This page gives a high-level view of git-annex. For a detailed low-level view, see the man page and internals.

You do not need to read this page to get started with using git-annex. The walkthrough provides step-by-step instructions.

Still reading? Ok. Git's man page calls it "a stupid content tracker". With git-annex, git is instead "a stupid filename and metadata" tracker. The contents of annexed files are not stored in git, only the names of the files and some other metadata remain there.

The contents of the files are kept by git-annex in a distributed key/value store consisting of every clone of a given git repository. That's a fancy way to say that git-annex stores the actual file content somewhere under .git/annex/. (See internals for details and note that in direct mode the file contents are left in the work tree.)

That was the values; what about the keys? Well, a key is calculated for a given file when it's first added into git-annex. Normally this uses a hash of its contents, but various backends can produce different sorts of keys. The file that gets checked into git is just a symlink to the key under .git/annex/. If the content of a file is modified, that produces a different key (and the symlink is changed).

A file's content can be transferred from one repository to another by git-annex. Which repositories contain a given value is tracked by git-annex (see location tracking). It stores this tracking information in a separate branch, named "git-annex". All you ever do with the "git-annex" branch is push/pull it around between repositories, to sync up git-annex's view of the world.

That's really all there is to it. Oh, there are special remotes that let values be stored other places than git repositories (anything from Amazon S3 to a USB key), and there's a pile of commands listed in the man page to handle moving the values around and managing them. But if you grok the description above, you can see through all that. It's really just symlinks, keys, values, and a git-annex branch to store additional metadata.


Next: install or walkthrough

The contents of large files are not stored in git, only the names of the files and some other metadata remain there.

Would this read better to the newbie as:

The contents of 'annexed' files are not stored in git, only the names of the files and some other metadata remain there.

First time for me, the note about large files made me think that maybe annex operated on files above a certain size.

Comment by Nigel Sat Aug 10 14:31:31 2013

Just to support Nigel's comment; it's good to be precise and clear about what happens to the files from the start. I've sent a similar suggestion to the mailing list.

Comment by Matthew Mon Feb 10 12:53:44 2014