2. Git Basics
7. Git Tools
10. Git Internals
A3. Git Commands
10.6 Git Internals - Transfer Protocols
Git can transfer data between two repositories in two major ways: the “dumb” protocol and the “smart” protocol. This section will quickly cover how these two main protocols operate.
If you’re setting up a repository to be served read-only over HTTP, the dumb protocol is likely what will be used.
This protocol is called “dumb” because it requires no Git-specific code on the server side during the transport process; the fetch process is a series of HTTP
GET requests, where the client can assume the layout of the Git repository on the server.
The dumb protocol is fairly rarely used these days. It’s difficult to secure or make private, so most Git hosts (both cloud-based and on-premises) will refuse to use it. It’s generally advised to use the smart protocol, which we describe a bit further on.
Let’s follow the
http-fetch process for the simplegit library:
$git clone http://server/simplegit-progit.git
The first thing this command does is pull down the
This file is written by the
update-server-info command, which is why you need to enable that as a
post-receive hook in order for the HTTP transport to work properly:
=> GET info/refs ca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 refs/heads/master
Now you have a list of the remote references and SHAs. Next, you look for what the HEAD reference is so you know what to check out when you’re finished:
=> GET HEAD ref: refs/heads/master
You need to check out the
master branch when you’ve completed the process.
At this point, you’re ready to start the walking process.
Because your starting point is the
ca82a6 commit object you saw in the
info/refs file, you start by fetching that:
=> GET objects/ca/82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 (179 bytes of binary data)
You get an object back – that object is in loose format on the server, and you fetched it over a static HTTP GET request. You can zlib-uncompress it, strip off the header, and look at the commit content:
$git cat-file -p ca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949
author Scott Chacon <firstname.lastname@example.org> 1205815931 -0700
committer Scott Chacon <email@example.com> 1240030591 -0700
changed the version number
Next, you have two more objects to retrieve –
cfda3b, which is the tree of content that the commit we just retrieved points to; and
085bb3, which is the parent commit:
=> GET objects/08/5bb3bcb608e1e8451d4b2432f8ecbe6306e7e7 (179 bytes of data)
That gives you your next commit object. Grab the tree object:
=> GET objects/cf/da3bf379e4f8dba8717dee55aab78aef7f4daf (404 - Not Found)
Oops – it looks like that tree object isn’t in loose format on the server, so you get a 404 response back. There are a couple of reasons for this – the object could be in an alternate repository, or it could be in a packfile in this repository. Git checks for any listed alternates first:
=> GET objects/info/http-alternates (empty file)
If this comes back with a list of alternate URLs, Git checks for loose files and packfiles there – this is a nice mechanism for projects that are forks of one another to share objects on disk.
However, because no alternates are listed in this case, your object must be in a packfile.
To see what packfiles are available on this server, you need to get the
objects/info/packs file, which contains a listing of them (also generated by
=> GET objects/info/packs P pack-816a9b2334da9953e530f27bcac22082a9f5b835.pack
There is only one packfile on the server, so your object is obviously in there, but you’ll check the index file to make sure. This is also useful if you have multiple packfiles on the server, so you can see which packfile contains the object you need:
=> GET objects/pack/pack-816a9b2334da9953e530f27bcac22082a9f5b835.idx (4k of binary data)
Now that you have the packfile index, you can see if your object is in it – because the index lists the SHAs of the objects contained in the packfile and the offsets to those objects. Your object is there, so go ahead and get the whole packfile:
=> GET objects/pack/pack-816a9b2334da9953e530f27bcac22082a9f5b835.pack (13k of binary data)
You have your tree object, so you continue walking your commits.
They’re all also within the packfile you just downloaded, so you don’t have to do any more requests to your server.
Git checks out a working copy of the
master branch that was pointed to by the HEAD reference you downloaded at the beginning.
The dumb protocol is simple but a bit inefficient, and it can’t handle writing of data from the client to the server. The smart protocol is a more common method of transferring data, but it requires a process on the remote end that is intelligent about Git – it can read local data, figure out what the client has and needs, and generate a custom packfile for it. There are two sets of processes for transferring data: a pair for uploading data and a pair for downloading data.
For example, say you run
git push origin master in your project, and
origin is defined as a URL that uses the SSH protocol.
Git fires up the
send-pack process, which initiates a connection over SSH to your server.
It tries to run a command on the remote server via an SSH call that looks something like this:
$ssh -x git@server
005bca82a6dff817ec66f4437202690a93763949 refs/heads/master report-status \
delete-refs side-band-64k quiet ofs-delta \
git-receive-pack command immediately responds with one line for each reference it currently has – in this case, just the
master branch and its SHA.
The first line also has a list of the server’s capabilities (here,
delete-refs, and some others, including the client identifier).
Each line starts with a 4-character hex value specifying how long the rest of the line is. Your first line starts with 005b, which is 91 in hex, meaning that 91 bytes remain on that line. The next line starts with 003e, which is 62, so you read the remaining 62 bytes. The next line is 0000, meaning the server is done with its references listing.
Now that it knows the server’s state, your
send-pack process determines what commits it has that the server doesn’t.
For each reference that this push will update, the
send-pack process tells the
receive-pack process that information.
For instance, if you’re updating the
master branch and adding an
experiment branch, the
send-pack response may look something like this:
0085ca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 15027957951b64cf874c3557a0f3547bd83b3ff6 \ refs/heads/master report-status 00670000000000000000000000000000000000000000 cdfdb42577e2506715f8cfeacdbabc092bf63e8d \ refs/heads/experiment 0000
Git sends a line for each reference you’re updating with the line’s length, the old SHA, the new SHA, and the reference that is being updated. The first line also has the client’s capabilities. The SHA-1 value of all ’0’s means that nothing was there before – because you’re adding the experiment reference. If you were deleting a reference, you would see the opposite: all ’0’s on the right side.
Next, the client sends a packfile of all the objects the server doesn’t have yet. Finally, the server responds with a success (or failure) indication:
This process is mostly the same over HTTP, though the handshaking is a bit different. The connection is initiated with this request:
=> GET http://server/simplegit-progit.git/info/refs?service=git-receive-pack 001f# service=git-receive-pack 000000ab6c5f0e45abd7832bf23074a333f739977c9e8188 refs/heads/master \ report-status delete-refs side-band-64k quiet ofs-delta \ agent=git/2:2.1.1~vmg-bitmaps-bugaloo-608-g116744e 0000
That’s the end of the first client-server exchange.
The client then makes another request, this time a
POST, with the data that
=> POST http://server/simplegit-progit.git/git-receive/pack
POST request includes the
send-pack output and the packfile as its payload.
The server then indicates success or failure with its HTTP response.
When you download data, the
upload-pack processes are involved.
The client initiates a
fetch-pack process that connects to an
upload-pack process on the remote side to negotiate what data will be transferred down.
If you’re doing the fetch over SSH,
fetch-pack instead runs something like this:
$ssh -x git@server
upload-pack sends back something like this:
00dfca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 HEADmulti_ack thin-pack \ side-band side-band-64k ofs-delta shallow no-progress include-tag \ multi_ack_detailed symref=HEAD:refs/heads/master \ agent=git/2:2.1.1+github-607-gfba4028 003fca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 refs/heads/master 0000
This is very similar to what
receive-pack responds with, but the capabilities are different.
In addition, it sends back what HEAD points to (
symref=HEAD:refs/heads/master) so the client knows what to check out if this is a clone.
At this point, the
fetch-pack process looks at what objects it has and responds with the objects that it needs by sending “want” and then the SHA it wants.
It sends all the objects it already has with “have” and then the SHA.
At the end of this list, it writes “done” to initiate the
upload-pack process to begin sending the packfile of the data it needs:
0054want ca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 ofs-delta 0032have 085bb3bcb608e1e8451d4b2432f8ecbe6306e7e7 0000 0009done
The handshake for a fetch operation takes two HTTP requests.
The first is a
GET to the same endpoint used in the dumb protocol:
=> GET $GIT_URL/info/refs?service=git-upload-pack 001e# service=git-upload-pack 000000e7ca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 HEADmulti_ack thin-pack \ side-band side-band-64k ofs-delta shallow no-progress include-tag \ multi_ack_detailed no-done symref=HEAD:refs/heads/master \ agent=git/2:2.1.1+github-607-gfba4028 003fca82a6dff817ec66f44342007202690a93763949 refs/heads/master 0000
This is very similar to invoking
git-upload-pack over an SSH connection, but the second exchange is performed as a separate request:
=> POST $GIT_URL/git-upload-pack HTTP/1.0 0032want 0a53e9ddeaddad63ad106860237bbf53411d11a7 0032have 441b40d833fdfa93eb2908e52742248faf0ee993 0000
Again, this is the same format as above. The response to this request indicates success or failure, and includes the packfile.
This section contains a very basic overview of the transfer protocols.
The protocol includes many other features, such as
side-band capabilities, but covering them is outside the scope of this book.
We’ve tried to give you a sense of the general back-and-forth between client and server; if you need more knowledge than this, you’ll probably want to take a look at the Git source code.