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proposed @pks-gitlab devops systems 2023-03-30

Iterate on the design of object pools


Forking repositories is at the heart of many modern workflows for projects hosted in GitLab. As most of the objects between a fork and its upstream project will typically be the same, this opens up potential for optimizations:

  • Creating forks can theoretically be lightning fast if we reuse much of the parts of the upstream repository.

  • We can save on storage space by deduplicating objects which are shared.

This architecture is currently implemented with object pools which hold objects of the primary repository. But the design of object pools has organically grown and is nowadays showing its limits.

This blueprint explores how we can iterate on the design of object pools to fix long standing issues with it. Furthermore, the intent is to arrive at a design that lets us iterate more readily on the exact implementation details of object pools.


The current design of object pools is showing problems with scalability in various different ways. For a large part the problems come from the fact that object pools have organically grown and that we learned as we went by.

It is proving hard to fix the overall design of object pools because there is no clear ownership. While Gitaly provides the low-level building blocks to make them work, it does not have enough control over them to be able to iterate on their implementation details.

There are thus two major goals: taking ownership of object pools so that it becomes easier to iterate on the design, and fixing scalability issues once we can iterate.

Lifecycle ownership

While Gitaly provides the interfaces to manage object pools, the actual life cycle of them is controlled by the client. A typical lifecycle of an object pool looks as following:

  1. An object pool is created via CreateObjectPool(). The caller provides the path where the object pool shall be created as well as the origin repository from which the repository shall be created.

  2. The origin repository needs to be linked to the object pool explicitly by calling LinkRepositoryToObjectPool().

  3. The object pool needs to be regularly updated via FetchIntoObjectPool() that fetches all changes from the primary pool member into the object pool.

  4. To create forks, the client needs to call CreateFork() followed by LinkRepositoryToObjectPool().

  5. Repositories of forks are unlinked by calling DisconnectGitAlternates(). This will reduplicate objects.

  6. The object pool is deleted via DeleteObjectPool().

This lifecycle is complex and leaks a lot of implementation details to the caller. This was originally done in part to give the Rails side control and management over Git object visibility. GitLab project visibility rules are complex and not a Gitaly concern. By exposing these details Rails can control when pool membership links are created and broken. It is not clear at the current point in time how the complete system works and its limits are not explicitly documented.

In addition to the complexity of the lifecycle we also have multiple sources of truth for pool membership. Gitaly never tracks the set of members of a pool repository but can only tell for a specific repository that it is part of said pool. Consequently, Rails is forced to maintain this information in a database, but it is hard to maintain that information without becoming stale.

Repository maintenance

Related to the lifecycle ownership issues is the issue of repository maintenance. As mentioned, keeping an object pool up to date requires regular calls to FetchIntoObjectPool(). This is leaking implementation details to the client, but was done to give the client control over syncing the primary repository with its object pool. With this control, private repositories can be prevented from syncing and consquently leaking objects to other repositories in the fork network.

We have had good success with moving repository maintenance into Gitaly so that clients do not need to know about on-disk details. Ideally, we would do the same for repositories that are the primary member of an object pool: if we optimize its on-disk state, we will also automatically update the object pool.

There are two issues that keep us from doing so:

  • Gitaly does not know about the relationship between an object pool and its members.

  • Updating object pools is expensive.

By making Gitaly the single source of truth for object pool memberships we would be in a position to fix both issues.

Fast forking

In the current implementation, Rails first invokes CreateFork() which results in a complete git-clone(1) being performed to generate the fork repository. This is followed by LinkRepositoryToObjectPool() to link the fork with the object pool. It is not until housekeeping is performed on the fork repository that objects are deduplicated. This is not only leaking implementation details to clients, but it also keeps us from reaping the full potential benefit of object pools.

In particular, creating forks is a lot slower than it could be since a clone is always performed before linking. If the steps of creating the fork and linking the fork to the pool repository were unified, the initial clone could be avoided.

Clustered object pools

Gitaly Cluster and object pools development overlapped. Consequently they are known to not work well together. Praefect does neither ensure that repositories with object pools have their object pools present on all nodes, nor does it ensure that object pools are in a known state. If at all, object pools only work by chance.

The current state has led to cases where object pools were missing or had different contents per node. This can result in inconsistently observed state in object pool members and writes that depend on the object pool’s contents to fail.

One way object pools might be handled for clustered Gitaly could be to have the pool repositories duplicated on nodes that contain repositories dependent on them. This would allow members of a fork network to exist of different nodes. To make this work, repository replciation would have to be aware of object pools and know when it needs to duplicate them onto a particular node.


There are a set of requirements and invariants that must be given for any particular solution.

Private upstream repositories should not leak objects to forks

When a project has a visibility setting that is not public, the objects in the repository should not be fetched into an object pool. An object pool should only ever contain objects from the upstream repository that were at one point public. This prevents private upstream repositories from having objects leaked to forks through a shared object pool.

Forks cannot sneak objects into upstream projects

It should not be possible to make objects uploaded in a fork repository accessible in the upstream repository via a shared object pool. Otherwise potentially unauthorized users would be able to “sneak in” objects into repositories by simply forking them.

Despite leading to confusion, this could also serve as a mechanism to corrupt upstream repositories by introducing objects that are known to be broken.

Object pool lifetime exceeds upstream repository lifetime

If the upstream repository gets deleted, its object pool should remain in place to provide continued deduplication of shared objects between the other repositories in the fork network. Thus it can be said that the lifetime of the object pool is longer than the lifetime of the upstream repository. An object pool should only be deleted if there are no longer any repositories referencing it.

Object lifetime

By deduplicating objects in a fork network, repositories become dependent on the object pool. Missing objects in the pooled repository could lead to corruption of repositories in the fork network. Therefore, objects in the pooled repository must continue to exist as long as there are repositories referencing them.

Without a mechanism to accurately determine if a pooled object is referenenced by one of more repositories, all objects in the pooled repository must remain. Only when there are no repositories referencing the object pool can the pooled repository, and therfore all its objects, be removed.

Object sharing

An object that is deduplicated will become accessible from all forks of a particular repository, even if it has never been reachable in any of the forks. The consequence is that any write to an object pool immediately influences all of its members.

We need to be mindful of this property when repositories connected to an object pool are replicated. As the user-observable state should be the same on all replicas, we need to ensure that both the repository and its object pool are consistent across the different nodes.


In the current design, management of object pools mostly happens on the client side as they need to manage their complete lifecyclethem. This requires Rails to store the object pool relationships in the Rails database, perform fine-grained management of every single step of an object pool’s life, and perform periodic Sidekiq jobs to enforce state by calling idempotent Gitaly RPCs. This design significantly increases complexity of an already-complex mechanism.

Instead of handling the full lifecycle of object pools on the client-side, this document proposes to instead encapsulate the object pool lifecycle management inside of Gitaly. Instead of performing low-level actions to maintain object pools, clients would only need to tell Gitaly about updated relationships between a repository and its object pool.

This brings us multiple advantages:

  • The inherent complexity of the lifecycle management is encapsulated in a single place, namely Gitaly.

  • Gitaly is in a better position to iterate on the low-level technical design of object pools in case we find a better solution compared to “alternates” in the future.

  • We can ensure better interplay between Gitaly Cluster, object pools and repository housekeeping.

  • Gitaly becomes the single source of truth for object pool relationships and can thus start to manage it better.

Overall, the goal is to raise the abstraction level so that clients need to worry less about the technical details while Gitaly is in a better position to iterate on them.

Move lifecycle management of pools into Gitaly

The lifecycle management of object pools is leaking too many details to the client, and by doing so makes parts things both hard to understand and inefficient.

The current solution relies on a set of fine-grained RPCs that manage the relationship between repositories and their object pools. Instead, we are aiming for a simplified approach that only exposes the high-level concept of forks to the client. This will happen in the form of three RPCs:

  • ForkRepository() will create a fork of a given repository. If the upstream repository does not yet have an object pool, Gitaly will create it. It will then create the new repository and automatically link it to the object pool. The upstream repository will be recorded as primary member of the object pool, the fork will be recorded as a secondary member of the object pool.

  • UnforkRepository() will remove a repository from the object pool it is connected to. This will stop deduplication of objects. For the primary object pool member this also means that Gitaly will stop pulling new objects into the object pool.

  • GetObjectPool() returns the object pool for a given repository. The pool description will contain information about the pool’s primary object pool member as well as all secondary object pool members.

Furthermore, the following changes will be implemented:

  • RemoveRepository() will remove the repository from its object pool. If it was the last object pool member, the pool will be removed.

  • OptimizeRepository(), when executed on the primary object pool member, will also update and optimize the object pool.

  • ReplicateRepository() needs to be aware of object pools and replicate them correctly. Repositories shall be linked to and unlink from object pools as required. While this is a step towards fixing the Praefect world, which may seem redundant given that we plan to deprecate Praefect anyway, this RPC call is also used for other use cases like repository rebalancing.

With these changes, Gitaly will have much tighter control over the lifecycle of object pools. Furthermore, as it starts to track the membership of repositories in object pools it can become the single source of truth for fork networks.

Fix inefficient maintenance of object pools

In order to update object pools, Gitaly performs a fetch of new objects from the primary object pool member into the object pool. This fetch is inefficient as it needs to needlessly negotiate objects that are new in the primary object pool member. But given that objects are deduplicated already in the primary object pool member it means that it should only have objects in its object database that do not yet exist in the object pool. Consequently, we should be able to skip the negotiation completely and instead link all objects into the object pool that exist in the source repository.

In the current design, these objects are kept alive by creating references to the just-fetched objects. If the fetch deleted references or force-updated any references, then it may happen that previously-referenced objects become unreferenced. Gitaly thus creates keep-around references so that they cannot ever be deleted. Furthermore, those references are required in order to properly replicate object pools as the replication is reference-based.

These two things can be solved in different ways:

  • We can set the preciousObjects repository extension. This will instruct all versions of Git which understand this extension to never delete any objects even if git-prune(1) or similar commands were executed. Versions of Git that do not understand this extension would refuse to work in this repository.

  • Instead of replicating object pools via git-fetch(1), we can instead replicate them by sending over all objects part of the object database.

Taken together this means that we can stop writing references in object pools altogether. This leads to efficient updates of object pools by simply linking all new objects into place, and it fixes issues we have seen with unbounded growth of references in object pools.

Design and implementation details

Moving lifecycle management of object pools into Gitaly

As stated, the goal is to move the ownership of object pools into Gitaly. Ideally, the concept of object pools should not be exposed to callers at all anymore. Instead, we want to only expose the higher-level concept of networks of repositories that share objects with each other in order to deduplicate them.

The following subsections review the current object pool-based architecture and then propose the new object deduplication network-based architecture.

Object pool-based architecture

Managing the object pool lifecycle in the current architecture requires a plethora of RPC calls and requires a lot of knowledge from the calling side. The following sequence diagram shows a simplified version of the lifecycle of an object pool. It is simplified insofar as we only consider there to be a single object pool member.

sequenceDiagram Rails->>+Gitaly: CreateObjectPool Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Create activate Object Pool Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success Rails->>+Gitaly: LinkRepositoryToObjectPool Gitaly->>+Upstream: Link Upstream-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->-Rails: Success Rails->>+Gitaly: OptimizeRepository Gitaly->>+Upstream: Optimize Upstream-->-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->-Rails: Success Rails->>+Gitaly: CreateFork Gitaly->>+Fork: Create activate Fork Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: CreateFork note over Rails, Fork: Fork exists but is not connected to the object pool. Rails->>+Gitaly: LinkRepositoryToObjectPool Gitaly->>+Fork: Link Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->-Rails: Success note over Rails, Fork: Fork is connected to object pool, but objects are duplicated. Rails->>+Gitaly: OptimizeRepository Gitaly->>+Fork: Optimize Fork-->-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->-Rails: Success loop Regularly note over Rails, Fork: Rails needs to ensure that the object pool is regularly updated. Rails->>+Gitaly: FetchIntoObjectPool Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Fetch Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success end alt Disconnect Fork note over Rails, Fork: Forks can be disconnected to stop deduplicating objects. Rails->>+Gitaly: DisconnectGitAlternates Gitaly->>+Fork: Disconnect Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success else Delete Fork note over Rails, Fork: Or the fork is deleted eventually. Rails->>+Gitaly: RemoveRepository Gitaly->>+Fork: Remove Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success deactivate Fork Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success end Rails->>+Gitaly: DisconnectGitAlternates Gitaly->>+Upstream: Disconnect Upstream-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success Rails->>+Gitaly: DeleteObjectPool Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Remove Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success deactivate Object Pool Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success

The following steps are involved in creating the object pool:

  1. The object pool is created from its upstream repository by calling CreateObjectPool(). It contains all the objects that the upstream repository contains at the time of creation.
  2. The upstream repository is linked to the object pool by calling LinkRepositoryToObjectPool(). Its objects are not automatically deduplicated.
  3. Objects in the upstream repository get deduplicated by calling OptimizeRepository().
  4. The fork is created by calling CreateFork(). This RPC call only takes the upstream repository as input and does not know about the already-created object pool. It thus performs a second full copy of objects.
  5. Fork and object pool are linked by calling LinkRepositoryToObjectPool(). This writes the info/alternates file in the fork so that it becomes aware of the additional object database, but doesn’t cause the objects to become deduplicated.
  6. Objects in the fork get deduplicated by calling OptimizeRepository().
  7. The calling side is now expected to regularly call FetchIntoObjectPool() to fetch new objects from the upstream repository into the object pool. Fetched objects are not automatically deduplicated in the upstream repository.
  8. The fork can be detached from the object pool in two ways:
    • Explicitly by calling DisconnectGitAlternates(), which removes the info/alternates file and reduplicates all objects.
    • By calling RemoveRepository() to delete the fork altogether.
  9. When the object pool is empty, it must be removed by calling DeleteObjectPool().

It is clear that the whole lifecycle management is not well-abstracted and that the clients need to be aware of many of its intricacies. Furthermore, we have multiple sources of truth for object pool memberships that can (and in practice do) diverge.

Object deduplication network-based architecture

The proposed new architecture simplifies this process by completely removing the notion of object pools from the public interface. Instead, Gitaly exposes the high-level notion of “object deduplication networks”. Repositories can join these networks with one of two roles:

  • Read-write object deduplication network members regularly update the set of objects that are part of the object deduplication network.
  • Read-only object deduplication network members are passive members and never update the set of objects that are part of the object deduplication network.

The set of objects that can be deduplicated across members of the object deduplication network thus consists only of objects fetched from the read-write members. All members benefit from the deduplication regardless of their role. Typically:

  • The original upstream repository is designated as the read-write member of the object deduplication network.
  • Forks are read-only object deduplication network members.

It is valid for object deduplication networks to only have read-only members. In that case the network is not updated with new shared objects, but the existing shared objects remain in use.

Though object pools continue to be the underlying mechanism, the higher level of abstraction would allow us to swap out the mechanism if we ever decide to do so.

While clients of Gitaly need to perform fine-grained lifecycle management of object pools in the object pool-based architecture, the object deduplication network-based architecture only requires them to manage memberships of object deduplication networks. The following diagram shows the equivalent flow to the object pool-based architecture in the object deduplication network-based architecture:

sequenceDiagram Rails->>+Gitaly: CreateFork Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Create activate Object Pool Object Pool -->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly->>+Fork: Create Fork->>+Object Pool: Join Object Pool-->>-Fork: Success Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success activate Fork Gitaly-->>-Rails: CreateFork loop Regularly Rails->>+Gitaly: OptimizeRepository Gitaly->>+Fork: Optimize Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Optimize Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success end alt Disconnect Fork Rails->>+Gitaly: RemoveRepositoryFromObjectDeduplicationNetwork Gitaly->>+Fork: Disconnect alt Last member Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Remove Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success end Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success else Delete Fork Rails->>+Gitaly: RemoveRepository Gitaly->>+Fork: Remove alt Last member Gitaly->>+Object Pool: Remove Object Pool-->>-Gitaly: Success end Fork-->>-Gitaly: Success deactivate Fork Gitaly-->>-Rails: Success end

The following major steps are involved:

  1. The fork is created, where the request instructs Gitaly to have both upstream and fork repository join an object deduplication network. If the upstream project is part of an object deduplication network already, then the fork joins that object deduplication network. If it isn’t, Gitaly creates an object pool and joins the upstream repository as a read-write member and the fork as a read-only member. Objects of the fork are immediately deduplicated. Gitaly records the membership of both repositories in the object pool.
  2. The client regularly calls OptimizeRepository() on either the upstream or the fork project, which is something that clients already know to do. The behavior changes depending on the role of the object deduplication network member:
    • When executed on a read-write object deduplication network member, the object pool may be updated based on a set of heuristics. This will pull objects which have been newly created in the read-write object deduplication network member into the object pool so that they are available for all members in the object deduplication network.
    • When executed on a read-only object deduplication network member, the object pool will not be updated so that objects which are only part of the read-only object deduplication network member will not get shared across members. The object pool may still be optimized though as required, for example by repacking objects.
  3. Both the upstream and the fork project can leave the object deduplication network by calling RemoveRepositoryFromObjectNetwork(). This reduplicates all objects and disconnects the repositories from the object pool. Furthermore, if the repository was a read-write object deduplication network member, Gitaly will stop using it as a source to update the pool.

    Alternatively, the fork can be deleted with a call to RemoveRepository().

    Both calls update the memberships of the object pool to reflect that repositories have left it. Gitaly deletes the object pool if it has no members left.

With this proposed flow the creation, maintenance, and removal of object pools is handled opaquely inside of Gitaly. In addition to the above, two more supporting RPCs may be provided:

  • AddRepositoryToObjectDeduplicationNetwork() to let a preexisting repository join into an object deduplication network with a specified role.
  • ListObjectDeduplicationNetworkMembers() to list all members and their roles of the object deduplication network that a repository is a member of.

Migration to the object deduplication network-based architecture

Migration towards the object deduplication network-based architecture involves a lot of small steps:

  1. CreateFork() starts automatically linking against preexisting object pools. This allows fast forking and removes the notion of object pools for callers when creating a fork.
  2. Introduce AddRepositoryToObjectDeduplicationNetwork() and RemoveRepositoryFromObjectDeduplicationNetwork(). Deprecate AddRepositoryToObjectPool() and DisconnectGitAlternates() and migrate Rails to use the new RPCs. The object deduplication network is identified via a repository, so this drops the notion of object pools when handling memberships.
  3. Start recording object deduplication network memberships in CreateFork(), AddRepositoryToObjectDeduplicationNetwork(), RemoveRepositoryFromObjectDeduplicationNetwork() and RemoveRepository(). This information empowers Gitaly to take control over the object pool lifecycle.
  4. Implement a migration so that we can be sure that Gitaly has an up-to-date view of all members of object pools. A migration is required so that Gitaly can automatically handle the lifecycle of on object pool, which:
    • Enables OptimizeRepository() to automatically fetch objects from read-write object pool members.
    • Allows Gitaly to automatically remove empty object pools.
  5. Change OptimizeRepository() so that it also optimizes object pools connected to the repository, which allows us to deprecate and eventually remove FetchIntoObjectPool().
  6. Adapt RemoveRepositoryFromObjectDeduplicationNetwork() and RemoveRepository() to remove empty object pools.
  7. Adapt CreateFork() to automatically create object pools, which allows us to remove the CreateObjectPool() RPC.
  8. Remove the ObjectPoolService and the notion of object pools from the Gitaly public API.

This plan is of course subject to change.

Gitaly Cluster concerns

Repository creation

When a repository is forked for the first time, Rails creates an object pool via the CreateObjectPool() RPC. This means object pool creation is handled outside of Gitaly. Subsequently, the object pool is linked to upstream and fork repositories. When a repository has its Git alternates file configured to link to another repository, these two repositories must exist on the same physical storage.

The repository and its object pool existing on the same physical storage is particularly important for Praefect because it is dependent of the repository’s replication factor. A replication factor is a configuration that controls how many storages the repository is replicated to in the Praefect virtual storage. By default, the replication factor is equal to the number of storages in Praefect. This means that when using the default replication factor, a repository is available on all storages in the cluster. When a custom replication factor is used, the number of replicas can be reduced so that a repository only exists on a subset of storages in Praefect.

Gitaly Cluster persists repositories and their assigned storages in the Praefect PostgreSQL database. The database is updated when new repositories are created on the virtual storage. When a new repository is created, the replication factor specifies how many storages are randomly assigned to the repository. The following scenario outlines how a custom replication factor can be problematic for object pools:

  1. A new repository is created in a Gitaly Cluster that has five storage nodes. The replication factor is set to three. Therefore, three storages are randomly selected and assigned for this new repository in Praefect. For example, the assignments are storages 1, 2, and 3. Storages 4 and 5 do not have a copy of this repository.
  2. The repository gets forked for the first time thus requiring an object pool repository be created with the CreateObjectPool() RPC. Because the replication factor is set to three, another randomly selected set of three storages are assigned in Praefect for the new object pool repository. For example, the object pool repository is assigned to storages 3, 4, and 5. Note that these assignments do not entirely match the upstream repository’s.
  3. The forked copy of the repository gets created with the CreateFork() RPC and is also assigned to three randomly-selected storages. For example, the fork repository gets assigned storages 1, 3, and 5. These assignments also do not entirely match the upstream and object pool repository’s storage assignments.
  4. Both the upstream and fork repositories are linked to the object pool via separate invocations of LinkRepositoryToObjectPool(). For this RPC to succeed the object pool must exist on the same storage as the repository that is linking to it. The upstream repository fails to link on storages 1 and 2. The fork repository fails to link on storage 2. The LinkRepositoryToObjectPool() RPC is not transactional so a single failure of the RPC on any of the storages results in an error being proxied back to the client. Therefore, in this scenario LinkRepositoryToObjectPool() on both the upstream and fork repository always result in an error response.

To fix this problem, we must ensure Praefect always routes CreateObjectPool() and CreateFork() RPC requests to the same set of storages as the upstream repository. This ensures that these repositories always have the required object pool repository available so that linking to them can succeed.

The main downside of this is that repositories in an object deduplication network are pinned to the same set of storages. This could unevenly stress individual storages as an object deduplication network grows larger. In the future this can be avoided altogether when Praefect has the ability to create object pools on a storage where it is required but not already present.

Repository replication

The ReplicateRepository() RPC is not aware of object pools and only replicates from the source repository. This means that replication of a source repository linked to an object pool repository results in a target repository with no Git alternates file and consequently no deduplication of objects.

The ReplicateRepository() RPC has two main uses:

  • Storage moves performed in the GitLab API rely on the ReplicateRepository() RPC to replicate repositories from one storage to another. Since this RPC is currently not object pool aware, the resulting replica on the target storage does not replicate the Git alternates file from the source repository or recreate any object pools. Instead, the replica is always a complete self-contained copy of the source repository. Consequently, the object pool relationship for the repository project in Rails is also removed. When moving repositories in an object deduplication network from one storage to another, the replicated repositories can result in increased storage usage because there is no longer any deduplication of objects on the target storage.
  • When a repository replica becomes outdated in Praefect, the ReplicateRepository() RPC is internally used by Praefect replication jobs to replicate over the out-of-date replica from an up-to-date replica. Replication jobs are queued by the Praefect replication manager when replicas become outdated. Though the ReplicateRepository() RPC is not aware of object pools, the replication job checks if the source repository is linked to an object pool. If the source repository is linked, the job recreates the corresponding Git alternates file on the target repository. However, it is currently possible for an object pool to not exist on the same storage as the replica. When this happens, replication always fails because the replica is unable to link to the non-existent object pool. This means it is possible for replicas to remain outdated permanently.

Object pools required by the source repository should be replicated to the target storage along with the repository during the ReplicateRepository() RPC. This preserves object deduplication for repositories in an object deduplication network. Because storage moves performed in the GitLab API remove any object pool relationships, recreating object pools on the target storage results in orphaned object pools. This new object pool replication behavior of the ReplicateRepository() RPC should be controlled by the client to prevent breaking changes. Object pool replication for storage moves can be enabled once either:

  • The Rails side is updated to preserve the object pool relationship.
  • The object pool lifecycle is managed within Gitaly.

When it comes to replication of object pools, there are scenarios Praefect needs to be capable of handling. Special consideration must be made in these cases so Praefect can keep track of all the repositories it manages in its PostgreSQL database to ensure they stay up to date.

  • Replication of an external source repository that is linked to an object pool to Gitaly Cluster can result in the target virtual storage’s Praefect needing to create a new object pool repository. To handle this, it needs to be known if the source repository is using an object pool. From there it can be checked if Praefect has an entry for the object pool repository in its repositories database table, and if not, create one. Next, Praefect storage assignments for the object pool need to be generated and persisted in the repository_assignments database table.
  • It can not be guaranteed that the target repository storage in Praefect already contains the required object pool. Thus an individual storage may need to have an object pool assigned to it. This new assignment must also be tracked by the object pool repository in Praefect. To handle this, Praefect has to detect when a target storage does not contain the required object pool and persist the new storage assignment in the repository_assignments database table.

Problems with the design

As mentioned before, object pools are not a perfect solution. This section goes over the most important issues.

Complexity of lifecycle management

Even though the lifecycle of object pools becomes easier to handle once it is fully owned by Gitaly, it is still complex and needs to be considered in many ways. Handling object pools in combination with their repositories is not an atomic operation as any action by necessity spans over at least two different resources.

Performance issues

As object pools deduplicate objects, the end result is that object pool members never have the full closure of objects in a single packfile. This is not typically an issue for the primary object pool member, which by definition cannot diverge from the object pool’s contents. But secondary object pool members can and often will diverge from the original contents of the upstream repository.

This leads to two different sets of reachable objects in secondary object pool members. Unfortunately, due to limitations in Git itself, this precludes the use of a subset of optimizations:

  • Packfiles cannot be reused as efficiently when serving fetches to serve already-deltified objects. This requires Git to recompute deltas on the fly for object pool members which have diverged from object pools.

  • Packfile bitmaps can only exist in object pools as it is not possible nor easily feasible for these bitmaps to cover multiple object databases. This requires Git to traverse larger parts of the object graph for many operations and especially when serving fetches.

Dependent writes across repositories

The design of object pools introduces significant complexity into the Raft world where we use a write-ahead log for all changes to repositories. In the ideal case, a Raft-based design would only need to care about the write-ahead log of a single repository when considering requests. But with object pools, we are forced to consider both reads and writes for a pooled repository to be dependent on all writes in its object pool having been applied.

Alternative Solutions

The proposed solution is not obviously the best choice as it has issues both with complexity (management of the lifecycle) and performance (inefficiently served fetches for pool members).

This section explores alternatives to object pools and why they have not been chosen as the new target architecture.

Stop using object pools altogether

An obvious way to avoid all of the complexity is to stop using object pools altogether. While it is charming from an engineering point of view as we can significantly simplify the architecture, it is not a viable approach from the product perspective as it would mean that we cannot support efficient forking workflows.

Primary repository as object pool

Instead of creating an explicit object pool repository, we could just use the upstream repository as an alternate object database of all forks. This avoids a lot of complexity around managing the lifetime of the object pool, at least superficially. Furthermore, it circumvents the issue of how to update object pools as it will always match the contents of the upstream repository.

It has a number of downsides though:

  • Repositories can now have different states, where some of the repositories are allowed to prune objects and others aren’t. This introduces a source of uncertainty and makes it easy to accidentally delete objects in a repository and thus corrupt its forks.

  • When upstream repositories go private we must stop updating objects which are supposed to be deduplicated across members of the fork network. This means that we would ultimately still be forced to create object pools once this happens in order to freeze the set of deduplicated objects at the point in time where the repository goes private.

  • Deleting repositories becomes more complex as we need to take into account whether a repository is linked to by forks.

Reference namespaces

With gitnamespaces(7), Git provides a mechanism to partition references into different sets of namespaces. This allows us to serve all forks from a single repository that contains all objects.

One neat property is that we have the global view of objects referenced by all forks together in a single object database. We can thus easily perform shared housekeeping across all forks at once, including deletion of objects that are not used by any of the forks anymore. Regarding objects, this is likely to be the most efficient solution we could potentially aim for.

There are again some downsides though:

  • Calculating usage quotas must by necessity use actual reachability of objects into account, which is expensive to compute. This is not a showstopper, but something to keep in mind.

  • One stated requirement is that it must not be possible to make objects reachable in other repositories from forks. This property could theoretically be enforced by only allowing access to reachable objects. That way an object can only be accessed through virtual repository if the object is reachable from its references. Reachability checks are too compute heavy for this to be practical.

  • Even though references are partitioned, large fork networks would still easily end up with multiple millions of references. It is unclear what the impact on performance would be.

  • The blast radius for any repository-level attacks significantly increases as you would not only impact your own repository, but also all forks.

  • Custom hooks would have to be isolated for each of the virtual repositories. Since the execution of Git hooks is controled it should be possible to handle this for each of the namespaces.

Filesystem-based deduplication

The idea of deduplicating objects on the filesystem level was floating around at several points in time. While it would be nice if we could shift the burden of this to another component, it is likely not easy to implement due to the nature of how Git works.

The most important contributing factor to repository sizes are Git objects. While it would be possible to store the objects in their loose representation and thus deduplicate on that level, this is infeasible:

  • Git would not be able to deltify objects, which is an extremely important mechanism to reduce on-disk size. It is unlikely that the size reduction caused by deduplication would outweigh the size reduction gained from the deltification mechanism.

  • Loose objects are significantly less efficient when accessing the repository.

  • Serving fetches requires us to send a packfile to the client. Usually, Git is able to reuse large parts of already-existing packfiles, which significantly reduces the computational overhead.

Deduplicating on the loose-object level is thus infeasible.

The other unit that one could try to deduplicate is packfiles. But packfiles are not deterministically generated by Git and will furthermore be different once repositories start to diverge from each other. So packfiles are not a natural fit for filesystem-level deduplication either.

An alternative could be to use hard links of packfiles across repositories. This would cause us to duplicate storage space whenever any repository decides to perform a repack of objects and would thus be unpredictable and hard to manage.

Custom object backend

In theory, it would be possible to implement a custom object backend that allows us to store objects in such a way that we can deduplicate them across forks. There are several technical hurdles though that keep us from doing so without significant upstream investments:

  • Git is not currently designed to have different backends for objects. Accesses to files part of the object database are littered across the code base with no abstraction level. This is in contrast to the reference database, which has at least some level of abstraction.

  • Implementing a custom object backend would likely necessitate a fork of the Git project. Even if we had the resources to do so, it would introduce a major risk factor due to potential incompatibilities with upstream changes. It would become impossible to use vanilla Git, which is often a requirement that exists in the context of Linux distributions that package GitLab.

Both the initial and the operational risk of ongoing maintenance are too high to really justify this approach for now. We might revisit this approach in the future.