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Merge tracking proposal, rev 2

From: Daniel Berlin <dberlin_at_dberlin.org>
Date: 2006-05-06 21:29:09 CEST

This is revision 2 of the proposal.
I have removed revision properties, added some examples, tightened up
the semantics, addressed some of the questions various people raised
about how things work in practice,

For convenience, i have attached a diff of the two proposals.

Among other things I am working on at Google, I have been tasked
full-time with implementing merge tracking.

As part of this, I have come up with a design I plan on implementing for
tracking what revisions have been merged where, in a manner that is
suitable for use by various other operations (history sensitive merging,

In doing so, I reviewed the use cases that were kindly written up, and
believe that most if not all of them can be accomplished with this

These use cases and requirements can be found at

This design is intended to track changes at a granularity necessary to
support the merging cases of "Repeated merge", "Cherry Picking",
"Rollback Merge", "Record Manual Merge", "Merge Previews",
"Distributability of Merge Resolution".

Please remember that this design is *only* for tracking what changes are
merged where. I expect this to be the easy part, compared to deciding
exactly what algorithms our history sensitive merge uses, and how it

I have divided the design into four portions "goals", "information
storage", "information updating", and "examples".

The "random questions and answers" section is there to answer common
questions other developers I've talked to while coming up with this
design have had, in the hopes that it will answer some common queries
the list may have.


The overarching goal here is to track the revision numbers being merged
by a merge operation, and keeping this information in the right places
as various operations (copy, delete, add, etc) are performed.

The goals of this design are:
1. To be able to track this down to what files in a working copy and be
able to determine what files have had what revisions merged into them.

2. To not need to contact the server more than we already do now to
determine which revisions have been merged in a file or directory (ie
some contact is acceptable, asking the server about each file is not).

3. To be able to edit merge information in a human editable form.

4. For the information to be stored in a space efficient manner, and to
be able to determine the revisions merged into a given file/director in
a time efficient manner.

5. Still getting a conservatively correct answer (not worse than what we
have now) when no merge info is specified.

6. To be able to collect, transmit, and keep this information up to date
as much as possible on the client side.

7. To be able to index this information in the future order to answer

Specific Non-goals for *this design* include:
1. Doing actual history sensitive merging
2. Curing cancer (aka being all things to all people)

When reading the design presented here, please remember that it is
impossible to get something perfect in subversion on the first try, and
attempting to nit pick this to death will not actually help anything,
but it would be very annoying. This is not to dissuade people from
suggesting design changes, but if you plan on suggesting a different
revision list format because you believe colon doesn't have a good level
of synergy with existing separators, or something, you may want to
rethink whether it really matters.

Some pre-notes:

One could also try to argue that we should start with exactly the same
cases svnmerge does (IE only allow merge info at the wc roots, only
store it on that directory, etc), with a nicer integrated interface, and
try to expand it from there. I am open to such an argument as well. :)

Anyway, on with the design.

Information storage

The first question that many people ask is "where should we store the
merge information" (what we store will be covered next).

After a large amount of research, the design I have come up with is
A merge info property, named SVN_MERGE_PROPERTY (not the real name, I
have made it a constant so we can have a large bikeshed about what to
really call it) stored in the directory properties, and file properties.
Each will store the *full, complete* list of revisions that are directly
merged into the item. This ensures that the merge algorithm and other
consumers do not have to go through the same properties on old
revisions, in order to compute a complete list of merge information for
a directory.

Directly merged into the item means changes from any merge that have
affected this directory, which includes merges into parents,
grandparents, etc that had some affect on this directory.

Doing this storage of complete information at each point makes manual
editing safe, because the changes to a directory/file's merge info are
localized to that directory or file.

However, as a space optimization, if the information on a subdirectory
or file is exactly the same as the merge information for its parent
directory, it *may* be elided in favor of that parent information. This
eliding may be done on the fly, or as a postpass (i.e. a "svnadmin
mergeinfooptimize"). Eliding information means that an implementation
may have to walk parent directories in order to gather information about
merge info, however, this would have been necessary anyway to determine.
It is expected that directory trees are not that deep, and the lookup of
merge info properties quick enough (due to indexing, etc), to make this
eliding not affect performance.

Eliding will never affect the semantics of merge information, as it
should only be performed in the case when it was exactly the same, and
if it was exactly the same, it could not have had an effect on the merge

Other than eliding, any directory or file may have merge info attached
to it.

The way we choose which of file and dir merge info to use in case
of conflicts simple system of inheritance[1] where the "most specific"
place wins. This means that if the property is set on a file, that
completely overrides the directory level properties for the directory
containing the file.

The way we choose which to store to depends on how much and where you
merge, and will be covered in the semantics.

The reasoning for this system is to avoid having to either copy info
everywhere, or crawl everywhere, in order to determine which revisions
have been applied. At the same time, we want to be space and time
efficient, so we can't just store the entire revision list everywhere.

As for what is stored:

For the large number of people i have talked to and heard about from
others, it seems the human editable *format* of how svnmerge stores
merge information (IE pathname and list of revisions) is fine. Binary
storage of such information would buy, on average, a 2-3 byte decrease
per revision/range in size over ascii[1], while making it not directly
human editable.

As such, i have chosen to represent the revisions we have merged *into*
something as a path, a colon, and then a comma separated revision list,
containing one or more revision or revision ranges. Revision range end
and beginning points are separated by "-".

So the grammar looks something like this

revisionrange -> REVISION "-" REVISION

revisioneelement -> revisionrange | REVISION

revisionlist -> (revisionrange | REVISION)(COMMA revisioneelement)*

revisionline -> PATHNAME@REVISION COLON revisionlist

top -> revisionline (NEWLINE revisionline)*

This merge history ("top"), existing on a file, dir or repo,
specifies all the changes that have ever been merged into this object
dir or repo) within this repository. It specifies the sources of the
(and thus two or more pathnames may be required to represent one source
at different revisions due to renaming).

This list will *not* be stored in a canonicalized minimal form for a
path (IE it may contain single revision numbers that could be ranges).
This is chiefly because the benefit of such a canonical format (slightly
easier *comparison*, but not indexing) is heavily outweighed by the fact
that generating a canonical form may require groveling through a lot of
information to determine what that minimal canonical form is. In
particular, it may be that the revision list "5,7,9" is, in minimal
canonical form, "5-9", because 6 and 8 do not have any affect on the
pathname that 5 and 9 are from.
Canonicalization could be done as a server side post pass because the
information is stored in properties.

Note that this revision format will not scale on its own if you have a
list of million revisions. None will easily. However, because it is
stored in properties, one can change the wc and fs backends to simply do
something different with this single property if they wanted to.
Given the rates of change of various very active repositories, this will
not be a problem we need to solve for many many years.

Information updating:
Each operation you can perform may update or copy the merge info
associated with a path, file, or revision.

svn add: No change to merge info
svn delete: No change to merge info
svn rename: No change to merge info
svn copy: Copies the merge info from the source path to the destination
path, if any.

The peg-rev syntax of pathname should enable us to do copy/rename like
this without fear (otherwise you could have cases where you are
renaming/copying a directory so that it has the same name as something
it was previously merged from).

All copies include full-copies of the merge information.

svn merge: Adds or subtracts to the merge info, according to the

Where to put the info (this is performed for *each merge target*)
1. If the merge target is a single file, the merge info goes to the
property SVN_MERGE_INFO set on that file.
2. If the merge target is a directory, the merge info goes
to the property SVN_MERGE_INFO set on the shallowest directory of the
merge (IE the topmost directory affected by the merge) that will require
different info than the info already set on other directories.

The last clause of rule 2 is only meant to handle cherry picking and
multiple merges. In the standard case that people repeatedly merge the
same directories into the same directories, the information will end up
only on the shallowest directory of the merge. If changes are
selectively applied (i.e. all changes are applied to every directory but
one), the information will be on the shallowest common ancestor of all
those directories, *as well* as information being placed on the
directory where the changes are not applied, so that it will override
the information from that shallow directory. See cherry picking example
for more details. Besides selective application, apply changes that
affect some directory, and then applying different changes to
subdirectories of that directory, will also produce merge info on
multiple directories in a given path.

What info is put:
1. If you are merging in reverse, revisions are subtracted from the
revision lines, but we never write out anti-revisions. Thus, if you
subtract all the merged revisions, you just get an empty list, and if
you do a reverse merge from there, you still get an empty list
2. If you are merging forward, the revision(s) you are merging is added
to the revision line in sorted order (such that all revisions and
revision ranges in the list are monotonically increasing from left to
right). The exact details of how the range is represented in terms of a
list of single revs, or a revision range, is left as a quality of
implementation detail. The only requirement is that the range be
3. The path (known as PATHNAME in the grammar) used as the key to
determine which revision line to change is the subdirectory path being
merged from, relative to the repo root, with the repo url stripped from
it. The peg revision contained in the mergeinfo must always be
specified as part of pathname. It is not optional. It can always be
obtained from the information present about the urls being merged. The
peg revision *must be canonicalized to the last changed revision for
that directory/file's name*. I.E. if the merge specified
http://foo/bar@50, and the last time the name changed was in revision
43, the merge information should specify /bar@43 as the pathname +
pegrev. This is done because the information necessary to do it is
immediately available (copied_from), and without it, merging indirect
merge info is very difficult.

In the case that we are merging changes that themselves contain merge
info, the merge info properties must be merged. The effect of this is
that indirect merge info becomes direct merge info as it is integrated
as part of the merge info now set on the property. The way this merge
is performed is to merge the revision lists for each identical
pathname@peg, and to copy the rest. Blocking of merges and how this
affects this information is not covered in this design. The indirect
info merging is *in addition* to specifying the merge that we are now
doing. See the repeated merge with indirect info example for an

Thus a merge of revisions 1-9 from http://foo.bar.com/reposroot/trunk
would produce "/trunk@1:1-9"

cross-repo merging is a bridge we can cross if we ever get there :).


Repeated merge:
(I have assumed no renames here, and that all directories were added in
rev 1, hence the peg rev will always be 1 in these examples, for
simplicity. The pathname will never change, this should not cause any
issues that need examples )

Assume trunk has 9 revisions, 1-9.

A merge of /trunk into /branches/release will produce the merge info
"/trunk@1: 1-9".

Assume trunk now has 6 additional revisions, 14-18.

A merge of /trunk into /branches/release should only merge 14-18 and
produce the merge info "/trunk@1: 1-9,14-18".
This merge info will be placed on /branches/release.

(note the canonical minimal form of the above would be 1-18, as 9-14 do
not affect that path. This is also an acceptable answer, as is any
variant that represents the same information).

Repeated merge with indirect info:
Assume the repository is in the state it would be after the "Repeated
merge" example.
Assume additionally, we onw have a branch /branches/next-release, with
revisions 20-24 on it.
We wish to merge /branches/release into /branches/next-release.

A merge of /branches/release into /branches/next-release will produce
the merge info:
"/branches/release@1: 1-24

This merge info will be placed on /branches/next-release.

Note that the merge information about merges *to* /branches/release has
been added to our merge info.

A future merge of /trunk into /branches/next-release, assuming no new
revisions on /trunk, will merge nothing.

Cherry picking a change to a file:
Assume the repository is in the state it would be after the "Repeated
merge with indirect info" example.
Assume we have revision 25 on /trunk, which affects /trunk/foo.c
and /trunk/foo/bar/bar.c
We wish to merge the portion of change affecting /trunk/foo.c

A merge of revision 25 of /trunk/foo.c into /branches/release/foo.c will
produce the merge info:
This merge information will be placed on /branches/release/foo.c

All other merge information will still be intact on /branches/release
(ie there is information on /branches/release's directory).

(the cherry picking one directory case is the same as file, with files
replaced with directories, hence i have not gone through the example).

Merging changes into parents and then merging changes into children.
Assume the repository is in the state it would be after the "Repeated
merge with indirect info" example.
Assume we have revision 25 on /trunk, which affects /trunk/foo
Assume we have revision 26 on /trunk, which affects /trunk/foo/baz
We wish to merge revision 25 into /branches/release/foo, and merge
revision 26 into /branches/release/foo/baz.

A merge of revision 25 of /trunk/foo into /branches/release/foo will
produce the merge info:
This merge information will be placed on /branches/release/foo
A merge of revision 26 of /trunk/foo/baz into /branches/release/foo/baz
will produce the merge info:
This merge information will be placed on /branches/release/foo/baz.

Note that if you instead merge revision 26 of /trunk/foo
into /branches/release/foo, you will get the same effect, but the merge
info will be:
This merge information will be placed on /branches/releases/foo

Both are different "spellings" of the same merge information, and future
merges should produce the same result with either merge info (one is of
course, more space efficient, and transformation of one to the other
could be done on the fly or as a postpass, if desired).

All other merge information will still be intact on /branches/release
(ie there is information on /branches/release's directory).

Random questions and answers

Are there many different "spellings" of the same merge info?

Yes. Depending on the urls and target you specify for merges, I believe
it is possible to end up with merge info in different places, or with
slightly different revision lines that have the same semantic effect (IE
info like /trunk@1:1-9 vs /trunk@1:1-8<newline>/trunk/bar@1:9 when
revision 9 on /trunk only affected /trunk/bar)
posyou can end up with merge info in different places, even though the
semantic result will be the same in all cases.

What happens if someone commits a merge with a non-merge tracking
It simply means the next time you merge, you may receive conflicts that
you would have received if you were using a non-history-sensitive

Can we do without the revprop portion of this design?
Technically yes, AFAIK, but it may require more crawling and querying at
merge time.

Can we do history sensitive wc<->wc merges without contacting the serve?
No. But you probably couldn't anyway, even if the revprop not being
stored locally issue were not here.

What happens if the info is not there?
The same thing that happens if the info is not there now.

What happens if a user edits merge info incorrectly?
They get the results specified by their merge info.

How does the revprop stay up to date?
We copy it from revision to revision.

What happens if a user manually edits a file and unmerges a revision (IE
not using a "reverse merge" command), but doesn't update the merge info
to match?
The merge info will believe the change has still been merged.

What happens if i svn move/rename a directory, and then merge it
This doesn't change history, only the future, thus we will simply add
the merge info for that directory as if it was a new directory. We will
not do something like attempt to modify all merge info to specify the
new directory, as that would be wrong.

I don't think only that copying info on svn copy is correct, what if you
copy a dir with merge info into a dir where the dir has merge info,
won't it get the info wrong now?


Let's say you have

a/foo (merge info: /trunk@1:5-9
a/branches/bar (merge info: /trunk@1:1-4)

If you copy a/foo into a/branches/bar, we now have

a/branches/bar (merge info: /trunk@1:1-4)
a/branches/bar/foo (merge info: /trunk@1:5-9)

This is strictly correct. The only changes which have been merged into
a/branches/bar/foo, are still 5-9. The only changes which have been
merged into /branches/bar are 1-4. No merges have been performed by
your copy, only copies have been performed. If you perform a merge of
revisions 1-9 into bar, the results one would expect that the history
sensitive merge algorithm will skip revisions 5-9 for
a/branches/bar/foo, and skip revisions 1-4 for a/branches/bar.
The above information gives the algorithm the information necessary to
do this.

So if you want to argue svn copy has the wrong merge info semantics,
it's not because of the above, AFAIK :)

I'm sure that even in this long document, I've forgotten some things i
did spec out.
Apologies in advance.

[1] This is not going to be a full blown design for property
inheritance, nor should this design depend on such a system being

[2] Assuming 4 byte revision numbers, and repos with revisions numbering
in the hundreds of thousands. You could do slightly better by variable
length encoding of integers, but even that will generally be 4 bytes for
hundreds of thousands of revs. Thus, we have strings like "102341" vs 4
byte numbers, meaning you save about 2 bytes for a 4 byte integer.
Range lists in binary would need a distinguisher from single revisions,
adding a single bit to both (meaning you'd get 31 bit integers), and
thus, would require 8 bytes per range vs 12 bytes per range. While 30%
is normally nothing to sneeze at space wise, it's also not significantly
more efficient in time, as most of the time will not be spent parsing
revision lists, but doing something with them. The space efficiency
therefore does not seem to justify the cost you pay in not making them
easily editable.

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Received on Sat May 6 21:30:47 2006

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