Version control

One key feature of brig over other synchronisation tools is the built-in and quite capable version control. If you already know git that’s a plus for this chapter since a lot of stuff will feel similar. This isn’t a big surprise, since brig implements something like git internally. Don’t worry, knowing git is however not needed at all for this chapter.

Key concepts

I’d like you to keep the following mantra in your head when thinking about versioning (repeating before you go to sleep may or may not help):

Metadata and actual data are separated. This means that a repository may contain metadata about many files, including older versions of them. However, it is not guaranteed that a repository caches all actual data for each file or version. This is solely controlled by pinning described in the Pinning section. If you check out earlier versions of a file, you’re always able to see the metadata of it, but being able to view the actual data depends on having a peer that is being able to deliver the data in your network (which might be yourself). So in short: brig only versions metadata and links to the respective data for each version.

This is a somewhat novel approach to versioning, so feel free to re-read the last paragraph, since we’ve found that it does not quite fit what most people are used to. Together with pinning this offers a high degree of freedom on how you can decide what repositories store what data. The price is that this fine-tuned control can get a little annoying. Future versions of brig will try to solve that.

For some more background, you can invoke brig info to see what metadata is being saved per file version:

$ brig show
Path          /
User          ali
Type          file
Size          832 bytes
Inode         4
Pinned        yes
Explicit      no
ModTime       2018-10-14T22:46:00+02:00
Tree Hash     W1gX8NMQ9m8SBnjHRGtamRAjJewbnSgi6C1P7YEunfgTA3
Content Hash  W1pzHcGbVpXaePa1XpehW4HGPatDUJs8zZzSRbpNCGbN2u
Backend Hash  QmPvNjR1h56EFK1Sfb7vr7tFJ57A4JDJS9zwn7PeNbHCsK

Most of it should be no big surprise. It might be a small surprise that three hashes are stored per file. The Backend Hash is really the link to the actual data. If you’d type ipfs cat QmPvNjR1h56EFK1Sfb7vr7tFJ57A4JDJS9zwn7PeNbHCsK you will get the encrypted version of your file dumped to your terminal. The Content Hash is being calculated before the encryption and is the same for two files with the same content. The Tree Hash is a hash that uniquely identifies this specific node for internal purposes. The Inode is a number that stays unique over the lifetime of a file (including moves and removes). It is used mostly in the FUSE filesystem.


Now that we know that only metadata is versioned, we have to ask »what is the smallest unit of modification that can be saved?«. This smallest unit is a commit. A commit can be seen as a snapshot of the whole repository.

The command brig log shows you a list of commits that were made already:

      -      Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018(curr)
W1kAySD3aKLt Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 user: Added ali-file (head)
W1ocyBsS28SD Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 user: Added initial
W1D9KsLNnAv4 Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 initial commit (init)

Each commit is identified by a hash (e.g. W1kAySD3aKLt) and records the time when it was created. Apart from that, there is a message that describes the commit in some way. In contrast to git, commits are rarely done by the user themselve. More often they are done by brig when synchronizing.

All commits form a long chain (no branches, just a linear chain) with the very first empty commit called init and the still unfinished commit called curr. Directly below curr there is the last finished commit called head.


curr is what git users would call the staging area. While the staging area in git is “special”, the curr commit can be used like any other one, with the sole difference that it does not have a proper hash yet.

Sometimes you might want to do a snapshot or »savepoint« yourself. In this case you can do a commit yourself:

$ brig touch A_NEW_FILE
$ brig commit -m 'better leave some breadcrumbs'
$ brig log | head -n 2
      -      Mon Oct 15 00:27:37 CEST 2018(curr)
W1hZoY7TrxyK Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 user: better leave some bread crumbs (head)

This snapshot can be useful later if you decide to revert to a certain version. The hash of the commit is of course hard to remember, so if you need it very often, you can give it a tag yourself. Tags are similar to the names, curr, head and init but won’t be changed by brig and won’t move therefore:

# instead of "W1hZoY7TrxyK" you also could use "head" here:
$ brig tag W1hZoY7TrxyK breadcrumbs
$ brig log | grep breadcrumbs
$ W1hZoY7TrxyK Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 user: better leave some bread crumbs (breadcrumbs, head)

File history

Each file and directory in brig maintains its own history. Each entry of this history relates to exactly one distinct commit. In the life of a file or directory there are four things that can happen to it:

  • added: The file was added in this commit.
  • moved: The file was moved in this commit.
  • removed: The file was removed in this commit.
  • modified: The file’s content (i.e. hash changed) was altered in this commit.

You can check an individual file or directorie’s history by using the brig history command:

# or "hst" for short:
$ brig hst
CHANGE  FROM  TO              WHEN
added   INIT  W1ocyBsS28SD    Oct 14 22:46:00
$ brig mv
$ brig hst
CHANGE  FROM  TO            HOW                           WHEN
moved   HEAD  CURR          / → / Oct 15 00:27:37
added   INIT  W1ocyBsS28SD                                Oct 14 22:46:0

As you can see, you will be shown one line per history entry. Each entry denotes which commit the change was in. Some commits were nothing was changed will be jumped over except if you pass --empty.

Viewing differences

If you’re interested what changed in a range of your own commits, you can use the brig diff command as shown previously. The -s (--self) switch says that we want to compare only two of our own commits (as opposed to comparing with the commits of a remote).

# Let's compare the commit hashes from above:
$ brig diff -s W1hZoY7TrxyK W1kAySD3aKLt
└── + A_NEW_FILE

Often, those hashes are quite hard to remember and annoying to look up. That’s why you can the special syntax <tag or hash>^ to denote that you want to go »one commit up«:

brig diff -s head head^
└── + A_NEW_FILE
# You can also use this several times:
brig diff -s head^^^ head^^^^^
└── +

If you just want to see what you changed since head, you can simply type brig diff. This is the same as brig diff -s curr head:

$ brig diff
└── →
$ brig diff -s curr head
└── →

Reverting to previous state

Until now we were only looking at the version history and didn’t modify it. The most versatile command to do that is brig reset. It is able to revert changes previously made:

# Reset to the "init" commit (the very first and empty commit)
$ brig reset init
$ brig ls  # nothing, it's empty.

The key here is that you did not loose any history:

$ brig log | head -2
       -     Mon Oct 15 00:51:12 CEST 2018(curr)
W1hZoY7TrxyK Sun Oct 14 22:46:00 CEST 2018 user: better leave some bread crumbs (breadcrumbs)

As you can see, we still have the previous commits. brig revert did one thing more than restoring the state of init and put that result in curr. This also means that you can’t really modify history. But you can revert it. Let’s revert your complete wipe-out:

# Reset to the state we had in »breadcrumbs«
$ brig reset breadcrumbs

brig reset cannot only restore old commits, but individual files and directories:

$ brig reset head^^


It is a good idea to do a brig commit before a brig reset. Since it modifies curr you might loose uncommitted changes. It will warn you about that, but you can overwrite that warning with --force. If you did a brig commit you can simply use brig reset head to go back to the last good state.