A new version

Part 3: Graggles can have cycles

Almost two years ago, I promised a series of three posts about version control. The first two (here and here) introduced a new (at the time) framework for version control. The third post, which I never finished, was going to talk about the datastructures and algorithms used in pijul, a version control system built around that new framework. The problem is that pijul is a complex piece of software, and so I had lots of trouble wrapping my head around it.

Two years later, I’m finally ready to continue with this series of posts (but having learned from my earlier mistakes, I’m not going to predict the total number of posts ahead of time). In the meantime, I’ve written my own toy version control system (VCS) to help me understand what’s going on. It’s called ojo, and it’s extremely primitive: to start with, it can only track a single file. However, it is (just barely) sophisticated enough to demonstrate the important ideas. I’m also doing my best to make the code is clear and well-documented.

Graggles can have cycles

As I try and ease back into this whole blogging business, let me just start with a short answer for something that several people have asked me (and which also confused me at some point). Graggles (which, as described in the earlier posts are a kind of generalized file in which the lines are not necessarily ordered, but instead form a directed graph) are not DAGs; that is, they can have cycles. To see why, suppose we start out with this graggle

The reason this thing isn’t a file is because there’s no prescribed order between the “shoes” line and the “garbage” line. Now suppose that my wife and I independently flatten this graggle, but in different ways (because apparently she doesn’t care if I get my feet wet).

Merging these two flattenings will produce the following graggle:

Notice the cycle between “shoes” and “garbage!”

Although I was surprised when I first noticed that graggles could have cycles, if you think about it a bit more then it makes a lot of sense: one graggle put a “garbage” dependency on “shoes” and the other put a “shoe” dependency on “garbage,” and so when you merge them a cycle naturally pops out.