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lakeFS blends concepts from object stores such as S3 with concepts from Git. This reference defines the common concepts of lakeFS.


lakeFS is an interface to manage objects in an object store.

The actual data itself is not stored inside lakeFS directly but in an underlying object store. lakeFS manages pointers and additional metadata about these objects.

Version Control

lakeFS is spearheading version control semantics for data. Most of these concepts will be familiar to Git users:


In lakeFS, a repository is a set of related objects (or collections of objects). In many cases, these represent tables of various formats for tabular data, semi-structured data such as JSON or log files - or a set of unstructured objects such as images, videos, sensor data, etc.

lakeFS represents repositories as a logical namespace used to group together objects, branches, and commits - analogous to a repository in Git.


Using commits, you can view a repository at a certain point in its history and you’re guaranteed that the data you see is exactly as it was at the point of committing it.

These commits are immutable “checkpoints” containing all contents of a repository at a given point in the repository’s history.

Each commit contains metadata - the committer, timestamp, a commit message, as well as arbitrary key/value pairs you can choose to add.

Identifying Commits

A commit is identified by its commit ID, a digest of all contents of the commit.
Commit IDs are by nature long, so you may use a unique prefix to abbreviate them. A commit may also be identified by using a textual definition, called a ref.

Examples of refs include tags, branch names, and expressions.


Branches in lakeFS allow users to create their own “isolated” view of the repository.

Changes on one branch do not appear on other branches. Users can take changes from one branch and apply it to another by merging them.

Under the hood, branches are simply a pointer to a commit along with a set of uncommitted changes.


Tags are a way to give a meaningful name to a specific commit. Using tags allow users to reference specific releases, experiments or versions by using a human friendly name.

Example tags:

  • v2.3 to mark a release.
  • dev:jane-before-v2.3-merge to mark Jane’s private temporary point.


The history of the branch is the list of commits from the branch tip through the first parent of each commit. Histories go back in time.


Merging is the way to integrate changes from a branch into another branch. The result of a merge is a new commit, with the destination as the first parent and the source as the second.

To learn more about how merging works in lakeFS, see the merge reference

Ref expressions

lakeFS also supports expressions for creating a ref. These are similar to revisions in Git; indeed all ~ and ^ examples at the end of that section will work unchanged in lakeFS.

  • A branch or a tag are ref expressions.
  • If <ref> is a ref expression, then:
    • <ref>^ is a ref expression referring to its first parent.
    • <ref>^N is a ref expression referring to its N’th parent; in particular <ref>^1 is the same as <ref>^.
    • <ref>~ is a ref expression referring to its first parent; in particular <ref>~ is the same as <ref>^ and <ref>~.
    • <ref>~N is a ref expression referring to its N’th parent, always traversing to the first parent. So <ref>~N is the same as <ref>^^...^ with N consecutive carets ^.

Concepts unique to lakeFS

The underlying storage is a location in an object store where lakeFS keeps your objects and some immutable metadata.

When creating a lakeFS repository, you assign it with a storage namespace. The repository’s storage namespace is a location in the underlying storage where data for this repository will be stored.

We sometimes refer to underlying storage as physical. The path used to store the contents of an object is then termed a physical path. Once lakeFS saves an object in the underlying storage it is never modified, except to remove it entirely during some cleanups.

A lot of what lakeFS does is to manage how lakeFS paths translate to physical paths on the object store. This mapping is generally not straightforward. Importantly (and contrary to many object stores), lakeFS may map multiple paths to the same object on backing storage, and always does this for objects that are unchanged across versions.

lakefs protocol URIs

lakeFS uses a specific format for path URIs. The URI lakefs://<REPO>/<REF>/<KEY> is a path to objects in the given repo and ref expression under key. This is used both for path prefixes and for full paths. In similar fashion, lakefs://<REPO>/<REF> identifies the repository at a ref expression, and lakefs://<REPO> identifes a repo.