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org-git-link.el – link to specific git revisions

org-git-link allows linking to specific (git) versions of a file.

1. Use case

Often one wants to link to a specific version of a reference document which may change in time. Thorsten Wagner described an important use case in his mailing list entry (, namely linking to results in a lab book. Quote:

[…] Please think about the following situation: I have something like "… In the [graph] of the last results, a huge peak is observable due to measurement problems for the following set-up parameters …." in my org-file and then several month later in a stupid act I overwrite this file by some very similar but different results, e.g. because I was not longer aware of the link and thought there is no need to keep this old graph with the ugly peak and replace it by something "better". Now the link still depicts to a graph (lets say without or smaller peak) and back in org-mode I might reread my entries check what I did several months ago… and I will be very confused since the graph and the written text have some quirks (refer to a peak where no peak is depict in the graph and refers to wrong measurement parameters) my boss ask me what sort of mess I did, which I can not explain. He claims its the fault of all this "linux-hacker- emacs-org-mode-work-only-on-text-files"-stuff blaims me to dead and force me switching back to use Outlook, MS Office and MS Windows for the rest of my life….. wooohhh that would be a sad story !!!!

What a sad story indeed. Collaborative editing is another case where linking of (e.g.) todo items to specific versions or to files in different branches comes in handy.

2. Specifying revisions

org-git-link.el defines two new link types. The git link type is meant to be used in the typical scenario and mimics the file link syntax as closely as possible. The gitbare link type exists mostly for debugging reasons, but also allows e.g. linking to files in a bare git repository for the experts. I will first show an example usage for both kinds of links before the syntax is defined more formally.

2.1. Example

In the lab book use case described above assume that the org file in located in /home/user/repo/planning/ and the measurement data is visualized in /home/user/repo/data/result.png. The data is so exciting that the relevant commit has been tagged nobelprize. Then the links in a lab book entry could read any of the following:

- [[git:../data/result.png::master@{3.10.2009}]]
- [[git:/home/user/repo/data/results.png::nobelprize]]
- [[gitbare:../.git::nobelprize:data/results.png]]

For usage in collaborative editing, typical entries might be:

* TODO Merge [[git:paper.tex::theirstuff][Their version]] with [[git:paper.tex::ourstuff][Our version]]
* [[git:answer.txt::firstround][Answer]] to  [[git:report.txt::firstround][Referee report]] of our paper
* [[gitbare:/path/to/centralrepos.git::simulation.cpp][Simulation program]]

In all these examples, the linked files do not even have to exist in the working repository, i.e. the links continue to work even after the files have been deleted.

2.2. Formal specification

2.2.1. User friendy form


This form is the familiar from normal org file links including search options Search options. However, its use is restricted to files in a working directory and does not handle bare repositories on purpose (see the bare form for that).

The search string references a commit (a tree-ish in Git terminology). The two most useful types of search strings are

  • A symbolic ref name, usually a branch or tag name (e.g. master or nobelprize).
  • A ref followed by the suffix @ with a date specification enclosed in a brace pair (e.g. {yesterday}, {1 month 2 weeks 3 days 1 hour 1 second ago} or {1979-02-26 18:30:00}) to specify the value of the ref at a prior point in time

For other ways to specify commits see the git documentation referenced in the bare git section.

  1. Technical note

    From the (not necessarily existing) file path first the corresponding git directory is extracted. This is done in the following way: Starting with the directory of the linken file, it is checked whether

    • the directory exists and
    • whether a .git subdirectory exists.

    If not, the procedure is iterated with the parent directory. The link path (which can be given as a local link) is thus separated into an absolute path GIT_DIR to the git directory (without .git) and a relative path RELPATH to the file. Git is now called as

    git --no-pager --git-dir=GIT_DIR/.git show SEARCHSTRING:RELPATH

2.2.2. Bare git form


This is the more bare metal version, which gives the user most control. It directly translates to the git command

git --no-pager --git-dir=GIT_DIR show OBJECT

Using this version one can also view files from a bare git repository. For detailed information on how to specify an object, see the man page of git-rev-parse (section SPECIFYING REVISIONS). A specific blob (file) can be specified by a suffix clolon (:) followed by a path.

2.3. Following a git link

Following any of the git links creates a direcory named org-git-link-SHA under temporary-file-directory (if it does not exist), where SHA is the hash of the linked file (blob). The file contents is saved within this directory under the name used in the link. This ensures that each file is only checked out once, even when they are referenced by different search strings (e.g. once by branch name and once by tag). The file is supsequently opened using org-open-file, which does the right thing for non-text files as well.

2.4. Creating a git link

As an org mode is a simple text file, a git link can of course be inserted directly as a string. For your convenience two functions creating links automatically have been defined:

This function is automatically added to org-store-link-functions. When org-store-link (usually bound to C-c l) is called in a buffer whose file is in a git repository, it creates a git link to the file version corresponding to the current branchname and date. The link is then added to org-stored-links, from where it can be inserted with org-insert-link(-global), usually bound to C-c C-l.
This function interactively asks for a file name, a search string, and a description. The corresponding link is then inserted at point. Currently the only advantage over writing the link directly is file completion. Completion of the search string with the help of current tags and branch names might be implemented at a later stage, if demand exists.

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