Checkout Strategy

You can configure how Atlantis checks out the code from your pull request via the --checkout-strategy flag or the ATLANTIS_CHECKOUT_STRATEGY environment variable that get passed to the atlantis server command.

Atlantis supports branch and merge strategies.


If set to branch (the default), Atlantis will check out the source branch of the pull request.

For example, given the following git history: Git History

If the pull request was asking to merge branch into main, Atlantis would check out branch at commit C3.


The problem with the branch strategy, is that if users push branches that are out of date with main, then their terraform plan could be deleting some resources that were configured in the main branch.

For example, in the above diagram if commits C4 and C5 have modified the terraform state and added new resources, then when Atlantis runs terraform plan at commit C3, because the code doesn't have the changes from C4 and C5, Terraform will try to delete those resources.

To fix this, users could merge main into their branch, or you can run Atlantis with --checkout-strategy=merge. With this strategy, Atlantis will try to perform a merge locally by:

  • Checking out the destination branch of the pull request (ex. main)
  • Locally performing a git merge {source branch}
  • Then running its Terraform commands

In this example, the code that Atlantis would be operating on would look like: Git History Where Atlantis is using its local commit C6.


Atlantis doesn't actually commit this merge anywhere. It just uses it locally.


Atlantis only performs this merge during the terraform plan phase. If another commit is pushed to main after Atlantis runs plan, nothing will happen.

To optimize cloning time, Atlantis can perform a shallow clone by specifying the --checkout-depth flag. The cloning is performed in a following manner:

  • Shallow clone of the default branch is performed with depth of --checkout-depth value of zero (full clone).
  • branch is retrieved, including the same amount of commits.
  • Merge base of the default branch and branch is checked for existence in the shallow clone.
  • If the merge base is not present, it means that either of the branches are ahead of the merge base by more than --checkout-depth commits. In this case full repo history is fetched.

If the commit history often diverges by more than the default checkout depth then the --checkout-depth flag should be tuned to avoid full fetches.