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Status Authors Coach DRIs Owning Stage Created
proposed @qmnguyen0711 devops enablement 2023-05-30

Gitaly Adaptive Concurrency Limit


Gitaly, a Git server, needs to push back on its clients to reduce the risk of incidents. In the past, we introduced per-RPC concurrency limit and pack-objects concurrency limit. Both systems were successful, but the configurations were static, leading to some serious drawbacks. This blueprint proposes an adaptive concurrency limit system to overcome the drawbacks of static limits. The algorithm primarily uses the Additive Increase/Multiplicative Decrease approach to gradually increase the limit during normal processing but quickly reduce it during an incident. The algorithm focuses on lack of resources and serious latency degradation as criteria for determining when Gitaly is in trouble.


To reduce the risk of incidents and protect itself, Gitaly should be able to push back on its clients when it determines some limits have been reached. In the prior attempt, we laid out some foundations for backpressure by introducing two systems: per-RPC concurrency limits and pack-objects concurrency limits.

Per-RPC concurrency limits allows us to configure a maximum amount of in-flight requests simultaneously. It scopes the limit by RPC and repository. Pack-objects concurrency limit restricts the concurrent Git data transfer request by IP. One note, the pack-objects concurrency limit is applied on cache misses, only. If this limit is exceeded, the request is either put in a queue or rejected if the queue is full. If the request remains in the queue for too long, it will also be rejected.

Although both of them yielded promising results on, the configurations, especially the value of the concurrency limit, are static. There are some drawbacks to this:

  • It’s tedious to maintain a sane value for the concurrency limit. Looking at this production configuration, each limit is heavily calibrated based on clues from different sources. When the overall scene changes, we need to tweak them again.
  • Static limits are not good for all usage patterns. It’s not feasible to pick a fit-them-all value. If the limit is too low, big users will be affected. If the value is too loose, the protection effect is lost.
  • A request may be rejected even though the server is idle as the rate is not necessarily an indicator of the load induced on the server.

To overcome all of those drawbacks while keeping the benefits of concurrency limiting, one promising solution is to make the concurrency limit adaptive to the currently available processing capacity of the node. We call this proposed new mode “Adaptive Concurrency Limit”.


  • Make Gitaly smarter in push-back traffic when it’s under heavy load, thus enhancing the reliability and resiliency of Gitaly.
  • Minimize the occurrences of Gitaly saturation incidents.
  • Decrease the possibility of clients inaccurately reaching the concurrency limit, thereby reducing the ResourceExhausted error rate.
  • Facilitate seamless or fully automated calibration of the concurrency limit.


  • Increase the workload or complexity of the system for users or administrators. The adaptiveness proposed here aims for the opposite.


The proposed Adaptive Concurrency Limit algorithm primarily uses the Additive Increase/Multiplicative Decrease (AIMD) approach. This method involves gradually increasing the limit during normal process functioning but quickly reducing it when an issue (backoff event) occurs. There are various criteria for determining whether Gitaly is in trouble. In this proposal, we focus on two things:

  • Lack of resources, particularly memory and CPU, which are essential for handling Git processes.
  • Serious latency degradation.

The proposed solution is heavily inspired by many materials about this subject shared by folks from other companies in the industry, especially the following:

We cannot blindly apply a solution without careful consideration and expect it to function flawlessly. The suggested approach considers Gitaly’s specific constraints and distinguishing features, including cgroup utilization and upload-pack RPC, among others.

The proposed solution does not aim to replace the existing limits in Gitaly for RPC concurrency and pack object concurrency, but automatically tweak the parameters. This means that other aspects, such as queuing, in-queue timeout, queue length, partitioning, and scoping, will remain unchanged. The proposed solution only focuses on modifying the current value of the concurrency limit.

Design and implementation details

AIMD Algorithm

The Adaptive Concurrency Limit algorithm primarily uses the Additive Increase/Multiplicative Decrease (AIMD) approach. This method involves gradually increasing the limit during normal process functioning but quickly reducing it when an issue occurs.

During initialization, we configure the following parameters:

  • initialLimit: Concurrency limit to start with. This value is essentially equal to the current static concurrency limit.
  • maxLimit: Maximum concurrency limit.
  • minLimit: Minimum concurrency limit so that the process is considered as functioning. If it’s equal to 0, it rejects all upcoming requests.
  • backoffFactor: how fast the limit decreases when a backoff event occurs (0 < backoff < 1, default to 0.75)

When the Gitaly process starts, it sets limit = initialLimit, in which limit is the maximum in-flight requests allowed at a time.

Periodically, maybe once per 15 seconds, the value of the limit is re-calibrated:

  • limit = limit + 1 if there is no backoff event since the last calibration. The new limit cannot exceed maxLimit.
  • limit = limit * backoffFactor otherwise. The new limit cannot be lower than minLimit.

When a process can no longer handle requests or will not be able to handle them soon, it is referred to as a back-off event. Ideally, we would love to see the efficient state as long as possible. It’s the state where Gitaly is at its maximum capacity.

Adaptive Concurrency Limit Flow

Ideally, min/max values are safeguards that aren’t ever meant to be hit during operation, even overload. In fact, hitting either probably means that something is wrong and the dynamic algorithms aren’t working well enough.

How requests are handled

The concurrency limit restricts the total number of in-flight requests (IFR) at a time.

  • When IFR < limit, Gitaly handles new requests without waiting. After an increment, Gitaly immediately handles the subsequent request in the queue, if any.
  • When IFR = limit, it means the limit is reached. Subsequent requests are queued, waiting for their turn. If the queue length reaches a configured limit, Gitaly rejects new requests immediately. When a request stays in the queue long enough, it is also automatically dropped by Gitaly.
  • When IRF > limit, it’s appropriately a consequence of backoff events. It means Gitaly handles more requests than the newly appointed limits. In addition to queueing upcoming requests similarly to the above case, Gitaly may start load-shedding in-flight requests if this situation is not resolved long enough.

At several points in time we have discussed whether we want to change queueing semantics. Right now we admit queued processes from the head of the queue (FIFO), whereas it was proposed several times that it might be preferable to admit processes from the back (LIFO).

Regardless of the rejection reason, the client received a ResourceExhausted response code as a signal that they would back off and retry later. Since most direct clients of Gitaly are internal, especially GitLab Shell and Workhorse, the actual users received some friendly messages. Gitaly can attach exponential pushback headers to force internal clients to back off. However, that’s a bit brutal and may lead to unexpected results. We can consider that later.

Backoff events

Each system has its own set of signals, and in the case of Gitaly, there are two aspects to consider:

  • Lack of resources, particularly memory and CPU, which are essential for handling Git processes like git-pack-objects(1). When these resources are limited or depleted, it doesn’t make sense for Gitaly to accept more requests. Doing so would worsen the saturation, and Gitaly addresses this issue by applying cgroups extensively. The following section outlines how accounting can be carried out using cgroup.
  • Serious latency degradation. Gitaly offers various RPCs for different purposes besides serving Git data that is hard to reason about latencies. A significant overall latency decline is an indication that Gitaly should not accept more requests. Another section below describes how to assert latency degradation reasonably.

Apart from the above signals, we can consider adding more signals in the future to make the system smarter. Some examples are Go garbage collector statistics, networking stats, file descriptors, etc. Some companies have clever tricks, such as using time drifting to estimate CPU saturation.

Backoff events of Upload Pack RPCs

Upload Pack RPCs and their siblings PackObjects RPC are unique to Gitaly. They are for the heaviest operations: transferring large volumes of Git data. Each operation may take minutes or even hours to finish. The time span of each operation depends on multiple factors, most notably the number of requested objects and the internet speed of clients.

Thus, latency is a poor signal for determining the backoff event. This type of RPC should only depend on resource accounting at this stage.

Backoff events of other RPCs

As stated above, Gitaly serves various RPCs for different purposes. They can also vary in terms of acceptable latency as well as when to recognize latency degradation. Fortunately, the current RPC concurrency limits implementation scopes the configuration by RPC and repository individually. The latency signal makes sense in this setting.

Apart from latency, resource usage also plays an important role. Hence, other RPCs should use both latency measurement and resource accounting signals.

Resource accounting with cgroup

The issue with saturation is typically not caused by Gitaly, itself but rather by the spawned Git processes that handle most of the work. These processes are contained within a cgroup, and the algorithm for bucketing cgroup can be found here. Typically, Gitaly selects the appropriate cgroup for a request based on the target repository. There is also a parent cgroup to which all repository-level cgroups belong to.

Cgroup statistics are widely accessible. Gitaly can trivially fetch both resource capacity and current resource consumption via the following information in cgroup control file:

  • memory.limit_in_bytes
  • memory.usage_in_bytes
  • cpu.cfs_period_us
  • cpu.cfs_quota_us
  • cpuacct.usage

Fetching those statistics may imply some overheads. It’s not necessary to keep them updated in real-time. Thus, they can be processed periodically in the limit adjustment cycle.

In the past, cgroup has been reliable in preventing spawned processes from exceeding their limits. It is generally safe to trust cgroup and allow processes to run without interference. However, when the limits set by cgroup are reached (at 100%), overloading can occur. This often leads to a range of issues such as an increase in page faults, slow system calls, memory allocation problems, and even out-of-memory kills. The consequences of such incidents are highlighted in this example. Inflight requests are significantly impacted, resulting in unacceptable delays, timeouts, and even cancellations.

Besides, through various observations in the past, some Git processes such as git-pack-objects(1) build up memory over time. When a wave of git-pull(1) requests comes, the node can be easily filled up with various memory-hungry processes. It’s much better to stop this accumulation in the first place.

As a result, to avoid overloading, Gitaly employs a set of soft limits, such as utilizing only 75% of memory capacity and 90% of CPU capacity instead of relying on hard limits. Once these soft limits are reached, the concurrency adjuster reduces the concurrency limit in a multiplicative manner. This strategy ensures that the node has enough headroom to handle potential overloading events.

In theory, the cgroup hierarchy allows us to determine the overloading status individually. Thus, Gitaly can adjust the concurrency limit for each repository separately. However, this approach would be unnecessarily complicated in practice. In contrast, it may lead to confusion for operators later.

As a good start, Gitaly recognizes an overloading event in either condition:

  • Soft limits of the parent cgroup are reached.
  • Soft limits of any of the repository cgroup are reached

It is logical for the second condition to be in place since a repository’s capacity limit can be significant to the parent cgroup’s capacity. This means that when the repository cgroup reaches its limit, fewer resources are available for other cgroups. As a result, reducing the concurrency limit delays the occurrence of overloading.

Latency measurement

When re-calibrate the concurrency limit, latency is taken into account for RPCs other than Upload Pack. Two things to consider when measuring latencies:

  • How to record latencies
  • How to recognize a latency degradation

It is clear that a powerful gRPC server such as Gitaly has the capability to manage numerous requests per second per node. A production server can serve up to thousands of requests per second. Keeping track and storing response times in a precise manner is not practical.

The heuristic determining whether the process is facing latency degradation is interesting. The most naive solution is to pre-define a static latency threshold. Each RPC may have a different threshold. Unfortunately, similar to static concurrency limiting, it’s challenging and tedious to pick a reasonable up-to-date value.

Fortunately, there are some famous algorithms for this line of problems, mainly applied in the world of TCP Congestion Control:

The two algorithms are capable of automatically determining the latency threshold without any pre-defined configuration. They are highly efficient and statistically reliable for real-world scenarios. In my opinion, both algorithms are equally suitable for our specific use case.


Gitaly being stuck in the overloaded situation for too long can be denoted by two signs:

  • A certain amount of consecutive backoff events
  • More in-flight requests than concurrency limit for a certain amount of them

In such cases, a particular cgroup or the whole Gitaly node may become unavailable temporarily. In-flight requests are likely to either be canceled or timeout. On production, an incident is triggered and called for human intervention. We can improve this situation by load-shedding.

This mechanism deliberately starts to kill in-flight requests selectively. The main purpose is to prevent cascading failure of all inflight requests. Hopefully, after some of them are dropped, the cgroup/node can recover back to the normal situation fast without human intervention. As a result, it leads to net availability and resilience improvement.

Picking which request to kill is tricky. In many systems, request criticality is considered. A request from downstream is assigned with a criticality point. Requests with lower points are targeted first. Unfortunately, GitLab doesn’t have a similar system. We have an Urgency system, but it is used for response time committing rather than criticality.

As a replacement, we can prioritize requests harming the system the most. Some criteria to consider:

  • Requests consuming a significant percentage of memory
  • Requests consuming a significant of CPU over time
  • Slow clients
  • Requests from IPs dominating the traffic recently
  • In-queue requests/requests at an early stage. We don’t want to reject requests that are almost finished.

To get started, we can pick the first two criteria first. The list can be reinforced when learning from production later.