New Default Branch Format in Bzr

One of the new features in the soon to be released bzr 0.8 is the new “knit” storage format.

When comparing the size of the repository data for jhbuild with “knit” and “metadir” formats (metadir is just the old storage format with repository, branch and checkout bookkeeping separated), I see the following:

metadir knit
Size 9.9MB 5.5MB
Number of files 1267 307

The reason for the smaller number of files is that information about all revisions in the repository is now stored together rather than in separate files. So the file count comes out at a constant plus 2 times the number of tracked files (a knit index file plus the knit data file). For comparison, the CVS repository I imported this from was 4.4MB, and comprised 143 files.

As well as reducing storage requirements, the new knit repository format is designed to reduce network traffic. With the current weave repository format, the weave file for each file touched by a commit gets rewritten to include the contents of the new revision. In contrast to this, the information about the new revision can simply be appended to the knit data file and the knit index file updated to match. This means publishing a branch to a server via sftp mainly involves append operations, resulting in a nice speed up.

Similarly when pulling new changes from a published branch, bzr only needs to download a knit index to find out which sections of the knit data are missing locally. It can then ask for just the changed sections (by an HTTP range request or a partial read with sftp), rather than downloading the entire contents of the changed weaves.

Overall, this should make bzr 0.8 a lot more usable than 0.7 for various network operations.

Repositories in Bzr

One of the new features comming up in the next release of bzr is support for shared repositories. This provides a way to reduce disk space needed to store multiple related branches. To understand how repositories work, it helps to know a bit about how branches are stored by bzr.

[bzr repository diagram]

There are three concepts that make up a bzr branch:

  1. A checkout or working tree. This is the source files you are working with. It represents the state of the source code at some recorded revision plus any local changes you’ve made. In the diagram on the right, it is represented as the red node.
  2. The branch, consisting of a linear sequence of revisions. This is represented by the blue nodes in the diagram. Note that there may be multiple paths from the first revision to the current revision due to branching and merging. The branch revision history indicates the path that was taken by this particular branch.
  3. The repository, being a store of the text of all the revisions in the ancestry of the branch, plus metadata about those revisions. This essentially stores information about every node and edge in the diagram.

In previous versions of bzr, this information was not clearly separated. However with the new default branch format in bzr 0.8 they are separated, and a particular directory need not contain all three parts, which is what makes the space savings and performance improvements possible.

One of the biggest space savings is achieved from sharing the repository data between branches. If a particular branch does not contain any repository information, bzr will recursively check the parent directory til it finds a repository. If a collection branches share some of their history, then the single shared repository will be significantly smaller than the space used if each branch had its own repository data.

Another way to reduce disk usage is to create branches without checkouts. This is useful when publishing a branch, since people pulling or merging from that branch don’t use the checkout files.

Finally, it is possible to create a checkout which does not contain branch or repository data, instead containing a pointer to where that data is located. This is quite useful when combined with a central shared repository.

So how big is this space saving? When I converted JHBuild to bzr, the repository data totals to 10MB, the branch data totals 100KB and a checkout is 1.4MB.

So to publish a second branch without the use of shared repositories means another 10MB of storage (a bit more if I include a checkout at the published location). If I use shared repositories, the cost of the second branch is 100KB plus an amount proportional to the size of the changes I make on that branch. So for many projects, the cost of publishing another branch is lost in the noise.

Using Tailor to Convert a Gnome CVS Module

In my previous post, I mentioned using Tailor to import jhbuild into a Bazaar-NG branch. In case anyone else is interested in doing the same, here are the steps I used:

1. Install the tools

First create a working directory to perform the import, and set up tailor. I currently use the nightly snapshots of bzr, which did not work with Tailor, so I also grabbed bzr-0.7:

$ wget
$ wget
$ tar xzf tailor-0.9.20.tar.gz
$ tar xzf bzr-0.7.tar.gz
$ ln -s ../bzr-0.7/bzrlib tailor-0.9.20/bzrlib

2. Prepare a local CVS Repository to import from

The import will run a lot faster with a local CVS repository. If you have a shell account on, this is trivial to set up:

$ mkdir cvsroot
$ cvs -d `pwd`/cvsroot init
$ rsync -azP cvsroot/jhbuild/

3. Check for history inconsistency

As I discovered, Tailor will bomb if time goes backwards at some point in your CVS history, and will probably bomb out part way through. The quick fix for this is to directly edit the RCS ,v files to correct the dates. Since you are working with a copy of the repository, there isn’t any danger of screwing things up.

I wrote a small program to check an RCS file for such discontinuities:

When editing the dates in the RCS files, make sure that you change the dates in the different files in a consistent way. You want to make sure that revisions in different files that are part of the same changeset still have the same date after the edits.

4. Create a Tailor config file

Here is the Tailor config file I used to import jhbuild:

verbose = True
projects = jhbuild
encoding = utf-8

target = bzr:target
start-revision = INITIAL
root-directory = basedir/jhbuild.cvs
state-file = tailor.state
source = cvs:source
subdir = .
before-commit = remap_author
patch-name-format =

encoding = utf-8

module = jhbuild
repository = basedir/cvsroot
encoding = utf-8

def remap_author(context, changeset):
    if '@' not in = '%s <>' % (,
    return True

The remap_author function at the bottom maps the CVS user names to something closer to what bzr normally uses.

5. Perform the conversion

Now it is possible to run the conversion:

$ python tailor-0.9.20/tailor -vv --configfile jhbuild.tailor

When the conversion is complete, you should be left with a bzr branch containing the history of the HEAD branch from CVS. Now is a good time to check that the converted bzr looks sane.

6. Use the new branch

Rather than using the converted branch directly, it is a good idea to branch off it and do the development there:

$ bzr branch jhbuild.cvs

The advantage of doing this is that you have the option of rsyncing in new changes to the CVS repository and running tailor again to incrementally import them. You can then merge those changes to your development branch.

Revision Control Migration and History Corruption

As most people probably know, the Gnome project is planning a migration to Subversion. In contrast, I’ve decided to move development of jhbuild over to bzr. This decision is a bit easier for me than for other Gnome modules because:

  • No need to coordinate with GDP or GTP, since I maintain the docs and there is no translations.
  • Outside of the moduleset definitions, the large majority of development and commits are done by me.
  • There aren’t really any interesting branches other than the mainline.

I plan to leave the Gnome module set definitions in CVS/Subversion though, since many people help in keeping them up to date, so leaving them there has some value.

I performed a test conversion using Tailor 0.9.20. My first attempt at performing the conversion failed part way through. Looking at what had been imported, it was apparent that the first few changesets created weren’t the first changesets I’d created in CVS. What was weirder still was the dates on those changesets: they were dated 1997, while I hadn’t started jhbuild til 2001.

It turns out that it was caused by clock skew on the CVS server back in September 2003, so the revision dates for a few files are not monotonic. I did the quick fix of directly editing the RCS files (I was working off a local copy of the repo), which allowed the conversion to run through to completion. The problem has been reported as bug #37 in Tailor’s bug tracker.

This made me a bit worried about whether the CVS to Subversion conversion script being used for the rest of the Gnome modules was also vulnerable to this sort of clock skew problem. Sure enough it was, and the first real changeset of jhbuild had been imported as revision 323.

I did a bit more checking of the CVS repository, and found that there were 98 other modules exhibiting clock skew in their revision history, spread over 1245 files (some files with multiple points of skew). I’ve only checked the SVN test conversions of some of these modules, but all the ones I checked exhibited the same type of corruption.

It is going to be a fair bit of work cleaning it all up before the final conversion.

OpenSSH support in bzr

I updated my bzr openssh plugin to be a proper patch against, and got it merged. So if you have in your ~/.bazaar/plugins directory, you should remove it when upgrading.

Unfortunately there was a small problem resolving a conflict when merging it, which causes the path to get mangled a little inside _sftp_connect(). Once this is resolved, the mainline bzr should fully follow settings in ~/.ssh/config, because it will be running the same ssh binary as you normally use.

One thing I learnt when adding the support code was a quirk in the SFTP URI spec‘s interpretation of paths, which differs to gnome-vfs’s interpretation. The uri sftp://remotehost/directory is interpreted as /directory on remotehost by gnome-vfs, while the spec says that it should be interpreted as ~/directory.

To refer to /directory on remotehost, the spec says you should use sftp://remotehost/%2Fdirectory. I filed this as bug 322394.