When balanced preferred content is used, there may be many repositories in a location -- either a server or a cluster -- and getting any given file may need to access any of them. Configuring remotes for each repository adds a lot of complexity, both in setting up access controls on each server, and for the user.

Particularly on the user side, when ssh is used they may have to deal with many different ssh host keys, as well as adding new remotes or removing existing remotes to keep up with changes are made on the server side.

A proxy would avoid this complexity. It also allows limiting network ingress to a single point.

A proxy can be the frontend to a cluster. All the files stored anywhere in the cluster would be available to retrieve from the proxy. When a file is sent to the proxy, it would store it somewhere in the cluster.

Currently the closest git-annex can get to implementing such a proxy is a transfer repository that wants all content that is not yet stored in the cluster. This allows incoming transfers to be accepted and distributed to nodes of the cluster. To get data back out of the cluster, there has to be some communication that it is preferred content (eg, setting metadata), then after some delay for it to be copied back to the transfer repository, it becomes available for the client to download it. And once it knows the client has its copy, it can be removed from the transfer repository.

That is quite slow, and rather clumsy. And it risks the transfer repository filling up with data that has been requested by clients that have not yet picked it up, or with incoming transfers that have not yet reached the cluster.

A proxy would not hold the content of files itself. It would be a clone of the git repository though, probably. Uploads and downloads would stream through the proxy.


The git-annex P2P protocol would be relayed via the proxy, which would be a regular git ssh remote.

There is also the possibility of relaying the P2P protocol over another protocol such as HTTP, see P2P protocol over http.

UUID discovery

A significant difficulty in implementing a proxy is that each git-annex remote has a single UUID. But the remote that points at the proxy can't just have the UUID of the proxy's repository, git-annex needs to know that the proxy's remote can be used to access repositories with every UUID in the cluster.

UUID discovery via P2P protocol extension

Could the P2P protocol be extended to let the proxy communicate the UUIDs of all the repositories behind it?

Once the client git-annex knows the set of UUIDs behind the proxy, it could eg instantiate a remote object per UUID, each of which accesses the proxy, but with a different UUID.

But, git-annex usually only does UUID discovery the first time a ssh remote is accessed. So it would need to discover at that point that the remote is a proxy. Then it could do UUID discovery each time git-annex starts up. But that adds significant overhead, git-annex would be making a connection to the proxy in situations where it is not going to use it.

UUID discovery via git-annex branch

Could the proxy's set of UUIDs instead be recorded somewhere in the git-annex branch?

With this approach, git-annex would know as soon as it sees the proxy's UUID that this is a proxy for this other set of UUIDS. (Unless its git-annex branch is not up-to-date.)

One difficulty with this is that, when the git-annex branch is not up to date with changes from the proxy, git-annex may try to access repositories that are no longer available behind the proxy. That failure would be handled the same as any other currently unavailable repository. Also git-annex would not use the full set of repositories, so might not be able to store data when eg, all the repositories that is knows about are full. Just getting the git-annex back in sync should recover from either situation.

This seems like the clear winner.

UUID discovery security

Are there any security concerns with adding UUID discovery?

Suppose that repository A claims to be a proxy for repository B, but it's not connected to B, and is actually evil. Then git-annex would instantiate a remote A-B with the UUID of B. If files were sent to A-B, git-annex would consider them present on B, and not send them to B by other remotes.

Well, in this situation, A wrote to the git-annex branch (or used a P2P protocol extension) in order to pose as B. Without a proxy feature A could just as well falsify location logs to claim that B contains things it did not. Also, without a proxy feature, A could set its UUID to be the same as B, and so trick us into sending files to it rather than B.

The only real difference seems to be that the UUID of a remote is cached, so A could only do this the first time we accessed it, and not later. With UUID discovery, A can do that at any time.

proxied remote names

What to name the instantiated remotes? Probably the best that could be done is to use the proxy's own remote names as suffixes on the client. Eg, the proxy's "node1" remote is "proxy-node1".

But, the user might have their own "proxy-node1" remote configured that points to something else. To avoid a proxy changing the configuration of the user's remote to point to its remote, git-annex must avoid instantiating a proxied remote when there's already a configuration for a remote with that same name.

That does mean that, if a user wants to set a git config for a proxy remote, they will need to manually set its annex-uuid and its url. Which is awkward. Many git configs of the proxy remote can be inherited by the instantiated remotes, so users won't often need to do that.

A user can also set up a remote with another name that they prefer, that points at a remote behind a proxy. They just need to set its annex-uuid and its url. Perhaps there should be a git-annex command that eases setting up a remote like that?

proxied remotes in git remote list

Should instantiated remotes have enough configured in git so that git remote list will list them? This would make things like tab completion of proxied remotes work, and would generally let the user discover that there are proxied remotes.

This could be done by a config like = true. That makes other configs of the remote not prevent it being used as an instantiated remote. So can be changed when the uuid behind a proxy changes. And it allows updating to keep it the same as the proxy remote's url. (Or possibly to set it to something else?)

Configuring the instantiated remotes like that would let anyone who can write to the git-annex branch flood other people's repos with configs for any number of git remotes. Which might be obnoxious.

Ah, instead git-annex's tab completion can be made to include instantiated remotes, no need to list them in git config.


One way to use a proxy is just as a convenient way to access a group of remotes that are behind it. Some remotes may only be reachable by the proxy, but you still know what the individual remotes are. Eg, one might be a S3 bucket that can only be written via the proxy, but is globally readable without going through the proxy. Another might be a drive that is sometimes located behind the proxy, but other times connected directly. Using a proxy this way just involves using the instantiated proxied remotes.

Or a proxy can be the frontend for a cluster. In this situation, the user doesn't know anything much about the nodes in the cluster, perhaps not even that they exist, or perhaps what keys are stored on which nodes.

In the cluster case, the user would like to not need to pick a specific node to send content to. While they could use preferred content to pick a node, or nodes, they would prefer to be able to say git-annex copy --to cluster and let it pick which nodes to send to. And similarly, `git-annex drop --from cluster' should drop the content from every node in the cluster.

For this we need a UUID for the cluster. But it is not like a usual UUID. It does not need to actually be recorded in the location tracking logs, and it is not counted as a copy for numcopies purposes. The only point of this UUID is to make commands like git-annex drop --from cluster and git-annex get --from cluster talk to the cluster's frontend proxy.

Cluster UUIDs need to be distinguishable from regular repository UUIDs. This is partly to guard against a situation where a regular repository's UUID gets used for a cluster. Also it will make implementation easier to be able to inspect a UUID and know if it's a cluster UUID. Use a version 8 UUID, all random except the first octet set to 'a' and the second to 'c'.

The proxy log contains the cluster UUID (with a remote name like "cluster"), as well as the UUIDs of the nodes of the cluster. This lets the client access the cluster using the proxy, and it lets the client access individual nodes (so it can lock content on them while dropping). Note that more than one proxy can be in front of the same cluster, and multiple clusters can be accessed via the same proxy.

The cluster UUID is recorded in the git-annex branch, along with a list of the UUIDs of nodes of the cluster (which can change at any time).

When reading a location log, if any UUID where content is present is part of the cluster, the cluster's UUID is added to the list of UUIDs.

When writing a location log, the cluster's UUID is filtered out of the list of UUIDs.

When proxying an upload to the cluster's UUID, git-annex-shell fans out uploads to nodes according to preferred content. And storeKey is extended to be able to return a list of additional UUIDs where the content was stored. So an upload to the cluster will end up writing to the location log the actual nodes that it was fanned out to.

Note that to support clusters that are nodes of clusters, when a cluster's frontend proxy fans out an upload to a node, and storeKey returns additional UUIDs, it should pass those UUIDs along. Of course, no cluster can be a node of itself, and cycles have to be broken (as described in a section below).

When a file is requested from the cluster's UUID, git-annex-shell picks one of the nodes that has the content, and proxies to that one. (How to pick which node to use? Load balancing?) And, if the proxy repository itself contains the requested key, it can send it directly. This allows the proxy repository to be primed with frequently accessed files when it has the space.

When a drop is requested from the cluster's UUID, git-annex-shell drops from all nodes, as well as from the proxy itself. Only indicating success if it is able to delete all copies from the cluster. This needs removeKey to be extended to return UUIDs that the content was dropped from in addition to the remote's uuid (both on success and on failure) so that the local location log can be updated.

It does not fan out lockcontent, instead the client will lock content on specific nodes. In fact, the cluster UUID should probably be omitted when constructing a drop proof, since trying to lockcontent on it will always fail. Also, when constructing a drop proof for a cluster's UUID, the nodes of that cluster should be omitted, otherwise a drop from the cluster can lock content on individual nodes, causing the drop to fail.

Moving from a cluster is a special case because it may reduce the number of copies. So move's willDropMakeItWorse check needs to special case clusters. Since dropping from the cluster may remove content from any of its nodes, which may include copies on nodes that the local location log does not know about yet, the special case probably needs to always assume that dropping from a cluster in a move risks reducing numcopies, and so only allow it when a drop proof can be constructed.

Some commands like git-annex whereis will list content as being stored in the cluster, as well as on whichever of its nodes, and whereis currently says "n copies", but since the cluster doesn't count as a copy, that display should probably be counted using the numcopies logic that excludes cluster UUIDs.

No other protocol extensions or special cases should be needed.

single upload with fanout

If we want to send a file to multiple repositories that are behind the same proxy, it would be wasteful to upload it through the proxy repeatedly.

This is certianly needed when doing git-annex copy --to remote-cluster, the cluster picks the nodes to store the content in, and it needs to report back some UUID that is different than the cluster UUID, in order for the location log to get updated. (Cluster UUIDs are not written to the location log.) So this will need a change to the P2P protocol to support reporting back additional UUIDs where the content was stored.

This might also be useful for proxies. git-annex copy --to proxy-foo could notice that proxy-bar also wants the content, and fan out a copy to there. But that might be annoying to users, who want full control over what goes where when using a proxy. Seems it would need a config setting. But since clusters will support fanout, it seems unncessary to make proxies also support it.

A command like git-annex push would see all the instantiated remotes and would pick ones to send content to. If fanout is done, this would lead to git-annex push doing extra work iterating over instantiated remotes that have already received content via fanout. Could this extra work be avoided?

cluster configuration lockdown

If some organization is running a cluster, and giving others access to it, they may want to prevent letting those others make changes to the configuration of the cluster. But the cluster is configured via the git-annex branch, particularly preferred content, and the proxy log, and the cluster log.

A user could, for example, make a small cluster node want all content, and so fill up its small disk. They could make a particular node not want any content. They could remove nodes from the cluster.

One way to deal with this is for the cluster to reject git-annex branch pushes that make such changes. Or only allow them if they are signed with a given gpg key. This seems like a tractable enough set of limitations that it could be checked by git-annex, in a git hook, when a git config is set to lock down the proxy configuration.

Of course, someone with access to a cluster can also drop all data from it! Unless git-annex-shell is run with GIT_ANNEX_SHELL_APPENDONLY set.

A remote will only be treated as a node of a cluster when the git configuration is set, which will prevent creating clusters in places where they are not intended to be.

distributed clusters

A cluster's nodes may be geographically distributed amoung several locations, which are effectivly subclusters. To support this, an upload or removal sent to one frontend proxy of the cluster will be repeated to other frontend proxies that are remotes of that one and have the cluster's UUID.

This is better than supporting a cluster that is a node of another cluster, because rather than a hierarchical structure, this allows for organic structures of any shape. For example, there could be two frontends to a cluster, in different locations. An upload to either frontend fans out to its local nodes as well as over to the other frontend, and to its local nodes.

This does mean that cycles need to be prevented. See section below.


A proxy should be as fast as possible so as not to add overhead to a file retrieve, store, or checkpresent. This probably means that it keeps TCP connections open to each host. It might use a protocol with less overhead than ssh.

In the case of checkpresent, it would be possible for the gateway to not communicate with cluster nodes to check that the data is still present in the cluster. As long as all access is intermediated via a single gateway, its git-annex branch could be relied on to always be correct, in theory. Proving that theory, making sure to account for all possible race conditions and other scenarios, would be necessary for such an optimisation. This would not work for multi-gateway clusters unless the gateways were kept in sync about locations, which they currently are not.

Another way the cluster gateway could speed things up is to cache some subset of content. Eg, analize what files are typically requested, and store another copy of those on the proxy. Perhaps prioritize storing smaller files, where latency tends to swamp transfer speed.

proxying to special remotes

As well as being an intermediary to git-annex repositories, the proxy could provide access to other special remotes. That could be an object store like S3, which might be internal to the cluster or not. When using a cloud service like S3, only the proxy needs to know the access credentials.

Currently git-annex does not support streaming content to special remotes. The remote interface operates on object files stored on disk. See transitive transfers for discussion of that.

Even if the special remote interface was extended to support streaming, there would be external special remotes that don't implement the extended interface. So it would be good to start with something that works with the current interface. And maybe it will be good enough and it will be possible to avoid big changes to lots of special remotes.

Being able to resume transfers is important. Uploads and downloads to some special remotes like rsync are resumable. And uploads and downloads from chunked special remotes are resumable. Proxying to a special remote should also be resumable.

A simple approach for proxying downloads is to download from the special remote to the usual temp object file on the proxy, but without moving that to the annex object file at the end. As the temp object file grows, stream the content out via the proxy.

Some special remotes will overwrite or truncate an existing temp object file when starting a download. So the proxy should wait until the file is growing to start streaming it.

Some special remotes write to files out of order. That could be dealt with by Incrementally hashing the content sent to the proxy. When the download is complete, check if the hash matches the key, and if not send a new P2P protocol message, INVALID-RESENDING, followed by sending DATA and the complete content. (When a non-hashing backend is used, incrementally hash with sha256 and at the end rehash the file to detect out of order writes.)

That would be pretty annoying to the client which has to download 2x the data in that case. So perhaps also extend the special remote interface with a way to indicate when a special remote writes out of order. And don't stream downloads from such special remotes. So there will be a perhaps long delay before the client sees their download start. Extend the P2P protocol with a way to send pre-download progress perhaps?

A simple approach for proxying uploads is to buffer the upload to the temp object file, and once it's complete (and hash verified), send it on to the special remote(s). Then delete the temp object file. This has a problem that the client will wait for the server's SUCCESS message, and there is no way for the server to indicate its own progress of uploading to the special remote. But the server needs to wait until the file is on the special remote before sending SUCCESS, leading to a perhaps long delay on the client before an upload finishes. Perhaps extend the P2P protocol with progress information for the uploads?

Both of those file-based approaches need the proxy to have enough free disk space to buffer the largest file, times the number of concurrent uploads+downloads. So the proxy will need to check annex.diskreserve and refuse transfers that would use too much disk.

If git-annex-shell gets interrupted, or a transfer from/to a special remote fails part way through, it will leave the temp object files on disk. That will tend to fill up the proxy's disk with temp object files. So probably the proxy will need to delete them proactively. But not too proactively, since the user could take a while before resuming an interrupted or failed transfer. How proactive to be should scale with how close the proxy is to running up against annex.diskreserve.

A complication will be handling multiple concurrent downloads of the same object from a special remote. If a download is already in progress, another process could open the temp file and stream it out to its client. But how to detect when the whole content has been received? Could check key size, but what about unsized keys?


When the proxy is in front of a special remote that is chunked, where does the chunking happen? It could happen on the client, or on the proxy.

Git remotes don't ever do chunking currently, so chunking on the client would need changes there.

Also, a given upload via a proxy may get sent to several special remotes, each with different chunk sizes, or perhaps some not chunked and some chunked. For uploads to be efficient, chunking needs to happen on the proxy.


When the proxy is in front of a special remote that uses encryption, where does the encryption happen? It could either happen on the client before sending to the proxy, or the proxy could do the encryption since it communicates with the special remote.

If the client does not want the proxy to see unencrypted data, they would obviously prefer encryption happens locally.

But, the proxy could be the only thing that has access to a security key that is used in encrypting a special remote that's located behind it. There's a security benefit there too.

So there are kind of two different perspectives here that can have different opinions.

Also if encryption for a special remote behind a proxy happened client-side, and the client relied on that, nothing would stop the proxy from replacing that encrypted special remote with an unencrypted remote. The proxy controls what remotes it proxies for. Then the client side encryption would not happen, the user would not notice, and the proxy could see their unencrypted content.

Of course, if a client really wanted to, they could make a special remote that uses the remote behind the proxy as a key/value backend. Then the client could encrypt locally.

On the implementation side, git-annex's git remotes don't currently ever do encryption. And special remotes don't communicate via the P2P protocol with a git remote. So none of git-annex's existing remote implementations would be able to handle client-side encryption.

There's potentially a layering problem here, because exactly how encryption works can vary depending on the type of special remote.

Encrypted and chunked special remotes first chunk, then encrypt. So it chunking happens on the proxy, encryption must also happen there.

So overall, it seems better to do proxy-side encryption. But it may be worth adding a special remote that does its own client-side encryption in front of the proxy.

cycles of proxies

A repo can advertise that it proxies for a repo which has the same uuid as itself. Or there can be a larger cycle involving a proxy that proxies to a proxy, etc.

Since the proxied repo uuid is communicated to git-annex-shell via --uuid, a repo that advertises proxying for itself will be connected to with its own uuid. No proxying is done in that case.

What if repo A is a proxy and has repo B as a remote. Meanwhile, repo B is a proxy and has repo A as a remote? git-annex-shell on repo A will get A's uuid, and so will operate on it directly without proxying. So larger cycles are also not a problem on the proxy side.

On the client side, instantiating remotes needs to identity cycles and break them. Otherwise it would construct an infinite number of proxied remotes with names like "foo-foo-foo-foo-..." or "foo-bar-foo-bar-..."

cycles of cluster proxies

If an PUT or REMOVE message is sent to a proxy for a cluster, and that repository has a remote that is also a proxy for the same cluster, the message gets repeated on to it. This can lead to cycles, which have to be broken.

To break the cycle, extend the P2P protocol with an additional message, like:

VIA uuid1 uuid2

This indicates to a proxy that the message has been received via the other listed proxies. It can then avoid repeating the message out via any of those proxies. When repeating a message out to another proxy, just add the UUID of the local repository to the list.

This will be an extension to the protocol, but so long as it's added in the same git-annex version that adds support for proxies, every cluster proxy will support it.

This avoids cycles, but it does not avoid situations where there are multiple paths through a proxy network that reach the same node. In such a situation, a REMOVE might happen twice (no problem) or a PUT be received twice from different paths (one of them would fail due to the other one taking the transfer lock).


Could the proxy be in front of a special remote that uses exporttree=yes?

Some possible approaches:

  • Proxy caches files somewhere until all the files in the configured annex-tracking-branch are available, then exports them all to the special remote.
  • Proxy exports each file to the special remote as it is received. It records an incomplete tree export after each export. Once all files in the configured annex-tracking-branch have been sent, it records a completed tree export. This seems possible, it's similar to git-annex export --to=remote recovering after having been interrupted.
  • Proxy storeExport and all related export/import actions. This would need a large expansion of the P2P protocol.

The first two approaches need some way to communicate the configured annex-tracking-branch over the P2P protocol. Or to communicate the tree that it currently points to.

A proxy for a git repo does not proxy access to the git repo itself, so git push origin-foo master actually pushes the ref to the proxy's own git repo. Perhaps this points in a direction of how the proxy could learn what tree to export to exporttree=yes remotes. But only vaguely since how would it pick which of multiple branches to export?

Perhaps configure the annex-tracking-branch in the git-annex branch? That might be generally useful when working with exporttree=yes remotes.

The first two approaches also have a complication when a key is sent to the proxy that is not part of the configured annex-tracking-branch. What does the proxy do with it? There seem three possibilities:

  1. Reject the transfer of the key.
  2. Send the key to another proxied remote that is not exporttree=yes (and get it from there later if needed to finish populating an export)
  3. Store the key locally. (Not desirable because proxy repos may be on small disks as they don't usually need to hold any files.)

The third approach would mean the user needs to use git-annex export --to in order to update proxied exporttree remotes. Which gets in the way of the other proxy workflows and requires them to know that the proxy has an exporttree remote behind it.

Tentative design for exporttree=yes with proxies:

  • Configure annex-tracking-branch for the proxy in the git-annex branch. (For the proxy as a whole, or for specific exporttree=yes repos behind it?)
  • Then the user's workflow is simply: git-annex push proxy
  • sync/push need to first push any updated annex-tracking-branch to the proxy before sending content to it. (Currently sync only pushes at the end.)
  • If proxied remotes are all exporttree=yes, the proxy rejects any transfers of a key that is not in the annex-tracking-branch that it currently knows about. If there is any other proxied remote, the proxy can direct such transfers to it.
  • Upon receiving a new annex-tracking-branch or any transfer of a key used in the current annex-tracking-branch, the proxy can update the exporttree=yes remotes. This needs to happen incrementally, eg upon receiving a key, just proxy it on to the exporttree=yes remote, and update the export database. Once all keys are received, update the git-annex branch to indicate a new tree has been exported.
  • Upon receiving a git push of the annex-tracking-branch, a proxy might be able to get all the changed objects from non-exporttree=yes proxied remotes that contain them. If so it can update the exporttree=yes remote automatically and inexpensively. At the same time, a git-annex push will be attempting to send those same objects. So somehow the proxy will need to manage this situation.

possible enhancement: indirect uploads

(Thanks to Chris Markiewicz for this idea.)

When a client wants to upload an object, the proxy could indicate that the upload should not be sent to it, but instead be PUT to a HTTP url that it provides to the client.

An example use case involves presigned S3 urls. When one of the proxy's nodes is a S3 bucket, having the client upload directly to S3 would avoid needing double traffic through the proxy's network.

This would need a special remote that generates the presigned S3 url. Probably an external, so the external special remote protocol would need to be updated as well as the P2P protocol.

Since an upload to a proxy can be distributed to multiple nodes, should the proxy be able to indicate more than one url that the client should upload to? Also the proxy might want an upload to still be sent to it in addition to url(s). Of course the downside is that the client would need to upload more than once, which eliminates one benefit of the proxy. So it might be reasonable to only support one url, but what if the proxy has multiple remotes that want to provide urls, how does it pick which one wins?

Is only an URL enough for the client to be able to upload to wherever? It may be that the HTTP verb is also necessary. Consider POST vs PUT. Some services might need additional HTTP headers.