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Git Internals

"Git Internals" refers to the underlying mechanisms and data structures that Git uses to manage version control. Understanding Git internals can give you a better grasp of how Git works and can help you use it more effectively and efficiently. Here are some of the key elements of Git internals:

  1. Git Objects: Git stores data as objects, which come in four types - blobs, trees, commits, and tags. Each object has a unique identifier (a SHA-1 hash). A blob represents a version of a file, a tree represents a directory of blobs and/or other trees (basically the structure of the filesystem), a commit points to a single tree marking the state of the project at a certain point in time, and a tag is a way to mark specific points in the repository history as being important.

  2. Git Repository: A Git repository (or repo) is the .git/ directory at the root of your project. It contains all the objects and references of your project. It's where Git stores all the data about your project.

  3. Git References: References, or refs, are pointers to commits. The most common types of references are branches and tags. They are stored in the .git/refs directory.

  4. Git Index: The index is a binary file (generally kept in memory) containing a sorted list of path names, each with permissions and the SHA1 of a blob object; it is essentially a stored version of what the project's working directory should look like.

  5. Packfiles: Over time, storing every version of every file separately can consume a lot of disk space. To mitigate this, Git stores data in packfiles, which are files that contain multiple objects stored in a compressed delta format, which can significantly reduce the disk space required.

  6. The Staging Area (or cache): This is a file, generally contained within your Git directory, that stores information about what will go into your next commit. It's sometimes referred to as the "index", but it's becoming standard to refer to it as the staging area.

The design of Git's internals also makes it a very secure system, because every object's hash is a checksum of its content and metadata, so any change is immediately evident.

Understanding these internals can give you a much deeper understanding of Git's operation, and can help when you're troubleshooting problems, creating complex Git commands, or even developing new tools that interact with Git.

Understanding Git Objects

Git stores and handles data as objects. These objects can be categorized into three main types: blobs, trees, and commits. In this tutorial, we'll explore each of these Git objects in simple terms.


A blob is the most basic object in Git. It is used to store the content of a file. Blob stands for Binary Large Object and is a way to store data. However, blobs do not contain any metadata about the file or the data they contain.


A tree object in Git represents a directory. It holds blobs as well as other trees (subdirectories). A tree object contains filename, mode, blob/tree identifier for each item it contains, and a reference to blob or other tree objects.


A commit object is a snapshot of the project at a particular point in time. It holds a reference to a tree object, representing the top-level directory of the project at the time of the commit. The commit object also includes metadata like author, committer, commit message and references to parent commit(s).

Understanding Git References

References in Git are pointers to commit objects. They provide human-readable names to the SHA-1 hashes of commit objects. In this tutorial, we'll explain what Git references are and how they work.

Branch References

Branch references are pointers to the latest commit in a branch. When you make a new commit, the branch reference is updated to point to the new commit. A branch is thus a movable reference to a commit. The default branch reference in a Git repository is master or main.

Tag References

Tag references are pointers to a specific commit. Unlike branches, tags, once created, do not change even if new commits are added. Tags are often used to mark specific points in a project's history, like the release of a version.

HEAD Reference

The HEAD reference is a special reference that points to the current commit you're on. It is usually a pointer to the branch reference that you have checked out. When you switch branches, the HEAD reference is updated to point to the new branch's tip commit.

Understanding the Git Index

The Git index, also known as the staging area, is an important concept when understanding Git's internals. In this tutorial, we'll explain what the Git index is and how it works.

What is the Git Index?

The Git index is an intermediate area where commits can be formatted and reviewed before completing the commit. It plays a vital role in Git's workflow by allowing you to stage changes for the next commit.

How Does the Git Index Work?

When you make changes to your working directory, these changes are not immediately stored in a commit. Instead, you must stage the changes using the git add command, which adds the changes to the Git index.

The index keeps track of all the files and changes that should be included in the next commit. You can view the current state of the index using the git status command.

Once you're ready to commit the changes, you use the git commit command. This creates a new commit object with the changes from the index, and the HEAD and branch pointers are updated to point to the new commit.


Understanding Git's internal objects - blobs, trees, and commits - can help demystify how Git manages data and history. It reinforces why Git is such a powerful and flexible tool for version control. The complexity of these internals is well hidden under simple commands, making Git a robust yet user-friendly tool. Git references are a crucial part of how Git works. They provide human-friendly names to the commits and allow us to move around the Git history efficiently. The Git index is a powerful tool that gives you control over what goes into your commits. It's a key part of Git's flexibility and allows for precise control over changes in your project.