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public-inbox-v2-format - Man Page

structure of public inbox v2 archives


The v2 format is designed primarily to address several scalability problems of the original format described at public-inbox-v1-format(5).  It also handles messages with Message-IDs.

Inbox Layout

The key change in v2 is the inbox is no longer a bare git repository, but a directory with two or more git repositories. v2 divides git repositories by time "epochs" and Xapian databases for parallelism by "shards".

Inbox Overview and Definitions

  $EPOCH - Integer starting with 0 based on time
  $SCHEMA_VERSION - DB schema version (for Xapian)
  $SHARD - Integer starting with 0 based on parallelism

  foo/                              # "foo" is the name of the inbox
  - inbox.lock                      # lock file to protect global state
  - git/$EPOCH.git                  # normal git repositories
  - all.git                         # empty, alternates to $EPOCH.git
  - xap$SCHEMA_VERSION/$SHARD       # per-shard Xapian DB
  - xap$SCHEMA_VERSION/over.sqlite3 # OVER-view DB for NNTP, threading
  - msgmap.sqlite3                  # same the v1 msgmap

For blob lookups, the reader only needs to open the "all.git" repository with $GIT_DIR/objects/info/alternates which references every $EPOCH.git repo.

Individual $EPOCH.git repos DO NOT use alternates themselves as git currently limits recursion of alternates nesting depth to 5.

Git Epochs

One of the inherent scalability problems with git itself is the full history of a project must be stored and carried around to all clients.  To address this problem, the v2 format uses multiple git repositories, stored as time-based "epochs".

We currently divide epochs into roughly one gigabyte segments; but this size can be configurable (if needed) in the future.

A pleasant side-effect of this design is the git packs of older epochs are stable, allowing them to be cloned without requiring expensive pack generation.  This also allows clients to clone only the epochs they are interested in to save bandwidth and storage.

To minimize changes to existing v1-based code and simplify our code, we use the "alternates" mechanism described in gitrepository-layout(5) to link all the epoch repositories with a single read-only "all.git" endpoint.

Processes retrieve blobs via the "all.git" repository, while writers write blobs directly to epochs.

Git Tree Layout

One key problem specific to v1 was large trees were frequently a performance problem as name lookups are expensive and there were limited deltafication opportunities with unpredictable file names.  As a result, all Xapian-enabled installations retrieve blob object_ids directly in v1, bypassing tree lookups.

While dividing git repositories into epochs caps the growth of trees, worst-case tree size was still unnecessary overhead and worth eliminating.

So in contrast to the big trees of v1, the v2 git tree contains only a single file at the top-level of the tree, either 'm' (for 'mail' or 'message') or 'd' (for deleted).  A tree does not have 'm' and 'd' at the same time.

Mail is still stored in blobs (instead of inline with the commit object) as we still need a stable reference in the indices in case commit history is rewritten to comply with legal requirements.

After-the-fact invocations of public-inbox-index will ignore messages written to 'd' after they are written to 'm'.

Deltafication is not significantly improved over v1, but overall storage for trees is made as as small as possible.  Initial statistics and benchmarks showing the benefits of this approach are documented at:


Xapian Shards

Another second scalability problem in v1 was the inability to utilize multiple CPU cores for Xapian indexing.  This is addressed by using shards in Xapian to perform import indexing in parallel.

As with git alternates, Xapian natively supports a read-only interface which transparently abstracts away the knowledge of multiple shards.  This allows us to simplify our read-only code paths.

The performance of the storage device is now the bottleneck on larger multi-core systems.  In our experience, performance is improved with high-quality and high-quantity solid-state storage. Issuing TRIM commands with fstrim(8) was necessary to maintain consistent performance while developing this feature.

Rotational storage devices perform significantly worse than solid state storage for indexing of large mail archives; but are fine for backup and usable for small instances.

As of public-inbox 1.6.0, the publicInbox.indexSequentialShard option of public-inbox-index(1) may be used with a high shard count to ensure individual shards fit into page cache when the entire Xapian DB cannot.

Our use of the "Overview DB" requires Xapian document IDs to remain stable.  Using public-inbox-compact(1) and public-inbox-xcpdb(1) wrappers are recommended over tools provided by Xapian.

Overview DB

Towards the end of v2 development, it became apparent Xapian did not perform well for sorting large result sets used to generate the landing page in the PSGI UI (/$INBOX/) or many queries used by the NNTP server.  Thus, SQLite was employed and the Xapian "skeleton" DB was renamed to the "overview" DB (after the NNTP OVER/XOVER commands).

The overview DB maintains all the header information necessary to implement the NNTP OVER/XOVER commands and non-search endpoints of the PSGI UI.

Xapian has become completely optional for v2 (as it is for v1), but SQLite remains required for v2.  SQLite turns out to be powerful enough to maintain overview information.  Most of the PSGI and all of the NNTP functionality is possible with only SQLite in addition to git.

The overview DB was an instrumental piece in maintaining near constant-time read performance on a dataset 2-3 times larger than LKML history as of 2018.


The overview DB also includes references to "ghost" messages, or messages which have replies but have not been seen by us. Thus it is expected to have more rows than the "msgmap" DB described below.


The SQLite msgmap DB is unchanged from v1, but it is now at the top-level of the directory.

Object Identifiers

There are three distinct type of identifiers.  content_hash is the new one for v2 and should make message removal and deduplication easier.  object_id and Message-ID are already known.


The blob identifier git uses (currently SHA-1).  No need to publicly expose this outside of normal git ops (cloning) and there's no need to make this searchable.  As with v1 of public-inbox, this is stored as part of the Xapian document so expensive name lookups can be avoided for document retrieval.


The email header; duplicates allowed for archival purposes. This remains a searchable field in Xapian.  Note: it's possible for emails to have multiple Message-ID headers (and git-send-email(1) had that bug for a bit); so we take all of them into account. In case of conflicts detected by content_hash below, we generate a new Message-ID based on content_hash; if the generated Message-ID still conflicts, a random one is generated.


A hash of relevant headers and raw body content for purging of unwanted content.  This is not stored anywhere, but always calculated on-the-fly.

For now, the relevant headers are:

        Subject, From, Date, References, In-Reply-To, To, Cc

Received, List-Id, and similar headers are NOT part of content_hash as they differ across lists and we will want removal to be able to cross lists.

The textual parts of the body are decoded, CRLF normalized to LF, and trailing whitespace stripped.  Notably, hashing the raw body risks being broken by list signatures; but we can use filters (e.g. PublicInbox::Filter::Vger) to clean the body for imports.

content_hash is SHA-256 for now; but can be changed at any time without making DB changes.


flock(2) locking exclusively locks the empty inbox.lock file for all non-atomic operations.


Same handling as with v1, except the Message-ID header will be generated if not provided or conflicting.  "Bytes", "Lines" and "Content-Length" headers are stripped and not allowed, they can interfere with further processing.

The "Status" mbox header is also stripped as that header makes no sense in a public archive.


Thanks to the Linux Foundation for sponsoring the development and testing of the v2 format.

See Also

gitrepository-layout(5), public-inbox-v1-format(5)

Referenced By

lei(1), lei-add-external(1), lei-overview(7), lei-q(1), lei-store-format(5), public-inbox-clone(1), public-inbox-convert(1), public-inbox-extindex-format(5), public-inbox-glossary(7), public-inbox-index(1), public-inbox-init(1), public-inbox-overview(7), public-inbox-purge(1), public-inbox-v1-format(5).

1993-10-02 public-inbox.git public-inbox user manual