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Updating a project

Copier enables the code lifecycle management for generated projects. There are several common use cases for that, including but not limited to

  1. Update the answers to previous questions

    Questions can be reanswered to fit the latest requirements of the generated projects. This is helpful, especially when the template includes optional tools that fit into different phases of a project. In that case, template consumers are able to activate the optional tools gradually when the project matures.

  2. Sync updates from evolved templates

    The template creators might update the template to add new functionalities or bug fixes. The generated project can get updated if the template consumers want to keep it to the latest version.

The best way to update a project from its template is when all of these conditions are true:

  1. The destination folder includes a valid .copier-answers.yml file.
  2. The template is versioned with Git (with tags).
  3. The destination folder is versioned with Git.

If that's your case, then just enter the destination folder, make sure git status shows it clean, and run:

copier update

This will read all available Git tags, will compare them using PEP 440, and will check out the latest one before updating. To update to the latest commit, add --vcs-ref=HEAD. You can use any other Git ref you want.

When updating, Copier will do its best to respect your project evolution by using the answers you provided when copied last time. However, sometimes it's impossible for Copier to know what to do with a diff code hunk. In those cases, copier handles the conflict in one of two ways, controlled with the --conflict option:

  • --conflict rej: Creates a separate .rej file for each file with conflicts. These files contain the unresolved diffs.
  • --conflict inline (default): Updates the file with conflict markers. This is quite similar to the conflict markers created when a git merge command encounters a conflict. For more information, see the "Checking Out Conflicts" section of the git documentation.

If the update results in conflicts, you should review those manually before committing.

You probably don't want to lose important changes or to include merge conflicts in your Git history, but if you aren't careful, it's easy to make mistakes.

That's why the recommended way to prevent these mistakes is to add a pre-commit (or equivalent) hook that forbids committing conflict files or markers. The recommended hook configuration depends on the conflict setting you use.

Preventing Commit of Merge Conflicts

If you use --conflict inline (the default) then you need to check for conflicts markers in your files:

    - repo:
      rev: v4.3.0
          # Prevent committing inline conflict markers
          - id: check-merge-conflict
            args: [--assume-in-merge]

If you use --conflict rej then you need to review and remove all generated .rej files:

    - repo: local
          # Prevent committing .rej files
          - id: forbidden-files
            name: forbidden files
                found Copier update rejection files; review and remove them before
            language: fail
            files: "\\.rej$"


For projects that use both rej and inline depending on each user's preference, you can add both hooks to your pre-commit-config.yaml file, making sure that no unresolved merge conflicts are committed.

Never change the answers file manually


Never update .copier-answers.yml manually.

This will trick Copier, making it believe that those modified answers produced the current subproject, while it was produced by a different answers set. This will produce unpredictable behavior of the smart diff algorithm used for updates, which may work under certain circumstances, but not always.

This is an unsupported way to update. Please do not open issues if you updated this way.

The correct process to update a subproject is:

  1. Run copier update.
  2. Answer the questions. They'll default to your answers on your last update.

If you want to just reuse all previous answers:

copier update --defaults

If you want to change just one question, and leave all others untouched, and don't want to go through the whole questionnaire again:

copier update --defaults --data updated_question="my new answer"

How the update works

To understand how the updating process works, take a look at this diagram:

graph TD

%% nodes ----------------------------------------------------------
template_repo("template repository")
template_current("/tmp/template<br>(current tag)")
template_latest("/tmp/template<br>(latest tag)")

project_regen("/tmp/project<br>(fresh, current version)")
project_current("current project")
project_half("half migrated<br>project")
project_updated("updated project")
project_applied("updated project<br>(diff applied)")
project_full("fully updated<br>and migrated project")

update["update current<br>project in-place<br>(prompting)<br>+ run tasks again"]
compare["compare to get diff"]
apply["apply diff"]


%% edges ----------------------------------------------------------
        template_repo --> |git clone| template_current
        template_repo --> |git clone| template_latest

     template_current --> |generate and run tasks| project_regen
      project_current --> compare
      project_current --> |apply pre-migrations| project_half
        project_regen --> compare
         project_half --> update
      template_latest --> update
               update --> project_updated
              compare --> diff
                 diff --> apply
      project_updated --> apply
                apply --> project_applied
      project_applied --> |apply post-migrations| project_full

%% style ----------------------------------------------------------
classDef blackborder stroke:#000;
class compare,update,apply blackborder;

As you can see here, copier does several things:

  • It regenerates a fresh project from the current template version.
  • Then, it compares both version to get the diff from "fresh project" to "current project".
  • Now, it applies pre-migrations to your project, and updates the current project with the latest template changes (asking for confirmation).
  • Finally, it re-applies the previously obtained diff and then runs the post-migrations.

Recover from a broken update

Usually Copier will replay the last project generation without problems. However, sometimes that process can break. Examples:

  • When the last update was relying on some external resources that are no longer available.
  • When the old and new versions of the template depend on different incompatible versions of the same Jinja extension, but Copier can only use one.
  • When the old version of the template was built for an older version of Copier.

Generally, you should keep your templates as pure and simple as possible to avoid those situations. But it can still happen.

To overcome this, use the copier recopy command, which will discard all the smart update algorithm explained above. It will behave just like if you were applying the template for the first time, but it will keep your answers from the last update.

Of course, the experience will be less satisfactory. The new template will override any changes found in your local project. But you can use a Git diff tool to overcome that. After doing this, further updates generally keep on working as usual.