Git Rev News: Edition 14 (April 20th, 2016)

Welcome to the 14th 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 March 2016 and also what happened at the Git Contributor Summit on April 4 2016 and at the Git Merge conference on April 5 2016.



The Git Contributor Summit happened on April 4th at the panoramic rooftop bar of the citizenM hotel in New York City, USA. The whole bar had been reserved by GitHub for the Summit from 10am to 4pm.

Around 20 developers attended. Drinks were provided, and food was served during the lunch break. Afterwards GitHub also invited attendants to a dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.

As usual it was an unconference. Attendants interested in discussing a topic wrote it on a board, where everyone could vote for it.

The topics that attracted most votes were about performance on big repositories.

First it was said that it is unfortunate that the performance of many git commands, like for example git log, depends linearly on the number of refs in the repository.

One possible solution to this problem would be to use some kind of binary search algorithm to look up refs. Unfortunately that is not easy, as replaced refs in ‘refs/replace/’ must all be read, and additionally the current implementation of the backend requires some stat(2) calls to check if there are any loose refs.

This problem should at least partially be solved with the current work going on to implement additional ref backends, especially a lmdb based one.

(This work on an lmdb based ref backend has been reported on in Git Rev News edition 12 and Git Rev News edition 7.)

From there the discussion switched to the case sensitiveness of ref names, and the different problems created by having ref names that should also be proper filenames: slow filesystems like NTFS, unicode normalizing filesystems like HFS+, file/directory collisions, reflog deletion, and more.

It was also mentioned that the tree object lookup could be sped up, but that it would require a more efficient packfile format.

The current effort to implement an index-helper daemon to speed up index reading was also described.

Then some time was spent discussing large objects. Some objects are able to be stored locally, while others are not. This means that doing something similar to rsync, where it manages chunks of files, might not always be possible.

Git LFS is now offered by at least GitHub and Microsoft, however there are still a number of problems with it from a user perspective. For example, it is not shipped with Git, and it is not always easy to know which files should go into it.

It also looks like the filters used by Git LFS to trigger big file downloads are executed sequentially, which is not good for performance.

This made people mention potential problems with parallelizing git checkout.

One possibility to improve on Git LFS would be to create another kind of backend for git objects that would be optimized for large files and would sit alongside loose objects and packfiles.

The subject next switched to possible ways of speeding up git status. The index-helper daemon effort was described again, as it can use the watchman library to efficiently monitor the working tree for changes. Unfortunately, the watchman service must be run manually for now, and running daemons on Windows might require some admin rights.

The recently merged effort on improving the untracked cache in the index was also mentionned.

The Git Merge conference happened this year on April 5th at New World Stages in New York City, USA.

The first presentation of the packed schedule was given by Greg Kroah-Hartman and was about how the Linux Kernel developers are using Git.

(The slides are available in Greg’s Github repo for this presentation either in pdf format or in odp format.)

Greg works at the Linux Foundation. He is the maintainer of the Kernel ‘-stable’ branches and of many subsystems like USB.

He said that the Linux Kernel is made of more than 21 million lines of code, in more than 53 000 files. Everything is in the tree, and drivers account for around one third of the size. Nearly 4000 developers and around 400 companies are involved.

This makes the Linux Kernel the largest software project ever.

Around 10 000 lines are added, 5300 lines are removed, and 1800 lines are modified, everyday!

That’s on average 7.8 changes per hour accross the whole tree with 5% in the core, 10% in the networking subsystem, and 55% in the drivers.

This goes against any previously thought methodology for stable software development, and things are only getting faster and faster.

Things are going so fast that it costs money to keep your code outside the kernel.

There is a new release every 2.5 months, so if your code is rejected you have to wait 2 months before it can be in the next release. This is very predictable.

The release cycle is made of a two week long “merge window” and then some “rc” releases - one per week. During the “merge window”, code is merged from subsystem maintainers. The “rc” releases, “rc-1”, “rc-2”, … , “rc-7” are bug fixes only. Once all major bugs and regressions are fixed a release is made and the cycle starts over with a new merge window.

For “stable” kernels that Greg maintains, they are forked from Linux releases. Commits have to go in Linus’ tree first before Greg will accept them. It should be the same identical patch as what is in Linus’ tree, and it should be “bug fixes only” or new device ids. The Linux distributions usually run from “stable” kernels.

The “longterm” kernels are maintained for 2 years. Current “longterm” kernels are 3.14, 4.1 and 4.4.

This works well for many companies, but sometimes maintaining a kernel for 2 years is not enough. Japan is converting all its infrastructure to Linux, and people want some kernels maintained for 20 years.

The patches sent for inclusion into the Kernel should be standalone. None of them should break the build. Each patch set should be obvious, broken down into the smallest reasonable patches, and every change should be correct. One half to one third of submitted patches get accepted.

This puts work on the developer’s shoulders. But that’s on purpose, because there are many more developers than maintainers. There are 1000 maintainers, but only around 700 are active.

To reach the maintainers, patches should be sent to the relevant mailing list, like the usb mailing list or the scsi mailing list. Andrew Morton reads the lkml mailing list.

The email format should be plain text. It’s old school but works very, very well. The Developer’s Certificate of Origin (DCO) is used to ensure that people have the right to submit a patch. This is the same process that Git uses.

After a patch has been reviewed by a file or driver maintainer, the maintainer will add his own “Signed-off-by” and will send it to a subsystem maintainer.

There are around 200 subsystem maintainers. They have their own trees on

Every night the “linux-next” is created from these 200 trees and is built and boot tested on different platforms.

Andrew Morton uses quilt to maintain his “-mm” kernels made from patches picked by himself from the lkml mailing list or elsewhere.

A couple of years ago, Kernel developers realized that nobody actually tested the kernel.

To address this, there is now a “0 day bot” that run tests and static analysis tools, like coccinelle or sparse, automatically on all the kernel trees. It tests every comment, and has a script that writes patches for common problems. The bot also picks patches from the mailing lists to test.

When a new merge window opens, the subsystem maintainers and Andrew Morton send what they think is ready to Linus, so he can merge it. The rule is that what is sent to Linus should have already been in linux-next. 10 000 to 11 000 patches are usually merged in the 2 week long merge window.

Following Greg’s talk, Stefan Beller asked on the mailing list if Greg could put the Git developers in touch with the 0 day bot developers and a discussion started about how the 0 day bot could be used.

Developer Spotlight: Johannes Sixt

I am a seasoned software engineer. Professionally, I work on Windows most of the time and develop software in C++. At home, I am operating only Linux and contribute to various Open Source projects. Most prominently, KDbg (, a GUI around the debugger GDB, is my child.

I was the first one to present a working and usable Git on Windows. By this I mean git.exe, the program, not the package Git for Windows (which is another great achievement, but it is not mine). Of course, it was possible to operate Git on Windows using Cygwin before my contribution. But the Cygwin runtime is such a thick layer between the POSIX and Windows APIs that file operations are very, very slow. My goal was to make git.exe a native Windows program and considerably faster. And that is it today when we talk about “Git for Windows”.

In our software shop, we use Git a lot. That is sufficient motivation to keep an eye on its development. These days I’m doing mostly janitory work to keep Git working on Windows.

Port Git to C++. When done right, there would not be any worries about memory leaks, chatty error messages, extra function parameters to choose whether a library function should return or die on error. Code could be written much shorter. Librarification would be achieved in a natural way. Subsequently, turning shell scripts into built-in commands would become much easier. For example, you wouldn’t even have to ask “does the git-apply machinery clean up after itself sufficiently so that we can call it multiple times from one program?” (Yes, it would do so automatically.)

I have learned to live with Git’s quirks. Therefore, it’s difficult to find something that is really an obstacle for me. But with an eye on newcomers, I think I would pick the term “cache” and its variants as a candidate for removal.

(Oh, it looks like I’m in good company of Matthieu Moy, who thinks likewise.)

I think I work exclusively with git-core tools (if you count in git-gui and gitk). The closest that comes to mind that are both “related” and “favourite” are Meld and Winmerge when driven by git-difftool and git-mergetool.


Other News


Light reading (for Git rookies)

Slightly heavier reading

Git tools and sites


This edition of Git Rev News was curated by Christian Couder <>, Thomas Ferris Nicolaisen <> and Nicola Paolucci <>, with help from Johannes Sixt, Andrew Ardill and Johannes Schindelin.