skip-deltas   [plain text]

Skip-Deltas in Subversion

To keep repositories at a manageable size, essentially all version
control systems use some kind of relative compression technique such
that two similar versions of the same file don't take up much more
space than just one version of that file.  The two most common
techniques are the SCCS "weave", which represents all revisions of a
file as a single data stream with the moral equivalent of #ifdefs, and
the technique of storing deltas (differences) between related
revisions of files (see for details).
Subversion uses deltas.

Subversion uses a technique called "skip-deltas" to ensure that only a
reasonable number of deltas need to be composed in order to retrieve
any revisions of a file.  The concept of skip-deltas is inspired by
the concept of skip-lists, but they aren't all that similar.

For the purposes of this document, we will pretend that revisions of a
file are numbered starting from 0.  In reality, this number
corresponds to the "change count" field of a node-revision in each
filesystem back end.

Skip-Deltas in the FSFS Back End

In the FSFS back end, each revision of a file is represented as a
delta against an older revision of the file.  The first revision is
represented as a delta against the empty stream (i.e. it is
self-compressed).  To reconstruct a revision of a file, the filesystem
code determines the chain of deltas leading back to revision 0,
composes them all together using the delta combiner, and applies the
resulting super-delta to the empty stream in order to reconstruct the
file contents.

The most obvious strategy would be to choose revision N-1 as the delta
base for revision N.  But even with the delta combiner, it would
become very slow to retrieve revision 1000 of a file if we had to
piece together 1000 deltas.  So, to choose the delta base for revision
N, we write out N in binary and flip the rightmost bit whose value is
1.  For instance, if we are storing 54, we write it out in binary as
110110, flip the last '1' bit to get 110100, and thus pick revision 52
of the file as the delta base.  A file with ten versions (numbered
0-9) would have those versions represented as follows:

  0 <- 1    2 <- 3    4 <- 5    6 <- 7
  0 <------ 2         4 <------ 6
  0 <---------------- 4
  0 <------------------------------------ 8 <- 9

where "0 <- 1" means that the delta base for revision 1 is revision 0.

Because we flip the rightmost '1' bit each time we pick a delta base,
at most lg(N) deltas are necessary to reconstruct revision N of a

Skip-deltas in the BDB Back End

In the BDB back end, each revision of a file is represented as a delta
against a newer revision of the file--the opposite of FSFS.  The
newest version of a file is stored in plain text.  Whereas in FSFS, we
add a new version of a file simply by picking a delta base and writing
out a delta, in BDB the process is more complicated: we write out the
new version of the file in plain text; then, after the commit is
confirmed, we go back and "redeltify" one or more older versions of
the file against the new one.

The goal of the redeltification process is to produce the reverse of
the FSFS diagram:

  0 ------------------------------------> 8 -> 9
                      4 ----------------> 8
            2 ------> 4         6 ------> 8
       1 -> 2    3 -> 4    5 -> 6    7 -> 8

To accomplish this, we write out the number in binary, count the
number of trailing zeros, and redeltify that number of ancestor
revisions plus 1.  For instance, when we see revision 8, we write it
out as "1000", note that there are three trailing 0s, and resolve to
redeltify four ancestor revisions: the revisions one back, two back,
four back, and eight back.

As it turns out, the above diagram is a fiction.  To reduce overhead,
the BDB back end makes three compromises to the skip-delta scheme:

  * When storing file revisions 0-31, only the immediate predecessor
    is redeltified.

  * We don't redeltify the ancestor revision which is two back from
    the one we are storing.

  * We never redeltify revision 0 of a file.

Despite these compromises, the asymptotic behavior of the BDB
skip-delta scheme is the same as the simpler FSFS one: O(lg(N)) deltas
are necessary to reconstruct any revision of a file which has had N

Skip-Deltas and Branches

If a file's history diverges because it is copied and the modified on
both branches, the behavior is as follows:

  * In FSFS, we choose delta bases just as we would if each branch
    were an isolated linear path leading back to revision 0.  For
    instance, if a file has six revisions (0-5), then branches into
    revisions 6-7 and revisions 6'-8', they would look like:

    0 <- 1    2 <- 3    4 <- 5    6 <- 7
    0 <------ 2         4 <------ 6
                                  6' <- 7'
    0 <-------------------------------------- 8'

  * In BDB, we redeltify ancestor revisions just as we would if each
    branch were an isolated linear path leading back to revision 0.
    The result depends on the order of commits.  If a file has four
    revisions (0-3), then branches into revisions 4 and 4', then if 4
    was committed first and 4' was committed second, the result would
    look like:

    0 --------------------> 4'
                2 --------> 4'
          1 --> 2     3 --> 4'

    but if instead, 4 was committed second, the result would look

    0 --------------------> 4
                2 --------> 4
          1 --> 2     3 --> 4

    Although this order dependency may be confusing to think about,
    it causes no complexity in the code, and the O(lg(N)) asymptotic
    behavior is clearly preserved.

Note that in the BDB back end, a branched file has a separate
plain-text representation for each branch head, while in the FSFS back
end, that is not the case.

Costs of Skip-Deltas

In most workloads, the delta for a file revision becomes larger if the
delta base is farther away--in terms of the diagrams, longer arrows
take up more space.  In the worst case, where all changes to the file
are orthogonal to each other, a delta across N file revisions may be N
times as expensive as a delta across one revision.

In either back end, the average number of revisions crossed by a delta
arrow is O(lg(N)), if the file has had N revisions.  So we may assume
that in the worst case, skip-deltas incur an O(lg(N)) space penalty
while providing an O(N/lg(N)) time benefit.  The practical space
penalty appears to be substantially less than O(lg(N)), because many
files have short histories and many changes are not orthogonal to each