How Git Stores Objects

This chapter goes into detail about how Git physically stores objects.

All objects are stored as compressed contents by their sha values. They contain the object type, size and contents in a gzipped format.

There are two formats that Git keeps objects in - loose objects and packed objects.

Loose Objects

Loose objects are the simpler format. It is simply the compressed data stored in a single file on disk. Every object written to a seperate file.

If the sha of your object is ab04d884140f7b0cf8bbf86d6883869f16a46f65, then the file will be stored in the following path:


It pulls the first two characters off and uses that as the subdirectory, so that there are never too many objects in one directory. The actual file name is the remaining 38 characters.

The easiest way to describe exactly how the object data is stored is this Ruby implementation of object storage:

def put_raw_object(content, type)
  size = content.length.to_s

  header = "#{type} #{size}\0" # type(space)size(null byte)
  store = header + content

  sha1 = Digest::SHA1.hexdigest(store)
  path = @git_dir + '/' + sha1[0...2] + '/' + sha1[2..40]

  if !File.exists?(path)
    content = Zlib::Deflate.deflate(store)

    FileUtils.mkdir_p(@directory+'/'+sha1[0...2]), 'w') do |f|
      f.write content
  return sha1

Packed Objects

The other format for object storage is the packfile. Since Git stores each version of each file as a seperate object, it can get pretty inefficient. Imagine having a file several thousand lines long and changing a single line. Git will store the second file in it's entirety, which is a great big waste of space.

In order to save that space, Git utilizes the packfile. This is a format where Git will only save the part that has changed in the second file, with a pointer to the file it is similar to.

When objects are written to disk, it is often in the loose format, since that format is less expensive to access. However, eventually you'll want to save the space by packing up the objects - this is done with the git gc command. It will use a rather complicated heuristic to determine which files are likely most similar and base the deltas off that analysis. There can be multiple packfiles, they can be repacked if neccesary (git repack) or unpacked back into loose files (git unpack-objects) relatively easily.

Git will also write out an index file for each packfile that is much smaller and contains offsets into the packfile to more quickly find specific objects by sha.

The actual details of the packfile implementation are found in the Packfile chapter a little later on.

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