Locating large objects in a git repository

13 Jun 2013

If you manage git repositories it isn’t uncommon to run into a problem where someone, maybe even yourself, commits a large file into a repository. This is especially common in repos with many committers where you may not have visibility into every branch or commit. Thankfully there are several commands that are part of git that will help you to locate these large files/commits.

How do I get a list of commits for a repo?

If you’re reasonably certain that there was a recent commit that added this new large file, a quick way to identify it is using git rev-list. From within the bare repo you would run something like the following:

$ git rev-list --all --pretty=oneline --since={1.month.ago}
bb440b353b637a4fbab5e1c482982268abc71cf4 file23
637223b0c27a0653ec13e51a685e5e0f02a86cda removing a file
c709809f6f82bcc523f076ad994eaeea7a39b5ee testfile4
0d69f430382f3836381815cc6e2765a94650f39a testfile3
beca3d64743b097a01877b7d37035e0be98faaea lfdkjskldfjs
537cab9218f543a86af893c6780fbe11a7a22cee sdfkjsdkfs
24f59c5d5da941f4008b5637db5737d9cb4a85da asdfkjsdkf
54edada19006eaab6592dc93a8280ba092b4802c Branched deep file
f8bd89de7f5333dbd11246751fb051215c4dfc7a Another big file!
a3fc750255d97f6f35db4b3bfa14081c038e3304 v

I’ll breakdown the command above for anyone not familiar with using git rev-list:

  • --all tells git to operate on all refs in the refs/ directory.
  • --pretty=oneline condenses the output to one line to make it easier to digest.
  • --since={1.month.ago} tells git to limit the output to commits that are less than 1 month old.

The two column output above consists of the SHA1 and subject of all matching commits. The bit we’re especially interested in is the SHA1 for the commit, the subject may or may not have any relevant information to our search.

How do I get blobs from a commit?

Now that we have a list of commits, with their SHA1’s, we can use another git utility, git diff-tree. This will compare the content of blobs between trees. Based on the output above if I ran:

$ git diff-tree -M -C -r -c --no-commit-id 54edada19006eaab6592dc93a8280ba092b4802c
:000000 100644 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000 e6556c4a65229fbad1b07ce36f5eeac42c069a4f A  1/2/3/4/5/testfile2

With the options to git diff-tree above, we’re asking it to track copies/renames, display all changes from the commit’s parents, traverse into subtrees, and suppress the commit id. I won’t go in to what all the output here means, but mainly we’re interested in columns 4-6. These represent SHA1 of a blob object, the operation type, and the path to the file.

How do I get the sizes of blobs?

Now that we have the SHA1 of a blob we can get its size using git cat-file.

$ git cat-file -s e6556c4a65229fbad1b07ce36f5eeac42c069a4f

We’ve passed the -s option to git cat-file to have it output the size of the object in bytes. The object in question is 10240000 bytes, or ~10MB. This may or may not be the file we’re interested in, but we did manage to get the file size of a blob from a particular commit.

How do I find which branches contain the offending commit?

We can also use the SHA1 of the commit from earler to find out what branch or branches this blob is referenced in. For that we use git branch as follows:

$ git branch --contains 54edada19006eaab6592dc93a8280ba092b4802c

Knowing which branches are effected can be important if you decide that you need to purge the repo of this large file (something I’ll cover in a later blog post).

Putting it all together

Now that we know how to pull the relevant information out of git, a simple script can be written to walk all the commits, inspect their blobs, and display files that meet or exceed a certain size.



# Iterate over a list of commits
for commit in $(${GIT_CMD} rev-list --all --since={${RANGE}} --pretty=oneline | cut -d' ' -f1); do
  # Iterate over that commit's blobs
  for diffout in $(${GIT_CMD} diff-tree -r -c -M -C --no-commit-id ${commit} | awk '{print $4":"$6}'); do
    blob=$(echo ${diffout} | cut -d':' -f1)
    filename=$(echo ${diffout} | cut -d':' -f2)
    # Skip if this is a file deletion
    if [ "$blob" = "0000000000000000000000000000000000000000" ]; then
    # Get the blob size
    blob_size=$(${GIT_CMD} cat-file -s ${blob})
    # Compare it to MAX_SIZE
    if [ "${blob_size}" -gt "${MAX_SIZE}" ]; then
      echo "${commit} ${filename} ${blob_size}"

It certainly isn’t the prettiest scipt, but in a pinch it would yield a good amount of data to continue digging with. When run against my test repository this is the output I received:

$ bash ../find_large_files.sh "1.month.ago" 90000
bb440b353b637a4fbab5e1c482982268abc71cf4 1/2/3/4/file23 10240000
c709809f6f82bcc523f076ad994eaeea7a39b5ee testfile4 10240000
0d69f430382f3836381815cc6e2765a94650f39a testfile3 10240000
537cab9218f543a86af893c6780fbe11a7a22cee testfile2 10240000
24f59c5d5da941f4008b5637db5737d9cb4a85da testfile3 10240000
54edada19006eaab6592dc93a8280ba092b4802c 1/2/3/4/5/testfile2 10240000
f8bd89de7f5333dbd11246751fb051215c4dfc7a testfile2 10240000

The output fields are: <commit SHA1> <file path> <size in bytes>. Additionally, the output could be piped to sort -nk3 to sort on filesize. Alternatively, you could sum up the blobs for each individual commit, in case the issue isn’t one large file, but several smaller ones.

As mentioned before, you can take the commit SHA1 and pass it to git branch -a --contains <SHA1> to see which branches this large file may have been merged into.


There are many utilities that ship with git that allow you to see certain pieces of information about your repository’s object store. Using these tools in concert can yield data that would otherwise be challenging to obtain. There is another method to achieve a similar result using the index file and git verify-pack that I may write another blog post about.

There will be a followup blog post to this one about writing a server-side git hook to prevent these large files from ever being committed to your repository. That hook will make use of some of the same utilities that were covered in this post.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone who has found themselves trying to troubleshoot unwarranted repository growth. Feedback is certainly welcome, if there’s an easier way to do what I’ve described here I’d be excited to hear about it.

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