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GIT Timestamping client for Zeitgitter

Project description

git timestamp — Git Timestamping Client for Zeitgitter

Quick setup

Before you can run git timestamp to create a branch timestamp (recommended) or git timestamp --tag SomeTimestampedTag (alternative) in any of your git repositories, follow these instructions:

Ubuntu 16.04, 18.04, 19.10, 20.04, or 20.10 using Python 3

sudo apt install python3-pip python3-pygit2
sudo pip3 install git-timestamp

(Installing python3-pygit2 is not required in all cases, but not doing it can lead to strange error messages when running pip3 install git-timestamp in some configurations.)

pygit2 is a very brittle package with subtle (or not so subtle) dependencies on system packages. If you want to upgrade git-timestamp later, the following command is recommended:

sudo pip3 install -U git-timestamp `pip3 freeze | grep pygit2`

Freezing pygit2 in this way can also be needed in other circumstances and for other packages relying on pygit2.

Timestamping: Why?

Being able to provide evidence that you had some piece of information at a given time and it has not changed since are important in many aspects of personal, academic, or corporate life.

It can help provide evidence

  • that you had some idea already at a given time,
  • that you already had a piece of code, or
  • that you knew about a document at a given time.

Timestamping does not assure authorship of the idea, code, or document. It only provides evidence to the existence at a given point in time. Depending on the context, authorship might be implied, at least weakly.

Zeitgitter for Timestamping

Zeitgitter consists of two components:

  1. A timestamping client, git timestamp, which can add a timestamp as a digital signature to an existing git repository. Existing git mechanisms can then be used to distribute these timestamps (stored in commits or tags) or keep them private.
  2. A timestamping server, zeitgitterd, which supports timestamping git repositories and stores its history of commits timestamped in a git repository as well. Anybody can operate such a timestamping server, but using an independent timestamper provides strongest evidence, as collusion is less likely.
    • Publication of the timestamps history; as well as
    • getting cross-timestamps of other independent timestampers on your timestamp history both provide mechanisms to assure that timestamping has not been done retroactively ("backstamping").

The timestamping client is called git timestamp and allows to issue timestamped, signed tags or commits.

To simplify deployment, we provide a free timestamping server at It is able to provide several million timestamps per day. However, if you or your organization plan to issue more than a hundred timestamps per day, please consider installing and using your own timestamping server and have it being cross-timestamped with other servers.

Timestamping as a network

The revolutionary idea behind Zeitgitter is to have timestampers cross-verify each other. This results in a network which makes it hard to cheat. In fact, the network requires only a single trustworthy member to prevent all others from cheating. Even more so, you do not need to know who the non-cheating member is, as long as you can be sure that there is one or not all the bad guys are colluding.

In fact, the non-cheating member may even change over time. As long as there is always at least one member who does not backdate any timestamps, this role can freely move between members.

This extreme resilience makes timestamping with Zeitgitter so trustworthy.

Timestamping network

Client Usage


usage: git-timestamp [--help] [--version] [--tag TAG] [--branch BRANCH]
                     [--server SERVER] [--append-branch-name bool]
                     [--gnupg-home GNUPG_HOME] [--enable [bool]]
                     [--require-enable] [--quiet [bool]]

Interface to Zeitgitter, the network of independent GIT timestampers.

positional arguments:

  • COMMIT: Which commit-ish to timestamp. Must be a branch name for branch timestamps with --append-branch-name. Can be set by git config timestamp.commit-branch; fallback default: 'HEAD'

optional arguments:

  • --help, -h: Show this help message and exit. When called as git timestamp (space, not dash), use -h, as --help is captured by git itself.
  • --version: Show program's version number and exit
  • --tag TAG: Create a new timestamped tag named TAG
  • --branch BRANCH: Create a timestamped commit in branch BRANCH, with identical contents as the specified commit. Default name derived from servername plus -timestamps. Can be set by git config timestamp.branch
  • --server SERVER: Zeitgitter server to obtain timestamp from. 'https://' is optional. The following aliases are supported: gitta →, diversity → Can be set by git config timestamp.server; fallback default: ''
  • --append-branch-name bool: Whether to append the branch name of the current branch to the timestamp branch name, i.e., create per- branch timestamp branches. (master will never be appended.). Can be set by git config timestamp.append-branch-name; fallback default: 'True'
  • --gnupg-home GNUPG_HOME: Where to store timestamper public keys. Can be set by git config timestamp.gnupg-home
  • --enable [ENABLE]: Forcibly enable/disable timestamping operations; mainly for use in git config. Can be set by git config timestamp.enable
  • --require-enable: Disable operation unless git config timestamp.enable has explicitely been set to true
  • --quiet [bool], -q [bool] Suppress diagnostic messages, only print fatal errors. Can be set by git config timestamp.quiet

--tag takes precedence over --branch. When in doubt, use --tag for single/rare timestamping, and --branch for reqular timestamping. bool values can be specified as true/false/yes/no/0/1. Arguments with optional bool options default to true if the argument is present, false if absent.

Automatic timestamping of every commit

To automatically timestamp every commit, create an executable file .git/hooks/post-commit with the following contents:

git timestamp

Append parameters as you like.

If you do not need parameters (i.e., everything matches the default or has been overridden with git config), and you have no other post-commit needs, run the following command in the root of your checked out repository:

ln -s `which git-timestamp` .git/hooks/post-commit

Inclusion in other packages

Timestamping can be a useful add-on feature for many operations, including verifying whether a repository has been tampered with. For example, we use it extensively together with etckeeper for tamper-evidence.

If you would like to include timestamping as an optional component in your software, you have to first decide whether timestamping should be on or off by default for your software:

  • default-on: Just call git timestamp as normal. Users can disable timestamping on a per-repository basis by running git config timestamp.enable false at any time.
  • default-off: Timestamp with the option --require-enable. Then, users have to first run git config timestamp.enable true in the repository. In any case, you should check whether git timestamp has been installed before calling it. In a shell, you could do this as follows:
if which git-timestamp > /dev/null; then
  git timestamp OPTIONS

General and Client Documentation


Zeitgitter logo is based on Git Logo by Jason Long, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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