Submodules are a very handy Git feature, it allows to work with multiple git repositories at same time. In practice this means that I only need one PHPStorm windows to work with two or more projects.

In this article I share some useful tips to ease the process of working with submodules.

Directory structure

First, submodules are meant to be used with related projects, the most common use case is a project with a front-end and a back-end, both are needed in order to develop a new feature.

Imagine two repositories, foo-backend and foo-frontend. In order to work with these two repositories create a new repository, for example foo-stack, this project will contain foo-backend and foo-frontend as submodules.

$ git clone
$ cd foo-stack
$ git submodule add
$ git submodule add

Note: I’m using SSH to clone repositories, but submodules works also with HTTPS.

Cloning project with submodules

To clone a project containing submodules you have to use two extra options.

$ git clone --recurse-submodules --remote-submodules
  • --recurse-submodules: Clone project’s submodules.
  • --remote-submodules: Fetch submodules to latests reference.

Submodules branches

Working with submodules means working with multiple repositories at the same time, in consequence it also means working with multiple branches at same time. Depending on your project, this can be overwhelming.

Instead of git commands, I recommend to use PHPStorm GUI to commit, push, and switching between branches.

Additionally, I strongly recommend the usage of Git Extender, this PHPStorm plugin will allow you to update ALL your branches (including submodules branches) with a simple shortcut ctrl+t, optionally it can also delete local branches after a merge.


Working with submodules can make you save a lot of time, on the other hand, without the right tooling and knowledge working with submodules can be very frustrating.