Git is a popular distributed version control system, which helps keeping track of changes less hassle. In some scenarios, we might want Git to ignore some changes or hide them from Git. In this post, we’ll explore a couple of ways to do so.


Let’s go back basics first. There’re 3 states in Git, namely modified, staged and committed. These states apply to files on which Git has an eye. For those Git doesn’t track yet, we have another state named untracked—they are listed under Untracked files when git status. Files are either modified, staged or committed can be seen as tracked ones.

We human only see working directory and files in it just like what we see when ls. Working directory is nothing but a directory created when we clone a Git repo, it’s an ordinary directory in a filesystem. Whenever we modify, add or remove files in working directory, we see only one version of them at that moment. If another person looks at working directory later, they can’t tell what changes we made. That another person is Git. Git wouldn’t be so useful, if it sorely relied on working directory. Therefore, Git adds another place called index which aids in detecting differences. Index is a version of working directory, any changes we make in working directory are compared to index, and from there Git can keep track of changes.

Connect this to states above, we can think of tracked files are indexed files—files are added to index—and vice versa.

Untracked files

A common example for untracked files—if you’re using macOS—is the metadata file .DS_Store. We usually put this file in .gitignore. .gitingore is used when we want to share ignored files with other people since it’s always committed in a Git repo.

How about if we want to ignore some locally only, and not to share or modify .gitignore? $GIT_DIR/info/exclude has the same effect as .gitignore, except it’s only applicable locally in a specific repo. $GIT_DIR is actually .git folder in a working directory after we clone from a Git repo. All things behind the scene of Git are stored in this folder, and we can call it the Git repo itself.

To make these files observable again from Git, we simply remove them from .gitignore or $GIT_DIR/info/exclude.

Tracked files

Now the fun part comes. How do we temporarily hide tracked files from Git? A use case for it could be a shared configuration file. Usually, it’s committed and shared among people, but we need to change some of its values while tinkering and also don’t want the noise when git status—the file will be listed in Changes not staged for commit. We can use git update-index --skip-worktree <files> for this purpose. git update-index is a low-level command, a plumbing one in Git parlance, which allows us to manipulate Git index. --skip-worktree option tells Git to pretend that a file in working directory isn’t changed—even it’s in fact—so that the file is treated as unmodified on comparing to index. As a result, we won’t see the file in Changes not staged for commit.

To undo, we use git update-index --no-skip-worktree <files>. It’s straightforward if we remember files, otherwise it would be not so obvious to find out. Luckily, git ls-files -v comes to rescue. Files start S tag are ones we skipped.


For untracked files, .gitignore or $GIT_DIR/info/exclude depends on whether or not we want to shared these ignore files respectively.

For tracked files, git update-index --skip-worktree <files> will do the job, and git ls-files-v is nice to help when we need to undo.