For publishing content from a git-annex repository, it would be useful to be able to export a tree of files to a special remote, using the filenames and content from the tree.

(See also export and dumb, unsafe, human-readable backend)

Note that this document was written with the assumption that only git-annex is writing to the special remote. But importing trees from special remotes invalidates that assumption, and needed to add some additional things to deal with it. See that link for details.

configuring a special remote for tree export

If a special remote already has files stored in it, switching it to be a tree export would result in a mix of files named by key and by filename. That's not desirable. So, the user should set up a new special remote when they want to export a tree. (It would also be possible to drop all content from an existing special remote and reuse it, but there does not seem much benefit in doing so.)

Add a new initremote configuration exporttree=yes, that cannot be changed by enableremote:

git annex initremote myexport type=... exporttree=yes

It does not make sense to encrypt an export, so exporttree=yes requires encryption=none.

Note that the particular tree to export is not specified yet. This is because the tree that is exported to a special remote may change.

exporting a treeish

To export a treeish, the user can run:

git annex export $treeish --to myexport

That does all necessary uploads etc to make the special remote contain the tree of files. The treeish can be a tag, a branch, or a tree.

If a file's content is not present, it won't be exported. Re-running the same export later should export files whose content has become present. (This likely means a second pass, and needs location tracking to track which files are in the export.)

Users may sometimes want to export multiple treeishes to a single special remote. For example, exporting several tags. This interface could be complicated to support that, putting the treeishes in subdirectories on the special remote etc. But that's not necessary, because the user can use git commands to graft trees together into a larger tree, and export that larger tree.

If an export is interrupted, running it again should resume where it left off.

updating an export

The user can at any time re-run git-annex export with a new treeish to change what's exported. While some use cases for git annex export involve publishing datasets that are intended to remain immutable, other use cases include eg, making a tree of files available to a computer that can't run git-annex, and in such use cases, the tree needs to be able to be updated.

To efficiently update an export, git-annex can diff the tree that was exported with the new tree. The naive approach is to upload new and modified files and remove deleted files.

With rename detection, if the special remote supports moving files, more efficient updates can be done. It gets complicated; consider two files that swap names.

If the special remote supports copying files, that would also make some updates more efficient.

tracking exports

This lets the user say, "I want to export the master branch", and have git-annex sync and the assistant automatically update the export when master changes.

git-annex export could do this by default (if the user doesn't want the export to track the branch, they could instead export a tree or a tag). Or it could be a --tracking parameter.

How to record the export tracking branch? It could be stored as refs/remotes/myexport/master. This says that the master branch is being exported to myexport, and the ref points to the last treeish that was exported.

But.. master:subdir is a valid treeish, referring to the subdir of the current master tree. This is a useful thing to want to export. But, that's not a legal ref name. So, perhaps better to record the export tracking branch some other way. Perhaps in git config?

changes to special remote interface

This needs some additional methods added to special remotes, and to the external special remote protocol.

Here's the changes to the latter:

    Used to check if a special remote supports exports. The remote responds with either EXPORTSUPPORTED-SUCCESS or EXPORTSUPPORTED-FAILURE
  • EXPORT Name
    Comes immediately before each of the following requests, specifying the name of the exported file. It will be in the form of a relative path, and may contain path separators, whitespace, and other special characters.
    Requests the transfer of a File on local disk to or from the previously provided Name on the special remote.
    Note that it's important that, while a file is being stored, CHECKPRESENTEXPORT not indicate it's present until all the data has been transferred.
    The remote responds with either TRANSFER-SUCCESS or TRANSFER-FAILURE, and a remote where exports do not make sense may always fail.
    Requests the remote to check if the previously provided Name is present in it.
    Requests the remote to remove content stored by TRANSFEREXPORT with the previously provided Name.
    The remote responds with either REMOVE-SUCCESS or REMOVE-FAILURE.
    Requests the remote rename a file stored on it from the previously provided Name to the NewName.
    The remote responds with RENAMEEXPORT-SUCCESS or with RENAMEEXPORT-FAILURE if an efficient rename cannot be done.

To support old external special remote programs that have not been updated to support exports, git-annex will need to handle an ERROR response when using any of the above.

location tracking

Since not all the files in an exported treeish may have content present when the export is done, location tracking will be needed so that getting the files and exporting again transfers their content.

Does a copy of a file exported to a special remote count as a copy of a file as far as ?numcopies goes? Should git-annex get download a file from an export?

The problem is that special remotes with exports are not key/value stores. The content of a file can change, and if multiple repositories can export a special remote, they can be out of sync about what files are exported to it.

Possible solution: Make exporttree=yes cause the special remote to be untrusted, and rely on annex.verify to catch cases where the content of a file on a special remote has changed. This would work well enough except for when the WORM or URL backend is used. So, prevent the user from exporting such keys. Also, force verification on for such special remotes, don't let it be turned off.

The same file contents may be in a treeish multiple times under different filenames. That complicates using location tracking. One file may have been exported and the other not, and location tracking says that the content is present in the export. A sqlite database is needed to keep track of this.

recording exported filenames in git-annex branch

In order to download the content of a key from a file exported to a special remote, the filename that was exported needs to somehow be recorded in the git-annex branch. How to do this? The filename could be included in the location tracking log or a related log file, or the exported tree could be grafted into the git-annex branch (under eg, exported/uuid/). Which way uses less space in the git repository?

Grafting in the exported tree records the necessary data, but the file-to-key map needs to be reversed to support downloading from an export. It would be too expensive to traverse the tree each time to hunt for a key; instead would need a database that gets populated once by traversing the tree.

On the other hand, for updating what's exported, having access to the old exported tree seems perfect, because it and the new tree can be diffed to find what changes need to be made to the special remote.

If the filenames are stored in the location tracking log, the exported tree could be reconstructed, but it would take O(N) queries to git, where N is the total number of keys git-annex knows about; updating exports of small subsets of large repositories would be expensive. So grafting in the exported tree seems the better approach.

export conflicts

What if different repositories can access the same special remote, and different trees get exported to it concurrently?

This would be very hard to untangle, because it's hard to know what content was exported to a file last, and thus what content the file actually has. The location log's timestamps might give a hint, but clocks vary too much to trust it.

Also, if the exported tree is grafted in to the git-annex branch, there would be a merge conflict. Union merging would scramble the exported tree, so even if a smart merge is added, old versions of git-annex would corrupt the exported tree.

To avoid that problem, add a log file export.log that contains the uuid of the remote that was exported to, and the sha1 of the exported tree. To avoid the exported tree being GCed, do graft it in to the git-annex branch, but follow that with a commit that removes the tree again, and only update refs/heads/git-annex after making both commits.

If export.log contains multiple active exports of different trees, there was an export conflict. Short of downloading the whole export to checksum it, or deleting the whole export, what can be done to resolve it?

In this case, git-annex knows both exported trees. Have the user provide a tree that resolves the conflict as they desire (it could be the same as one of the exported trees, or some merge of them or an entirely new tree). The UI to do this can just be another git annex export $tree --to remote. To resolve, diff each exported tree in turn against the resolving tree and delete all files that differ. Then, upload all missing files.

when to update export.log for efficient resuming of exports

When should export.log be updated? Possibilities:

  • Before performing any work, to set the goal.
  • After the export is fully successful, to record the current state.
  • After some mid-point.

Lots of things could go wrong during an export. A file might fail to be transferred or only part of it be transferred; a file's content might not be present to transfer at all. The export could be interrupted part way. Updating the export.log at the right point in time is important to handle these cases efficiently.

If the export.log is updated first, then it's only a goal and does not tell us what's been done already.

If the export.log is updated only after complete success, then the common case of some files not having content locally present will prevent it from being updated. When we resume, we again don't know what's been done already.

If the export.log is updated after deleting any files from the remote that are not the same in the new treeish as in the old treeish, and as long as TRANSFEREXPORT STORE is atomic, then when resuming we can trust CHECKPRESENTEXPORT to only find files that have the correct content for the current treeish. (Unless a conflicting export was made from elsewhere, but in that case, the conflict resolution will have to fix up later.)

handling renames efficiently

To handle two files that swap names, a temp name is required.

Difficulty with a temp name is picking a name that won't ever be used by any exported file.

Interrupted exports also complicate this. While a name could be picked that is in neither the old nor the new tree, an export could be interrupted, leaving the file at the temp name. There needs to be something to clean that up when the export is resumed, even if it's resumed with a different tree.

Could use something like ".git-annex-tmp-content-$key" as the temp name. This hides it from casual view, which is good, and it's not depedent on the tree, so no state needs to be maintained to clean it up. Also, using the key in the name simplifies calculation of complicated renames (eg, renaming A to B, B to C, C to A)

Export can first try to rename all files that are deleted/modified to their key's temp name (falling back to deleting since not all special remotes support rename), and then, in a second pass, rename from the temp name to the new name. Followed by deleting the temp name of all keys whose files are deleted in the diff. That is more renames and deletes than strictly necessary, but it will statelessly clean up an interruped export as long as it's run again with the same new tree.

But, an export of tree B should clean up after an interrupted export of tree A. Some state is needed to handle this. Before starting the export of tree A, record it somewhere. Then when resuming, diff A..B, and delete the temp names of the keys in the diff. (Can't rename here, because we don't know what was the content of a file when an export was interrupted.)

So, before an export does anything, need to record the tree that's about to be exported to export.log, not as an exported tree, but as a goal. Then on resume, the temp files for that can be cleaned up.

renames and export conflicts

What is there's an export conflict going on at the same time that a file in the export gets renamed?

Suppose that there are two git repos A and B, each exporting to the same remote. A and B are not currently communicating. A exports T1 which contains F. B exports T2, which has a different content for F.

Then A exports T3, which renames F to G. If that rename is done on the remote, then A will think it's successfully exported T3, but G will have F's content from T2, not from T1.

When A and B reconnect, the export conflict will be detected. To resolve the export conflict, it says above to:

To resolve, diff each exported tree in turn against the resolving tree and delete all files that differ. Then, upload all missing files.

Assume that the resolving tree is T3. So B's export of T2 is diffed against T3. F differs and is deleted (no change). G differs and is deleted, which fixes up the problem that the wrong content was renamed to G. G is missing so gets uploaded.

So, this works, as long as "delete all files that differ" means it deletes both old and new files. And as long as conflict resolution does not itself stash away files in the temp name for later renaming.

dropping from exports and copying to exports

It might be nice for git annex drop $file --from myexport and git annex copy $myfile --to export to work. However, there are some very difficult issues in supporting those, and they don't really seem necessary to use exports. Re-running git annex export to resume an export handles all the cases that copying to an export would need to. And, deleting a file from a tree and exporting the new tree is the thing to do if a file no longer should be exported.

Here's an example of the kind of problem supporting these needs to deal with:

  1. In repo A, file F with content K is exported
  2. In repo B, file F with content K' is exported, since F changed in the exported treeish.
  3. In repo A, file F is removed from the export, which results in K being removed from the location log for the export.

But... did #3 happen before or after #2? If #3 occurred before #2, then K' is present in the export and the location log is correct. If #3 occurred after #2, and A and B's git-annex branches were not synced, then K' was accidentially removed from the export, and the location log is now wrong.

Is there any reason to allow removeKey from an export? Why would someone want to drop a single file from an export? Why not remove the file from a tree, and export the new tree?

(Alternatively, removeKey could itself update the exported tree, removing the file from it, and update the export log accordingly. This would avoid the problem. But that's complication and it would be rather slow and bloat the git repo with a lot of intermediate trees when dropping multiple keys.)