% public-inbox developer manual
public-inbox v2 format description
The v2 format is designed primarily to address several
scalability problems of the original format described at
L<public-inbox-v1-format(5)>. It also handles messages with
=head1 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".
=head2 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.
=head2 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
To minimize changes to existing v1-based code and simplify our
code, we use the "alternates" mechanism described in
L<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.
=head2 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
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
After-the-fact invocations of L<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:
=head2 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
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 L<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 C<--sequential-shard> option of
L<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 L</OVERVIEW DB> requires Xapian document IDs to
remain stable. Using L<public-inbox-compact(1)> and
L<public-inbox-xcpdb(1)> wrappers are recommended over tools
provided by Xapian.
=head2 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
The overview DB maintains all the header information necessary
to implement the NNTP OVER/XOVER commands and non-search
endpoints of 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
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.
=head3 GHOST MESSAGES
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
The SQLite msgmap DB is unchanged from v1, but it is now at the
top-level of the directory.
=head1 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 L<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
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
content_hash is SHA-256 for now; but can be changed at any time
without making DB changes.
L<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.
Copyright 2018-2020 all contributors L<mailto:email@example.com>
License: AGPL-3.0+ L<http://www.gnu.org/licenses/agpl-3.0.txt>
=head1 SEE ALSO