Monorepos and large repositories#

In a large project, single components of a software may be kept in separate repositories. However, sometimes this creates unnecessary complexity, for instance which versions of the components work together. In these cases, it can make sense to keep all parts of a project in a monolithic repository or monorepo.


  • The repository contains more than one logical project (for example an iOS client and a web application).

  • The logical projects can be built, tested and deployed independently.

  • These projects are usually only loosely connected or can be connected in other ways, for example via dependency management tools.

  • The repository contains many commits, branches and/or tags. Or it contains many and/or large files.

With thousands of commits by hundreds of authors in thousands of files per month, the Linux kernel repository is huge.

Pros and cons#

One advantage of monorepos may be that the effort to determine which versions of one project are compatible with which versions of another project may be significantly reduced. This is at least always dan the case if all projects of a Repository are worked on by only one developer team. Then it is recommended to receive with each Merge again a executable version also if the API between the two projects was changed.

However, performance losses can prove to be a disadvantage. These can arise, for example, from

a large number of commits

Since Git uses DAGs (directed acyclic graphs) to represent the history of a project, all operations that traverse this graph, for example git log or git blame, will become slow.

a large number of Git references

A large number of branches and tags also slow down git. You can use git ls-remote to view the refs in a repository, and git gc to combine loose refs into a single file.

Any operation that must traverse the commit history of a repository and account for the individual refs, such as with git branch --contains *COMMIT, will be slow on a repo with many refs.

a large number of versioned files

The directory cache index (.git/index) is used by Git to determine if the file has been modified. In doing so, as the number of files increases, many operations, such as git status and git commit, slow down.

large files

Large files in a subtree or project reduce the performance of the entire repository.

Strategies for large repositories#

The design goals of Git that have made it so successful and popular sometimes conflict with the desire to use it in ways for which it was not designed. Nevertheless, there are a number of strategies that can be helpful when working with large repositories:

git clone --depth#

Even though the threshold at which a history is considered huge is quite high, it can still be tedious to clone it. Nevertheless, we cannot always avoid long histories when they need to be maintained for legal or regulatory reasons.

The solution for a fast clone of such a repository is to copy only the most recent revisions. With the shallow option of git clone you can retrieve only the last N commits of the history, for example git clone --depth N REMOTE-URL.


Build systems connected to your Git repository also benefit from such shallow clones!

Shallow clones have been rather rare in Git until now, as some operations were hardly supported at the beginning. For some time now (in versions 1.9 and higher) you can even perform pull and push operations in repositories from a Shallow Clone.

git filter-branch#

For large repositories where many binaries have been accidentally transferred, or old assets that are no longer needed, git filter-branch is a good solution to go through the entire history and filter out, change or skip files according to predefined patterns.

It’s a very powerful tool once you figure out where your repository is heavy. There are also helper scripts to identify large items: git filter-branch --tree-filter 'rm -rf /PATH/TO/BIG/ASSETS'


However, git filter-branch rewrites the entire history of your project, that is, on the one hand all commit hashes change and on the other hand every team member has to clone the updated repository again.

git clone --branch#

You can also limit the size of the cloned history by cloning a single branch, for example with git clone REMOTE-URL --branch BRANCH-NAME --single-branch FOLDER.

This can be useful if you are working with long-running and divergent branches, or if you have many branches and only need to work with some of them. However, if you only have a few branches with few differences, you probably won’t notice much difference with this.

Git LFS#

Git LFS is an extension that stores pointers to large files in your repository rather than the files themselves; these are stored on a remote server, drastically reducing the time it takes to clone your repository. Git LFS accesses Git’s native push, pull, checkout and fetch operations to transfer and replace objects, meaning you can work with large files in your repository as usual.

You can install Git LFS with

$ sudo apt install git-lfs
$ brew install git-lfs

Git LFS can be installed with git for windows.

Then you can install Git LFS in your repository with

$ git lfs install
Updated Git hooks.
Git LFS initialized.

Now, to apply Git LFS to specific file types, you can for example specify:

$ git lfs track "*.pdf"
Tracking "*.pdf"

This creates the following line in your .gitattributes file:

*.pdf filter=lfs diff=lfs merge=lfs -text

Finally, you should manage the .gitattributes file with Git:

$ git add .gitattributes


git-sizer calculates various metrics for a local Git repository and flags those that might cause you problems or inconvenience, for example:

$ git-sizer
Processing blobs: 1903
Processing trees: 4126
Processing commits: 1055
Matching commits to trees: 1055
Processing annotated tags: 2
Processing references: 5
| Name                         | Value     | Level of concern               |
| ---------------------------- | --------- | ------------------------------ |
| Biggest objects              |           |                                |
| * Blobs                      |           |                                |
|   * Maximum size         [1] |  35.8 MiB | ***                            |

[1]  9fe7b8048891965e476aac0410e08e050fd21354 (refs/heads/main:docs/workspace/pandas/descriptive-statistics.ipynb)


  1. Go to the releases page and download the ZIP file that corresponds to your platform.

  2. Unpack the file.

  3. Move the executable file (git-sizer or git-sizer.exe) into your PATH.

$ brew install git-sizer

Git file system monitor (FSMonitor)#

git status and git add are slow because they have to search the entire working tree for changes. The git fsmonitor--daemon function, available in Git version 2.36 and later, speeds up these commands by reducing the scope of the search:

$ time git status
On branch master
Your branch is up to date with 'origin/master'.
real    0m1,969s
user    0m0,237s
sys     0m1,257s
$ git config core.fsmonitor true
$ git config core.untrackedcache true
$ time git status
On branch master
Your branch is up to date with 'origin/master'.
real    0m0,415s
user    0m0,171s
sys     0m0,675s
$ git fsmonitor--daemon status
fsmonitor-daemon is watching '/srv/jupyter/linux'


scalar, a repository management tool for large repositories from Microsoft, has been part of the Git core installation since version 2.38. To use it, you can either clone a new repository with scalar clone /path/to/repo or apply scalar to an existing clone with scalar register /path/to/repo.

Other options of scalar clone are:

-b, --branch BRANCH

Branch to be checked out after cloning.


Create full working directory when cloning.


Download only metadata of the branch that will be checked out.

With scalar list you can see which repositories are currently tracked by Scalar and with scalar unregister /path/to/repo the repository is removed from this list.

By default, Sparse-Checkout is enabled and only the files in the root of the git repository are shown. Use git sparse-checkout set to expand the set of directories you want to see, or git sparse-checkout disable to show all files. If you don’t know which directories are available in the repository, you can run git ls-tree -d --name-only HEAD to find the directories in the root directory, or git ls-tree -d --name-only HEAD /path/to/repo to find the directories in /path/to/repo.

See also

git ls-tree

To enable sparse-checkout afterwards, run git sparse-checkout init --cone. This will initialise your sparse-checkout patterns to match only the files in the root directory.

Currently, in addition to sparse-checkout, the following functions are available for scalar:

The configuration of scalar is updated as new features are introduced into Git. To ensure that you are always using the latest configuration, you should run scalar reconfigure /PATH/TO/REPO after a new Git version to update your repository’s configuration, or scalar reconfigure -a to update all your Scalar-registered repositories at once.