Cloning Improvements in Mercurial 3.6

October 22, 2015 at 05:00 AM | categories: Mercurial, Mozilla | View Comments

Mercurial 3.6 (scheduled for release on or shortly after November 1) contains a number of improvements to cloning. In this post, I will describe a new feature to help server operators reduce load (while enabling clients to clone faster) and some performance work to make clone operations faster on the client.

Cloning repositories can incur a lot of load on servers. For mozilla-central (the main Firefox repository), clones require the server to spend 4+ minutes CPU time and send ~1,230 MB over the network. Multiply by thousands of clients from build and test automation and developers, and you could quickly finding yourself running out of CPU cores or network bandwidth. Scaling Mercurial servers (like many services) can therefore be challenging. (It's worth noting that Git is in the same boat for reasons technically similar to Mercurial's.)

Mozilla previously implemented a Mercurial extension to seed clones from pre-generated bundle files so the Mercurial servers themselves don't have to work very hard for an individual clone. (That linked post goes into the technical reasons why cloning is expensive). We now offload cloning of frequently cloned repositories on to Amazon S3 and a CDN and are diverting 1+ TB/day and countless hours of CPU work away from the servers themselves.

The positive impact from seeding clones from pre-generated, externally-hosted bundles has been immense. Load on dropped off a cliff. Clone times on clients became a lot faster (mainly because they aren't waiting for a server to dynamically generate/stream bits). But there was a problem with this approach: it required the cooperation of clients to install an extension in order for clone load to be offloaded. It didn't just work.

I'm pleased to announce that the ability to seed clones from server-advertised pre-generated bundles is now a core feature in Mercurial 3.6! Server operators can install the clonebundles extension (it is distributed with Mercurial) to advertise the location of pre-generated, externally-hosted bundle files. Compatible clients will automatically clone from the server-advertised URLs instead of creating potentially excessive load on the Mercurial server. The implementation is almost identical to what Mozilla has deployed with great success. If you operate a Mercurial server that needs to serve larger repositories (100+ MB) and/or is under high load, you should be jumping with joy at the existence of this feature, as it should make scaling problems attached to cloning mostly go away.

Documentation for server operators is currently in the extension and can be accessed at the aforementioned URL or with hg help -e clonebundles. It does require a bit of setup work. But if you are at the scale where you could benefit from the feature, the results will almost certainly be worth it.

One caveat is that the feature is currently behind an experimental flag on the client. This means that it doesn't just work yet. This is because we want to reserve the right to change some behaviors without worrying about backwards compatibility. However, I'm pretty confident the server parts won't change significantly. Or if they do, I'm pretty committed to providing an easy transition path since I'll need one for So, I'm giving server operators a tentative green light to deploy this extension. I can't guarantee there won't be a few bumps transitioning to a future release. But it shouldn't be a break-the-world type of problem. It is my intent to remove the experimental flag and have the feature enabled by default in Mercurial 3.7. At that point, server operators just need clients to run a modern Mercurial release and they can count on drastically reduced load from cloning.

To help with adoption and testing of the clone bundles feature, servers advertising bundles will inform compatible clients of the existence of the feature when they clone:

$ hg clone
requesting all changes
remote: this server supports the experimental "clone bundles" feature that should enable faster and more reliable cloning
remote: help test it by setting the "experimental.clonebundles" config flag to "true"
adding changesets
adding manifests
adding file changes

And if you have the feature enabled, you'll see something like:

$ hg clone
applying clone bundle from
adding changesets
adding manifests
adding file changes
added 265986 changesets with 1501210 changes to 223996 files
finished applying clone bundle
searching for changes
adding changesets
adding manifests
adding file changes
added 1 changesets with 1 changes to 1 files

This new clone bundles feature is deployed on Users of Mercurial 3.6 can start using it today by cloning from one of the repositories with bundles enabled. (If you have previously installed the bundleclone extension, please be sure your version-control-tools repository is up to date, as the extension was recently changed to better interact with the official feature.)

And that's the clone bundles feature. I hope you are as excited about it as I am!

Mercurial 3.6 also contains numerous performance improvements that make cloning faster, regardless of whether you are using clone bundles! For starters:

These performance enhancements will make all operations that write new repository data faster. But it will be felt most on clone and pull operations on the client and push operations on the server.

One of the most impressive performance optimizations was to a Python class that converts a generator of raw data chunks to something that resembles a file object so it can be read() from. Refactoring read() to avoid collections.deque operations and an extra string slice and allocation made unbundle operations 15-20% faster. Since this function can handle hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes of data across hundreds of thousands of calls, small improvements like this can make a huge difference! This patch was a stark reminder that function calls, collection mutations, string slicing, and object allocation all can have a significant cost in a higher-level, garbage collected language like Python.

The end result of all this performance optimization on applying a mozilla-central gzip bundle on Linux on an i7-6700K:

  • 35-40s wall time faster (~245s to ~205s) (~84% of original)
  • write(2) calls reduced from 1,372,411 to 679,045 (~49% of original)
  • close(2) calls reduced from 405,147 to 235,039 (~58% of original)
  • total system calls reduced from 5,120,893 to 2,938,479 (~57% of original)

And the same operation on Windows 10 on the same machine:

  • ~300s wall time faster (933s to 633s) (~68% of original)

You may have noticed the discrepancy between Linux and Windows wall times, where Windows is 2-4x slower than Linux. What gives? The reason is closing file handles that have been appended to is slow on Windows. For more, read my recent blog post.

Mercurial writes ~226,000 files during a clone of mozilla-central (excluding the working copy). Assuming 2ms per file close operation, that comes out to ~450s just for file close operations! (All operations are on the same thread.) The current wall time difference between clone times on Windows and Linux is ~428s. So it's fair to say that waiting on file closes accounts for most of this.

Along the same vein, the aforementioned performance work reduced total number of file close operations during a mozilla-central clone by ~165,000. Again assuming 2ms per file close, that comes to ~330s, which is in the same ballpark as the ~300s wall time decrease we see on Windows in Mercurial 3.6. Writing - and therefore closing - hundreds of thousands of files handles is slower on Windows and accounts for most of the performance difference on that platform.

Empowered by this knowledge, I wrote some patches to move file closing to a background thread on Windows. The results were promising (minutes saved when writing 100,000+ files). Unfortunately, I didn't have time to finish these patches for Mercurial 3.6. Hopefully they'll make it into 3.7. I also have some mad scientist ideas for alternate storage mechanisms that don't rely on hundreds of thousands of files. This should enable clones to run at 100+ MB/s on all platforms - basically as fast as your network and system I/O can keep up (yes, Python and Windows are capable of this throughput). Stay tuned.

And that's a summary of the cloning improvements in Mercurial 3.6!

Mercurial 3.6 is currently in release candidate. Please help test it by downloading the RC at Mercurial 3.6 final is due for release on or shortly after November 1. There is a large gathering of Mercurial contributors in London this weekend. So if a bug is reported, I can pretty much guarantee a lot of eyeballs will see it and there's a good chance it will be acted upon.

blog comments powered by Disqus