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Advanced GIT(Part 1) — What is GIT?


GIT — is a powerful tool for collaborating with the team and storing work that can be easily replayed in time. However, for a sad reason, a lot of people use the GUI tool for interacting with it and can’t uncover its full potential of this tool. Like in a famous meme people learn only to commit and push and if something happened, they prefer to reload copies except to solve problems. (In all cases it’s not the optimal way)

XKCD Common usage of git tool.


  • CLI that support UNIX styles commands
  • git version > 2.0 (For me current version is 2.34.0)
  • account

Why use the command line?

All GUI tools for git have been built on top of CLI, also nowadays they’ve become very rich, but they lack functionality from the original CLI. For simple tasks it’s not a big deal, but for complicated one missing functionality start to become vital.

GUI can sometimes create a layer of abstraction for the user, that becomes only available only in this proprietary tool putting boundaries on choosing software freely.

Last, but not least CLI commands can be automatized using bash on your demand. (Combining several commands you can gain a stunning result) With GUI — you’re fully dependent on vendor updates.

What is GIT?

GIT — Distributed Version Control System

Let’s unpack this. Distributed — means that storing of data is the responsibility of several computers, not a single one. For example, the server, our computer and collaborator Bob’s computer. Distributing doesn’t mean that our data will be synchronized.

Version Control System — every object (in our case file) have an established state in time (version) and we can manage this state and go back and forward replaying it. (control system).

How does GIT store information?

  • At its core, GIT is like a key-value store.
  • The Value = Data
  • The Key = Hash of data
  • Having keys, you can retrieve files.

Key to content transformation

The key — SHA1

  • Cryptographic hash function.
  • Given a piece of data, it produces a 40-digit hexadecimal number.
  • This value always is the same if the given input is the same.

The value — BLOB

GIT stores the compressed data in a blob, along with metadata in a header:

  • identifier blob
  • size of content
  • \0 delimiter
  • content

Schema of the git value

This picture can be misleading, so you should understand that these four blocks are sequentially and do not lie on a disk as presented in the mnemonic picture.

Under the hood — GIT Hash-Object

Let’s ask git for SHA1 of content


Let’s try with metadata


It’s a match with the previous result

Where does GIT store its data?

.git the directory contains info about the repository

We need more info

The block lacks information:

  • filenames
  • directory structure

Git manages this information in a tree.


A tree contains pointers (using SHA1):

  • to BLOBs
  • to trees

and metadata:

  • type of pointer (blob or tree)
  • filename or folder name
  • mode (executable file, symbolic link, …)

Example of the tree structure

Trees point to blobs and trees

Identical content is stored only once

Other optimizations — Packfiles and deltas

  • Git objects are compressed
  • As files change, their contents remain mostly similar.
  • Git optimizes for this by compressing these files together, into a Packfile
  • The Packfile stores the object, and “deltas”, or the differences between one version of the file and the next.
  • Packfiles are generated when, you have too many objects, during gc ( git commit), or during a push to a remote


Commit object

commit points to a tree

and contains metadata:

  • author and committer
  • date
  • message
  • parent commit (one or more)

the SHA1 of the commit is the hash of all this information

Commit structure

Commits points to parent commits and trees

A commit is a code snapshot

Commits under the hood — make a commit

Commits under the hood — look in .git objects

Commits under the hood — looking at objects

Oops, remember that content is compressed.

Git cat-file -t (type) and -p (print the contents)

Why we can’t change commits?

  • If you change any data about the commit, the commit will have a new SHA1 hash
  • Even if the files don’t change, the created date will

References — pointers to commit

  • Tags
  • Branches
  • HEAD — pointer to the current commit

References to commit

References under the hood

refs/heads are where branches live

we show only part of the tree command output in the example

/refs/heads/master contains which commit the branch points to

HEAD is usually a pointer to the current branch

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Danylo Halaiko


My code will tell about me better than I about myself. If you want more, watch my LinkedIn profile.
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