How Git object deduplication works in GitLab

When a GitLab user forks a project, GitLab creates a new Project with an associated Git repository that is a copy of the original project at the time of the fork. If a large project gets forked often, this can lead to a quick increase in Git repository storage disk use. To counteract this problem, we are adding Git object deduplication for forks to GitLab. In this document, we will describe how GitLab implements Git object deduplication.

Enabling Git object deduplication via feature flags

As of GitLab 12.0, Git object deduplication in GitLab is still behind a feature flag. In this document, you can read about the effects of enabling the feature. Also, note that Git object deduplication is limited to forks of public projects on hashed repository storage.

You can enable deduplication globally by setting the object_pools feature flag to true:

Feature.enable(:object_pools)

Or just for forks of a specific project:

fork_parent = Project.find(MY_PROJECT_ID)
Feature.enable(:object_pools, fork_parent)

To check if a project uses Git object deduplication, look in a Rails console if project.pool_repository is present.

Pool repositories

Understanding Git alternates

At the Git level, we achieve deduplication by using Git alternates. Git alternates is a mechanism that lets a repository borrow objects from another repository on the same machine.

If we want repository A to borrow from repository B, we first write a path that resolves to B.git/objects in the special file A.git/objects/info/alternates. This establishes the alternates link. Next, we must perform a Git repack in A. After the repack, any objects that are duplicated between A and B will get deleted from A. Repository A is now no longer self-contained, but it still has its own refs and configuration. Objects in A that are not in B will remain in A. For this to work, it is of course critical that no objects ever get deleted from B because A might need them.

Danger: Do not run git prune or git gc in pool repositories! This can cause data loss in “real” repositories that depend on the pool in question.

The danger lies in git prune, and git gc calls git prune. The problem is that git prune, when running in a pool repository, cannot reliable decide if an object is no longer needed.

Git alternates in GitLab: pool repositories

GitLab organizes this object borrowing by creating special pool repositories which are hidden from the user. We then use Git alternates to let a collection of project repositories borrow from a single pool repository. We call such a collection of project repositories a pool. Pools form star-shaped networks of repositories that borrow from a single pool, which will resemble (but not be identical to) the fork networks that get formed when users fork projects.

At the Git level, pool repositories are created and managed using Gitaly RPC calls. Just like with normal repositories, the authority on which pool repositories exist, and which repositories borrow from them, lies at the Rails application level in SQL.

In conclusion, we need three things for effective object deduplication across a collection of GitLab project repositories at the Git level:

  1. A pool repository must exist.
  2. The participating project repositories must be linked to the pool repository via their respective objects/info/alternates files.
  3. The pool repository must contain Git object data common to the participating project repositories.

Deduplication factor

The effectiveness of Git object deduplication in GitLab depends on the amount of overlap between the pool repository and each of its participants. Each time garbage collection runs on the source project, Git objects from the source project will get migrated to the pool repository. One by one, as garbage collection runs, other member projects will benefit from the new objects that got added to the pool.

SQL model

As of GitLab 11.8, project repositories in GitLab do not have their own SQL table. They are indirectly identified by columns on the projects table. In other words, the only way to look up a project repository is to first look up its project, and then call project.repository.

With pool repositories we made a fresh start. These live in their own pool_repositories SQL table. The relations between these two tables are as follows:

  • a Project belongs to at most one PoolRepository (project.pool_repository)
  • as an automatic consequence of the above, a PoolRepository has many Projects
  • a PoolRepository has exactly one “source Project” (pool.source_project)

TODO Fix invalid SQL data for pools created prior to GitLab 11.11 https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitaly/issues/1653.

Assumptions

  • All repositories in a pool must use hashed storage. This is so that we don’t have to ever worry about updating paths in object/info/alternates files.
  • All repositories in a pool must be on the same Gitaly storage shard. The Git alternates mechanism relies on direct disk access across multiple repositories, and we can only assume direct disk access to be possible within a Gitaly storage shard.
  • The only two ways to remove a member project from a pool are (1) to delete the project or (2) to move the project to another Gitaly storage shard.

Creating pools and pool memberships

  • When a pool gets created, it must have a source project. The initial contents of the pool repository are a Git clone of the source project repository.
  • The occasion for creating a pool is when an existing eligible (public, hashed storage, non-forked) GitLab project gets forked and this project does not belong to a pool repository yet. The fork parent project becomes the source project of the new pool, and both the fork parent and the fork child project become members of the new pool.
  • Once project A has become the source project of a pool, all future eligible forks of A will become pool members.
  • If the fork source is itself a fork, the resulting repository will neither join the repository nor will a new pool repository be seeded.

    eg:

    Suppose fork A is part of a pool repository, any forks created off of fork A will not be a part of the pool repository that fork A is a part of.

    Suppose B is a fork of A, and A does not belong to an object pool. Now C gets created as a fork of B. C will not be part of a pool repository.

TODO should forks of forks be deduplicated? https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitaly/issues/1532

Consequences

  • If a normal Project participating in a pool gets moved to another Gitaly storage shard, its “belongs to PoolRepository” relation will be broken. Because of the way moving repositories between shard is implemented, we will automatically get a fresh self-contained copy of the project’s repository on the new storage shard.
  • If the source project of a pool gets moved to another Gitaly storage shard or is deleted the “source project” relation is not broken. However, as of GitLab 12.0 a pool will not fetch from a source unless the source is on the same Gitaly shard.

Consistency between the SQL pool relation and Gitaly

As far as Gitaly is concerned, the SQL pool relations make two types of claims about the state of affairs on the Gitaly server: pool repository existence, and the existence of an alternates connection between a repository and a pool.

Pool existence

If GitLab thinks a pool repository exists (i.e. it exists according to SQL), but it does not on the Gitaly server, then it will be created on the fly by Gitaly.

Pool relation existence

There are three different things that can go wrong here.

1. SQL says repo A belongs to pool P but Gitaly says A has no alternate objects

In this case, we miss out on disk space savings but all RPC’s on A itself will function fine. The next time garbage collection runs on A, the alternates connection gets established in Gitaly. This is done by Projects::GitDeduplicationService in gitlab-rails.

2. SQL says repo A belongs to pool P1 but Gitaly says A has alternate objects in pool P2

In this case Projects::GitDeduplicationService will throw an exception.

3. SQL says repo A does not belong to any pool but Gitaly says A belongs to P

In this case Projects::GitDeduplicationService will try to “re-duplicate” the repository A using the DisconnectGitAlternates RPC.

Git object deduplication and GitLab Geo

When a pool repository record is created in SQL on a Geo primary, this will eventually trigger an event on the Geo secondary. The Geo secondary will then create the pool repository in Gitaly. This leads to an “eventually consistent” situation because as each pool participant gets synchronized, Geo will eventuall trigger garbage collection in Gitaly on the secondary, at which stage Git objects will get deduplicated.

TODO How do we handle the edge case where at the time the Geo secondary tries to create the pool repository, the source project does not exist? https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitaly/issues/1533