Git LFS is used to manage large binary files in Git.
August 27, 2019

How Git LFS Works — And Other Options for Git Large File Storage

Git at Scale
Version Control

Development teams around the world use Git to manage source code.

But what about managing and storing large files? Most projects today have both code and binary assets. And storing large binary files in Git repositories can be a bottleneck for Git users.

That’s why some Git users add Git Large File Storage (LFS).

What Is Git LFS?

Git LFS is an open source Git extension. It’s used to manage large files and binary files in a separate Git repository.

How Does Git LFS Work?

Git LFS uses pointers instead of the actual files or binary large objects (blobs).

So, instead of writing large files/blobs to a Git repository, you write a pointer file. And the files/blobs themselves are written to a separate Git LFS server. You can even use multiple Git LFS servers.

Getting started with Git LFS is fairly straightforward. You download the extension and configure your file types.

Using Git LFS makes it possible to version large files (and manage blobs) while freeing up space in Git repositories. And it’s often a fix for pushing large files to GitHub.

When to Use Git Large File Storage

Git LFS is typically recommended when you have large files or binary files to store in Git repositories.

That’s because Git is decentralized. So, every developer has the full change history on their computer. And changes in large binary files cause Git repositories to grow by the size of that file every time the file is changed (and that change is committed). That means it will take ages to get the files. And if you do, it will be difficult to version and merge the binaries.

So, every time the files grow, the Git repository grows. And when Git users need to retrieve and clone a repository, this creates problems.

Git LFS was created to solve these problems. But it has problems of its own…

Problems With Git LFS

Git LFS works. But teams constantly tell us that it’s hard to manage. So, even though Git itself is free, it can rack up productivity costs.

Installing LFS on every server and workstation (and/or repo) takes time. It also burdens admins. Once it’s installed, there’s no visibility and little control over it. And if some developers don’t have the LFS extension? It breaks down.

It takes extra steps to maintain Git LFS with build runners, such as Jenkins. That leads to extra time — and extra complexity.

All of this can lead to performance issues.

Alternatives to Git LFS

Git LFS isn’t the only way to manage large files and binary files in Git. There are alternatives.

This includes other open source or third party fixes, such as:

  • git-annex
  • git-bigfiles
  • git-fat
  • git-media
  • git-bigstore
  • git-sym

But, just like LFS, these Git large file storage options can create problems. There’s a better way to manage large files and binary files.

The Best Version Control for Large Binary Files: Helix Core

Today’s projects are bigger, with more files and mixed assets than ever before. Git and Git LFS alone can’t manage that. But Helix Core can.

Helix Core — version control software from Perforce — is the best option for managing large binary files. That’s because large file storage is a native capability, not an add-on. And it’s bulletproof.

In Helix Core, you can store binaries alongside your source code. In fact, all of your largest files — binary files, source code, art files, video files, images, libraries, and build artifacts — can live together in a single repository. Without slowing down large, distributed teams.

See for yourself why Helix Core is the tool of choice to manage large binary files.

Try Helix Core

By the Way, Perforce Has Git, Too

Still have teams who need to work in Git repositories? You can bring them into your build pipeline with Perforce Git tools — Helix4Git and Helix TeamHub.

Helix4Git is a Git server inside a Perforce server. Helix TeamHub is a Git code hosting solution. These tools allow Git teams to leverage the speed and performance of Helix Core — while working in Git.

So, you can use Helix4Git alongside Helix Core to bring your Git repository into your build pipeline. Helix4Git lets your developers still use their native Git tools. But they get their files a lot faster.

You get:

  • Faster CI/CD build performance.
  • Support for multi-repo projects, artifact repositories, and even a Docker container registry.
  • The ability to gradually add nodes.
  • Replication and guaranteed up-to-date content with no lag, instead of copying.

This unique combo provides development teams with the Git workflows they want. And you get faster performance and a single source of truth. Plus, it’s compatible with your existing tools.

Interested in learning more about Helix4Git?

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