The cruft packs feature offer an alternative to Git’s traditional mechanism of removing unreachable objects. This document provides an overview of Git’s pruning mechanism, and how a cruft pack can be used instead to accomplish the same.


To remove unreachable objects from your repository, Git offers git repack -Ad (see git-repack[1]). Quoting from the documentation:

[…​] unreachable objects in a previous pack become loose, unpacked objects, instead of being left in the old pack. […​] loose unreachable objects will be pruned according to normal expiry rules with the next git gc invocation.

Unreachable objects aren’t removed immediately, since doing so could race with an incoming push which may reference an object which is about to be deleted. Instead, those unreachable objects are stored as loose objects and stay that way until they are older than the expiration window, at which point they are removed by git-prune[1].

Git must store these unreachable objects loose in order to keep track of their per-object mtimes. If these unreachable objects were written into one big pack, then either freshening that pack (because an object contained within it was re-written) or creating a new pack of unreachable objects would cause the pack’s mtime to get updated, and the objects within it would never leave the expiration window. Instead, objects are stored loose in order to keep track of the individual object mtimes and avoid a situation where all cruft objects are freshened at once.

This can lead to undesirable situations when a repository contains many unreachable objects which have not yet left the grace period. Having large directories in the shards of .git/objects can lead to decreased performance in the repository. But given enough unreachable objects, this can lead to inode starvation and degrade the performance of the whole system. Since we can never pack those objects, these repositories often take up a large amount of disk space, since we can only zlib compress them, but not store them in delta chains.

Cruft packs

A cruft pack eliminates the need for storing unreachable objects in a loose state by including the per-object mtimes in a separate file alongside a single pack containing all loose objects.

A cruft pack is written by git repack --cruft when generating a new pack. git-pack-objects[1]'s --cruft option. Note that git repack --cruft is a classic all-into-one repack, meaning that everything in the resulting pack is reachable, and everything else is unreachable. Once written, the --cruft option instructs git repack to generate another pack containing only objects not packed in the previous step (which equates to packing all unreachable objects together). This progresses as follows:

  1. Enumerate every object, marking any object which is (a) not contained in a kept-pack, and (b) whose mtime is within the grace period as a traversal tip.

  2. Perform a reachability traversal based on the tips gathered in the previous step, adding every object along the way to the pack.

  3. Write the pack out, along with a .mtimes file that records the per-object timestamps.

This mode is invoked internally by git-repack[1] when instructed to write a cruft pack. Crucially, the set of in-core kept packs is exactly the set of packs which will not be deleted by the repack; in other words, they contain all of the repository’s reachable objects.

When a repository already has a cruft pack, git repack --cruft typically only adds objects to it. An exception to this is when git repack is given the --cruft-expiration option, which allows the generated cruft pack to omit expired objects instead of waiting for git-gc[1] to expire those objects later on.

It is git-gc[1] that is typically responsible for removing expired unreachable objects.

Caution for mixed-version environments

Repositories that have cruft packs in them will continue to work with any older version of Git. Note, however, that previous versions of Git which do not understand the .mtimes file will use the cruft pack’s mtime as the mtime for all of the objects in it. In other words, do not expect older (pre-cruft pack) versions of Git to interpret or even read the contents of the .mtimes file.

Note that having mixed versions of Git GC-ing the same repository can lead to unreachable objects never being completely pruned. This can happen under the following circumstances:

  • An older version of Git running GC explodes the contents of an existing cruft pack loose, using the cruft pack’s mtime.

  • A newer version running GC collects those loose objects into a cruft pack, where the .mtime file reflects the loose object’s actual mtimes, but the cruft pack mtime is "now".

Repeating this process will lead to unreachable objects not getting pruned as a result of repeatedly resetting the objects' mtimes to the present time.

If you are GC-ing repositories in a mixed version environment, consider omitting the --cruft option when using git-repack[1] and git-gc[1], and leaving the gc.cruftPacks configuration unset until all writers understand cruft packs.


Notable alternatives to this design include:

  • The location of the per-object mtime data, and

  • Storing unreachable objects in multiple cruft packs.

On the location of mtime data, a new auxiliary file tied to the pack was chosen to avoid complicating the .idx format. If the .idx format were ever to gain support for optional chunks of data, it may make sense to consolidate the .mtimes format into the .idx itself.

Storing unreachable objects among multiple cruft packs (e.g., creating a new cruft pack during each repacking operation including only unreachable objects which aren’t already stored in an earlier cruft pack) is significantly more complicated to construct, and so aren’t pursued here. The obvious drawback to the current implementation is that the entire cruft pack must be re-written from scratch.