessary access without the need for elevated privileges.



The "error: cannot open .git/fetch_head: permission denied" error in Git is primarily associated with access and permission issues concerning the .git/FETCH_HEAD file or the .git/ directory. Understanding and resolving this error involves a nuanced exploration of different facets, such as user and group permissions, SELinux or AppArmor policies, Docker volumes, and Network File System configurations.

  • Permissions: Regularly encountered issues revolve around user and group permissions. Ensuring that the relevant user or group has adequate read and write permissions is fundamental.
  • Security Policies: SELinux or AppArmor policies can impose restrictions. Tailoring these policies to strike a balance between operational needs and security considerations is essential.
  • Environment Specifics: Special considerations may be necessary for different operational environments such as Docker containers or Network File Systems (NFS). Adapting configurations to respect the specificities of each environment is crucial.
  • Elevated Privileges: The usage of elevated privileges, like sudo, should be approached with caution, as it might inadvertently complicate permission dynamics, leading to errors.

You can read following resources for more information:


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Steve Alila

Steve Alila

He specializes in web design, WordPress development, and data analysis, with proficiency in Python, JavaScript, and data extraction tools. Additionally, he excels in web API development, AI integration, and data presentation using Matplotlib and Plotly. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn profile.

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