The "backend" in git-annex specifies how a key is generated from a file's content and/or filesystem metadata. Most backends are different kinds of hashes. A single repository can use different backends for different files. The key includes the backend that is used for that key.

configuring which backend to use

The annex.backend git-config setting can be used to configure the default backend to use when adding new files.

For finer control of what backend is used when adding different types of files, the .gitattributes file can be used. The annex.backend attribute can be set to the name of the backend to use for matching files.

For example, to use the SHA256E backend for sound files, which tend to be smallish and might be modified or copied over time, while using the WORM backend for everything else, you could set in .gitattributes:

* annex.backend=WORM
*.mp3 annex.backend=SHA256E
*.ogg annex.backend=SHA256E

recommended backends to use

  • SHA256E -- The default backend for new files, combines a 256 bit SHA-2 hash of the file's content with the file's extension. This allows verifying that the file content is right, and can avoid duplicates of files with the same content. Its need to generate checksums can make it slower for large files.
  • SHA256 -- SHA-2 hash that does not include the file extension in the key, which can lead to better deduplication but can confuse some programs.
  • SHA512, SHA512E -- Best SHA-2 hash, for the very paranoid.
  • SHA384, SHA384E, SHA224, SHA224E -- SHA-2 hashes for people who like unusual sizes.
  • SHA3_512, SHA3_512E, SHA3_384, SHA3_384E, SHA3_256, SHA3_256E, SHA3_224, SHA3_224E -- SHA-3 hashes, for bleeding edge fun.
  • SKEIN512, SKEIN512E, SKEIN256, SKEIN256E -- Skein hash, a well-regarded SHA3 hash competition finalist.
  • BLAKE2B160, BLAKE2B224, BLAKE2B256, BLAKE2B384, BLAKE2B512 BLAKE2B160E, BLAKE2B224E, BLAKE2B256E, BLAKE2B384E, BLAKE2B512E -- Fast Blake2 hash variants optimised for 64 bit platforms.
  • BLAKE2S160, BLAKE2S224, BLAKE2S256 BLAKE2S160E, BLAKE2S224E, BLAKE2S256E -- Fast Blake2 hash variants optimised for 32 bit platforms.
  • BLAKE2BP512, BLAKE2BP512E -- Fast Blake2 hash variants optimised for 4-way CPUs.
  • BLAKE2SP224, BLAKE2SP256 BLAKE2SP224E, BLAKE2SP256E -- Fast Blake2 hash variants optimised for 8-way CPUs. VURL -- This is like an URL (see below) but the content can be verified with a cryptographically secure checksum that is recorded in the git-annex branch. It's generated when using eg git-annex addurl --fast --verifiable.

non-cryptograpgically secure backends

The backends below do not guarantee cryptographically that the content of an annexed file remains unchanged.

  • SHA1, SHA1E, MD5, MD5E -- Smaller hashes than SHA256 for those who want a checksum but are not concerned about security.
  • WORM ("Write Once, Read Many") -- This assumes that any file with the same filename, size, and modification time has the same content. This is the least expensive backend, recommended for really large files or slow systems.
  • URL -- This is a key that is generated from the url to a file. It's generated when using eg, git annex addurl --fast, when the file content is not available for hashing.
    The key may not contain the full URL; for long URLs, part of the URL may be represented by a checksum.
    The URL key may contain & characters; be sure to quote the key if passing it to a shell script. These types of keys are distinct from URLs/URIs that may be attached to a key (using any backend) indicating the key's location on the web or in one of special remotes.

external backends

While most backends are built into git-annex, it also supports external backends. These are programs with names like git-annex-backend-XFOO, which can be provided by others. See external backend protocol for details about how to write them.

Here's a list of external backends. Edit this page to add yours to the list.

Like with git-annex's builtin backends, you can add "E" to the end of the name of an external backend, to get a version that includes the file extension in the key.

internal use backends

Keys using these backends can sometimes be visible, but they are used by git-annex for its own purposes, and not for your annexed files.

  • GIT -- This is used internally by git-annex when exporting trees containing files stored in git, rather than git-annex. It represents a git sha. This is never used for git-annex links, but information about keys of this type is stored in the git-annex branch.
  • GITBUNDLE and GITMANIFEST -- Used by git-remote-annex to store a git repository in a special remote. See this page for details about these.


If you want to be able to prove that you're working with the same file contents that were checked into a repository earlier, you should avoid using non-cryptographically-secure backends, and will need to use signed git commits. See using signed git commits for details.

Retrieval of WORM and URL from many special remotes is prohibited for security reasons.

Note that the various 512 and 384 length hashes result in long paths, which are known to not work on Windows. If interoperability on Windows is a concern, avoid those.