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Dealing with large binary files in git can be difficult. git-bin's goal is to allow files to be managed with git, but to store the file contents in Amazon S3. git-bin follows the principle of least surprise, and functions just like built-in git commands.

To make better use of time, bandwidth, and storage space, git-bin divides large files into smaller chunks (default size 1M). If there is a 1 byte change in the middle of a 100MB file, only one chunk will have to be uploaded and stored instead of the entire file.


Extract the contents of git-bin-*.zip into a directory that is in your PATH.


Step 1: Add a new filter called 'bin'

$ git config --global filter.bin.clean "git bin clean %f"
$ git config --global filter.bin.smudge "git bin smudge"

Step 2: Supply your backend information

For the S3 backend:

$ git config --global git-bin.s3bucket "your bucket name"
$ git config --global git-bin.s3key "your key"
$ git config --global git-bin.s3secretKey "your secret key"

For the SFTP backend:

$ git config --global git-bin.sftpUrl "your ssh url to an sftp folder"
$ git config --global git-bin.sftpPrivateKeyFilePath "your private key"
$ git config --global git-bin.sftpPrivateKeyPassphrase "your passphrase to unlock the private key"

Step 3: Set up .gitattributes

Create or edit the .gitattributes file that is in the root of the git repo that you want to use git-bin with. Specify file extensions that should be run through git-bin, for example:

*.jpg filter=bin binary
*.png filter=bin binary
*.bmp filter=bin binary
*.psd filter=bin binary
etc, etc, etc


Once the three configuration steps have been completed, normal use of git will invoke git-bin for files that match a pattern in .gitattributes.

Adding a new file (note that the JPG is 217k, but only 409b were sent to git):

$ ls -lh brooklyn_bridge.jpg
217k Dec 20 15:03 brooklyn_bridge.jpg

$ git add brooklyn_bridge.jpg
[git-bin] Cleaning brooklyn_bridge.jpg

$ git commit -m "Added JPG that's manage by git-bin"
[dev 6adb9c6] Added JPG that's manage by git-bin

$ git bin push
[git-bin] Uploading 1 chunks...
  [0/1] -> 0..10..20..30..40..50..60..70..80..90..100

$ git push
Writing objects: 100% (3/3), 409 bytes, done.

When you or someone else on the team checks out a file it will either be pulled from the on-disk cache or downloaded if it's not in the cache:

$ git pull
Updating dc53749..6adb9c6
[git-bin] Smudging brooklyn_bridge.jpg... Downloading 1 chunks...
  [0/1] -> 0..10..20..30..40..50..60..70..80..90..100
 brooklyn_bridge.jpg |  Bin 0 -> 222616 bytes
 1 files changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 brooklyn_bridge.jpg

How it works

When a file is passed to the clean filter it is divided into chunks (see Optional Configuration section below to find out how to change the chunk size). The chunks are saved into a cache directory located at <repo root>/.git/git-bin. The output of the clean filter, and hence that data that git sees, is a YAML document. Here's what that JPG turned into:

Filename: brooklyn_bridge.jpg
- 523A59D8C7460C9E43637A77FCA05989153E279E2E2F6A6FFF417671FFE93073

When a file is checked out the YAML gets passed to the smudge filter. The smudge filter looks for each chunk in the cache directory and downloads it if it's missing. The output of the smudge filter, and hence the data that gets written to the working directory, is the reassembled contents of the chunks.

Optional configuration

The chunk size defaults to 1M. If you want to change this for some reason you can set it like any other value in your git config:

$ git config --global git-bin.chunkSize 10m

git has a setting called core.bigFileThreshold that it uses to try to deal with large files. The default value is 512M. Any file that's larger than this setting will NOT get passed to git-bin! You can of course set it to a larger value:

$ git config --global core.bigFileThreshold 2g


git-bin does not play well with empty files. If you're stuck in a state where git is cleaning a file every time a command is run, the file being empty is likely the culprit. If anyone knows the correct way to deal with empty files and git smudge/clean filters, please let me know!

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