Git Rev News: Edition 32 (October 11th, 2017)

Welcome to the 32nd edition of Git Rev News, a digest of all things Git. For our goals, the archives, the way we work, and how to contribute or to subscribe, see the Git Rev News page on

This edition covers what happened during the month of September 2017.



There was only one student, Prathamesh Chavan, mentored by Stefan Beller and Christian Couder, who participated this year in the Google Summer of Code. Matthieu Moy and Jeff King were the GSoC administrators for the Git project.

Prathamesh has been working on an “Incremental rewrite of git-submodules” whose goal was to port parts of the git submodule command from shell to C code.

Prathamesh wrote a report about his work.

Prathamesh passed the GSoC final evaluation.


Pavel Kretov wrote to the mailing list:

Git, being “a stupid content tracker”, doesn’t try to keep an eye on operations which happens to individual files; things like file renames aren’t recorded during commit, but heuristically detected later.

and then stated that it would be “possible not only to do more accurate ‘git blame’, but also merge revisions with fewer conflicts” if Git better tracked what happens to files.

So he suggested adding hints into the commit message like:

Tracking-hint: rename git-1.0.ebuild -> git-2.0.ebuild
Tracking-hint: recreate LICENSE.txt
Tracking-hint: split main.c -> main.c cmdline.c
Tracking-hint: merge <-

Stefan Beller first replied that this “was discussed a couple of times on the mailing list (though not recently)” and pointed to an old email from Linus Torvalds.

In this email from April 2005, when Git was a few week old, Linus rejected the idea of Git tracking renames in other places than the commit message. He wrote things like:

It’s fundamentally the git notion of “content determines objects”.


So, you really need to think of git as a filesystem. You can then implement an SCM _on_top_of_it_ …


So the git header is an “inode” in the git filesystem, and like an inode it has a ctime and an mtime, and pointers to the data.

and he concluded with:

There are too many messy SCM’s out there that do not have a “philosophy”. Dammit, I’m not interested in creating another one. This thing has a mental model, and we keep to that model.

The reason UNIX is beautiful is that it has a mental model of processes and files. Git has a mental model of objects and certain very very limited relationships. The relationships git cares about are encoded in the C files, the “extra crap” (like rename info) is just that - stuff that random scripts wrote, and that is just informational and not central to the model.

Jacob Keller, alias Jake, replied to Stefan to summarize Linus’ position in the old discussions.

Jeff King replied to Pavel’s initial email agreeing that optional annotations could be useful, but stressing that “there are some complications” like:

But of course somebody has to make those annotations. If we had a tool to do it automatically, then we could apply the same tool at run-time later.

Igor Djordjevic also replied to Pavel pointing him to another old email from Linus and a discussion in April this year where Junio Hamano wrote that Linus’ email was “one of the most important message in the list archive”.

In this email, from the same discussion as above, Linus concluded with:

In other words, I’m right. I’m always right, but sometimes I’m more right than other times. And dammit, when I say “files don’t matter”, I’m really really Right(tm).

Please stop this “track files” crap. Git tracks exactly what matters, namely “collections of files”. Nothing else is relevant, and even thinking that it is relevant only limits your world-view. Notice how the notion of CVS “annotate” always inevitably ends up limiting how people use it. I think it’s a totally useless piece of crap, and I’ve described something that I think is a million times more useful, and it all fell out exactly because I’m not limiting my thinking to the wrong model of the world.

Philip Oakley also replied directly to Pavel, suggesting him to use git interpret-trailers for standardising his hints locally (in his team / workplace) “to see how it goes and flesh out what works and what doesn’t”.

Johannes Schindelin, alias Dscho, agreed with Philip and Pavel. He explained that “everybody who seriously worked on a massive code base has seen that rename detection fail in the most inopportune ways” and gave examples, especially this one:

when rename detection would matter most, like, really a lot, to lift the burden of the human beings in front of the computer pouring over hundreds of thousands of files moved from one directory tree to another, that’s exactly when Git’s rename detection says that there are too many files, here are my union rights, I am going home, good luck to you.

and concluded with:

So I totally like the idea of introducing hints, possibly as trailers in the commit message (or as refs/notes/rename/* or whatever) that can be picked up by Git versions that know about them, and can be ignored by Git versions that insist on the rename detection du jour. With a config option to control the behavior, maybe, too.

Philip replied to Dscho suggesting a list of possible hints:

So the hints could be (by type):

  • template;licence;boiler-plate;standard;reference :: copy
  • word-rename
  • regex for word substitution changes (e.g. which chars are within ‘Word-_0`)
  • regex for white-space changes (i.e. which chars are considered whitespace.)
  • move-dir path/glob spec
  • move-file path/glob spec (maybe list each ‘group’ of moves, so that once found the rest of the rename detection follows the group.)

The discussion on this thread continued for a while also involving Jeff Hostetler, Stefan and Junio who wrote:

I actually like the idea to have a mechanism where the user can give hint to influence, or instruction to dictate, how Git determines “this old path moved to this new path” when comparing two trees.

But he stated that “it is a non starter” to have hints “baked in the log message of a commit object”, though “the principle Linus lays out in the message does not reject such hints stored outside baked-in data structure, which allows mistakes to be corrected without affecting the real history”.

In March 2016 Andy Lowry described what he believed to be a bug in git diff-index. After creating a file and then touching it, git diff-index reports the file has changed, and reports “bogus destination SHA”:

$ git diff-index HEAD
:100644 100644 e69de29bb2d1d6434b8b29ae775ad8c2e48c5391
0000000000000000000000000000000000000000 M    A

But then using git diff followed by git diff-index again reports no changes:

$ git diff
$ git diff-index HEAD

Carlos Martín Nieto first replied to Andy that “this is expected and matches the documentation”.

Indeed the git diff-index documentation tells that this command has 2 different operating modes. The “cached” mode, when --cached is specified, makes Git trust the index file entirely. While the “non-cached” mode also shows files that don’t match the stat state as being “tentatively changed” using “the magic ‘all-zero’ sha1”.

Jeff King, alias Peff, also pointed to the same documentation and explained in more details how the command works and the historical background:

Back when diff-index was written, it was generally assumed that scripts would refresh the index as their first operation, and then proceed to do one or more operations like diff-index, which would rely on the refresh from the first step.

Peff wrote that running git diff does refresh the index, which is why Andy’s last step shows no diff.

Andy thanked Peff, but replied that he is after “a tree-to-filesystem comparison, regardless of index”:

I’ve currently got a “diff” thrown in as a “work-around” before “diff-index”, but now I understand it’s not a workaround at all. If there’s a better way to achieve what I’m after, I’d appreciate a tip.

Peff suggested using git update-index --refresh rather than git diff to just refresh the index.

Andy appreciated this answer, though he described his use case in details and asked:

So I think now that the script should do “update-index --refresh” followed by “diff-index --quiet HEAD”. Sound correct?

Junio confirmed that:

Yes. That always been one of the kosher ways for any script to make sure that the files in the working tree that are tracked have not been modified relative to HEAD (assuming that the index matches HEAD).

and then described a few other “kosher ways” along with their benefits.

Recently Marc Herbert then chimed into this 18 month old discussion adding the Linux kernel mailing list and a number of kernel developers in CC. Saying:

Too bad kernel/scripts/setlocalversion didn’t get the memo

Marc pointed to a commit from 2013 in the Linux kernel repo that removes a git update-index call from the “setlocalversion” script. And he added that “this causes a spurious ‘-dirty’ suffix when building from a directory copy”.

In the “PS:” part of his email Marc also wondered if there is a “robots.txt” file in that blocks indexing the site contents as Google couldn’t find the thread he was replying to on the site.

Eric Wong, the creator and maintainer of replied:

There’s no blocks on and I’m completely against any sort of blocking/throttling. Maybe there’s too many pages to index? Or the Message-IDs in URLs are too ugly/scary? Not sure what to do about that…

Anyways, I just put up a robots.txt with Crawl-Delay: 1, since I seem to recall crawlers use a more conservative delay by default:

==> <==
User-Agent: *
Crawl-Delay: 1

Developer Spotlight: Philip Oakley

  • Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a design engineer working in defence electro-optics, and have been coding for nearly 50 years. I started at school with hand punched Hollerith cards which were posted to Leeds University, and the print out returned a week later - careful coding was important! I coded in Forth and PL/1 at university, along with most of the 8-bit microprocessors of the time. I touched Unix in the 80’s, but since then it’s mostly been work using Windows. Code has always been a support to my main work of “Engineering”. More recently (last 5 years) I have been coding in C, Matlab, and MathCAD. Unfortunately the latter isn’t that amenable to a VCS.

I discovered Git in 2011 when I saw a blog post, and immediately realised that a tool that distributed control to the user was the holy grail I’d been looking for. Big engineering VCS systems are still rooted in the 1900’s drawing office practices where protecting their one unique master drawing from spillages of India ink was everything. I was not, and still am not, allowed to quickly put code into that VCS. Meanwhile zero cost duplication meant we should now be using hash key verification, as shown by Git. The unique master is no more. And with Git I can quickly get back to where I was 10 minutes ago when developing code and exploring design concepts or data.

  • What would you name your most important contribution to Git?

It probably has to be the trailer of git help that highlights that there are not only man pages for the commands, but also a set of guides for the various Git concepts, such as ‘revisions’. As yet it doesn’t allow all the guides to be listed - it’s something I should get back to. I do try to make sure that any man page changes are included in patches - most folk read the man pages rather than the code, so keeping the two aligned is important..

On the flip side, I hope my help in responding to some of the issue on Git for Windows has slightly eased the work of Dscho who has tirelessly supported and maintained that rather important port of Git to the wider world.

  • What are you doing on the Git project these days, and why?

At the moment I’m trying to follow the Partial / Narrow clone work of Jonathan Tan and Ben Peart. I’m slightly concerned about how the perceived always-connected approach to lazy fetching will work for others. It’s fine for a large managed environment, but for small scale users with unreliable connections it may need a tweak to pre-specify what is narrowly downloaded/fetched, and how the gaps are shown in the user’s worktree.

  • If you could get a team of expert developers to work full time on something in Git for a full year, what would it be?

It’s been a long standing desire to find a way of allowing true Narrow clones (remember I work in a ‘secure’ defence environment). This where some server side hook would allow the enforcement of the partitioning of the worktree between parts the user is expected to be working on, and other independent areas they shouldn’t be touching, so won’t have. It would be as if the worktree was partitioned into separate ‘submodules’ but with independence via the tree hashes, rather than using submodule commit hashes. Importantly, it should be possible for the user’s local server repo (is there a word for this ‘on-server personal fork’?) to also be a narrow clone, as distinct from the golden server which would alway a full width, and able to serve narrow packs.

The other aspect of Git would be to include practical user examples on the man pages, making them more than just reference pages for those who already know what the pages mean.

The one hypothetical fix I would love to find is the ideal word for the cache / index / staging area / manifest / out-box, which unfortunately has no equivalence in the regular world (that perfect replication issue again).

  • If you could remove something from Git without worrying about backwards compatibility, what would it be?

I don’t notice what I don’t use, however there’s probably a lot of early-days cruft such as show-branch that could be dumped. A more difficult area is the --assume-unchanged (and similar) which is a very confused promise. There appears to be a lot of code that fails to distinguish expected promises by the user (“trust me, I’m a user”), rather than actual promises by Git (trust me I’m software). Getting rid (or at least very obviously documenting) of these misunderstood promises would help many!

The other area is the hidden Git-Linux workflows that are embedded in the commands to catch the unwary, such as the recent discussion on the --fork-point option of git merge-base.

  • What is your favorite Git-related tool/library, outside of Git itself?

I tend to stick to Git, the git-gui, and gitk, as the core VC tools. Between the viewer, the gui and the bash command line I can do all that I need. Coming from a Windows environment, I found most of the support tools there (e.g. TortoiseGit, GitExtensions) to be somewhat backward looking and lead to bad habits and misunderstandings.


Other News


Light reading

Git tools and sites


This edition of Git Rev News was curated by Christian Couder <>, Thomas Ferris Nicolaisen <>, Jakub Narębski <> and Markus Jansen <> with help from Philip Oakley and Lars Schneider.