File Name Glob Patterns

A glob pattern is a text expression that matches one or more file names using wild cards familiar to most users of a command line. For example, * is a glob that matches any name at all and Readme.txt is a glob that matches exactly one file.

Note that although both are notations for describing patterns in text, glob patterns are not the same thing as a regular expression or regexp.

A number of fossil setting values hold one or more file glob patterns that will identify files needing special treatment. Glob patterns are also accepted in options to certain commands as well as query parameters to certain pages.

In many cases more than one glob may be specified in a setting, option, or query parameter by listing multiple globs separated by a comma or white space.

Of course, many fossil commands also accept lists of files to act on, and those also may be specified with globs. Although those glob patterns are similar to what is described here, they are not defined by fossil, but rather by the conventions of the operating system in use.


A list of glob patterns is simply one or more glob patterns separated by white space or commas. If a glob must contain white spaces or commas, it can be quoted with either single or double quotation marks. A list is said to match if any one (or more) globs in the list matches.

A glob pattern is a collection of characters compared to a target text, usually a file name. The whole glob is said to match if it successfully consumes and matches the entire target text. Glob patterns are made up of ordinary characters and special characters.

Ordinary characters consume a single character of the target and must match it exactly.

Special characters (and special character sequences) consume zero or more characters from the target and describe what matches. The special characters (and sequences) are:

Pattern Effect
* Matches any sequence of zero or more characters
? Matches exactly one character
[...] Matches one character from the enclosed list of characters
[^...] Matches one character not in the enclosed list

Special character sequences have some additional features:

Some examples of character lists:

Pattern Effect
[a-d] Matches any one of a, b, c, or d but not ä
[^a-d] Matches exactly one character other than a, b, c, or d
[0-9a-fA-F] Matches exactly one hexadecimal digit
[a-] Matches either a or -
[][] Matches either ] or [
[^]] Matches exactly one character other than ]
[]^] Matches either ] or ^
[^-] Matches exactly one character other than -

White space means the specific ASCII characters TAB, LF, VT, FF, CR, and SPACE. Note that this does not include any of the many additional spacing characters available in Unicode, and specifically does not include U+00A0 NO-BREAK SPACE.

Because both LF and CR are white space and leading and trailing spaces are stripped from each glob in a list, a list of globs may be broken into lines between globs when the list is stored in a file (as for a versioned setting).

Similarly 'single quotes' and "double quotes" are the ASCII straight quote characters, not any of the other quotation marks provided in Unicode and specifically not the "curly" quotes preferred by typesetters and word processors.

File Names to Match

Before it is compared to a glob pattern, each file name is transformed to a canonical form. The glob must match the entire canonical file name to be considered a match.

The canonical name of a file has all directory separators changed to /, redundant slashes are removed, all . path components are removed, and all .. path components are resolved. (There are additional details we are ignoring here, but they cover rare edge cases and also follow the principle of least surprise.)

The goal is to have a name that is the simplest possible for each particular file, and that will be the same on Windows, Unix, and any other platform where fossil is run.

Beware, however, that all glob matching is case sensitive. This will not be a surprise on Unix where all file names are also case sensitive. However, most Windows file systems are case preserving and case insensitive. That is, on Windows, the names ReadMe and README are names of the same file; on Unix they are different files.

Some example cases:

Pattern Effect
README Matches only a file named README in the root of the tree. It does not match a file named src/README because it does not include any characters that consume (and match) the src/ part.
*/README Matches src/README. Unlike Unix file globs, it also matches src/library/README. However it does not match the file README in the root of the tree.
*README Matches src/README as well as the file README in the root of the tree as well as foo/bar/README or any other file named README in the tree. However, it also matches A-DIFFERENT-README and src/DO-NOT-README, or any other file whose name ends with README.
src/README Matches src\README on Windows because all directory separators are rewritten as / in the canonical name before the glob is matched. This makes it much easier to write globs that work on both Unix and Windows.
*.[ch] Matches every C source or header file in the tree at the root or at any depth. Again, this is (deliberately) different from Unix file globs and Windows wild cards.

Where Globs are Used

Settings that are Globs

These settings are all lists of glob patterns:

Setting Description
binary-glob Files that should be treated as binary files for committing and merging purposes
clean-glob Files that the clean command will delete without prompting or allowing undo
crlf-glob Files in which it is okay to have CR, CR+LF or mixed line endings. Set to "*" to disable CR+LF checking
crnl-glob Alias for the crlf-glob setting
encoding-glob Files that the commit command will ignore when issuing warnings about text files that may use another encoding than ASCII or UTF-8. Set to "*" to disable encoding checking
ignore-glob Files that the add, addremove, clean, and extras commands will ignore
keep-glob Files that the clean command will keep

All may be versioned, local, or global. Use fossil settings to manage local and global settings, or a file in the repository's .fossil-settings/ folder at the root of the tree named for each for versioned setting.

Using versioned settings for these not only has the advantage that they are tracked in the repository just like the rest of your project, but you can more easily keep longer lists of more complicated glob patterns than would be practical in either local or global settings.

The ignore-glob is an example of one setting that frequently grows to be an elaborate list of files that should be ignored by most commands. This is especially true when one (or more) IDEs are used in a project because each IDE has its own ideas of how and where to cache information that speeds up its browsing and building tasks but which need not be preserved in your project's history.

Commands that Refer to Globs

Many of the commands that respect the settings containing globs have options to override some or all of the settings. These options are usually named to correspond to the setting they override, such as --ignore to override the ignore-glob setting. These commands are:

The commands tarball and zip produce compressed archives of a specific checkin. They may be further restricted by options that specify glob patterns that name files to include or exclude rather than archiving the entire checkin.

The commands http, cgi, server, and ui that implement or support with web servers provide a mechanism to name some files to serve with static content where a list of glob patterns specifies what content may be served.

Web Pages that Refer to Globs

The /timeline page supports the query parameter chng=GLOBLIST that names a list of glob patterns defining which files to focus the timeline on. It also has the query parameters t=TAG and r=TAG that names a tag to focus on, which can be configured with ms=STYLE to use a glob pattern to match tag names instead of the default exact match or a couple of other comparison styles.

The pages /tarball and /zip generate compressed archives of a specific checkin. They may be further restricted by query parameters that specify glob patterns that name files to include or exclude rather than taking the entire checkin.

Platform Quirks

Fossil glob patterns are based on the glob pattern feature of POSIX shells. Fossil glob patterns also have a quoting mechanism, discussed above. Because other parts of your operating system may interpret glob patterns and quotes separately from Fossil, it is often difficult to give glob patterns correctly to Fossil on the command line. Quotes and special characters in glob patterns are likely to be interpreted when given as part of a fossil command, causing unexpected behavior.

These problems do not affect versioned settings files or Admin → Settings in Fossil UI. Consequently, it is better to set long-term *-glob settings via these methods than to use fossil settings commands.

That advice does not help you when you are giving one-off glob patterns in fossil commands. The remainder of this section gives remedies and workarounds for these problems.

POSIX Systems

If you are using Fossil on a system with a POSIX-compatible shell — Linux, macOS, the BSDs, Unix, Cygwin, WSL etc. — the shell may expand the glob patterns before passing the result to the fossil executable.

Sometimes this is exactly what you want. Consider this command for example:

$ fossil add RE*

If you give that command in a directory containing README.txt and RELEASE-NOTES.txt, the shell will expand the command to:

$ fossil add README.txt RELEASE-NOTES.txt

…which is compatible with the fossil add command's argument list, which allows multiple files.

Now consider what happens instead if you say:

$ fossil add --ignore RE* src/*.c

This does not do what you want because the shell will expand both RE* and src/*.c, causing one of the two files matching the RE* glob pattern to be ignored and the other to be added to the repository. You need to say this in that case:

$ fossil add --ignore 'RE*' src/*.c

The single quotes force a POSIX shell to pass the RE* glob pattern through to Fossil untouched, which will do its own glob pattern matching. There are other methods of quoting a glob pattern or escaping its special characters; see your shell's manual.

Beware that Fossil's --ignore option does not override explicit file mentions:

$ fossil add --ignore 'REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt' RE*

You might think that would add everything beginning with RE except for REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt, but when a file is both given explicitly to Fossil and also matches an ignore rule, Fossil asks what you want to do with it in the default case; and it does not even ask if you gave the -f or --force option along with --ignore.

The spaces in the ignored file name above bring us to another point: such file names must be quoted in Fossil glob patterns, lest Fossil interpret it as multiple glob patterns, but the shell interprets quotation marks itself.

One way to fix both this and the previous problem is:

$ fossil add --ignore "'REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt'" READ*

The nested quotation marks cause the inner set to be passed through to Fossil, and the more specific glob pattern at the end — that is, READ* vs RE* — avoids a conflict between explicitly-listed files and --ignore rules in the fossil add command.

Another solution would be to use shell escaping instead of nested quoting:

$ fossil add --ignore "\"REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt\"" READ*

It bears repeating that the two glob patterns here are not interpreted the same way when running this command from a subdirectory of the top checkout directory as when running it at the top of the checkout tree. If these files were in a subdirectory of the checkout tree called doc and that was your current working directory, the command would have to be:

$ fossil add --ignore "'doc/REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt'" READ*

instead. The Fossil glob pattern still needs the doc/ prefix because Fossil always interprets glob patterns from the base of the checkout directory, not from the current working directory as POSIX shells do.

When in doubt, use fossil status after running commands like the above to make sure the right set of files were scheduled for insertion into the repository before checking the changes in. You never want to accidentally check something like a password, an API key, or the private half of a public cryptographic key into Fossil repository that can be read by people who should not have such secrets.


Neither standard Windows command shell — cmd.exe or PowerShell — expands glob patterns the way POSIX shells do. Windows command shells rely on the command itself to do the glob pattern expansion. The way this works depends on several factors:

These factors also affect how a program like fossil.exe interprets quotation marks on its command line.

The fifth item above does not apply to fossil.exe when built with typical tool chains, but we will see an example below where the exception applies in a way that affects how Fossil interprets the glob pattern.

The most common problem is figuring out how to get a glob pattern passed on the command line into fossil.exe without it being expanded by the C runtime library that your particular Fossil executable is linked to, which tries to act like the POSIX systems described above. Windows is not strongly governed by POSIX, so it has not historically hewed closely to its strictures.

(This section does not cover the Microsoft POSIX subsystem, Windows' obsolete Services for Unix 3.x feature, or the Windows Subsystem for Linux. (The latter is sometimes incorrectly called "Bash on Windows" or "Ubuntu on Windows.") See the POSIX Systems section above for those cases.)

For example, consider how you would set crlf-glob to * in order to disable Fossil's "looks like a binary file" checks. The naïve approach will not work:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob *

The C runtime library will expand that to the list of all files in the current directory, which will probably cause a Fossil error because Fossil expects either nothing or option flags after the setting's new value.

Let's try again:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob '*'

That may or may not work. Either '*' or * needs to be passed through to Fossil untouched for this to do what you expect, which may or may not happen, depending on the factors listed above.

An approach that will work reliably is:

C:\...> echo * | fossil setting crlf-glob --args -

This works because the built-in command echo does not expand its arguments, and the --args - option makes it read further command arguments from Fossil's standard input, which is connected to the output of echo by the pipe. (- is a common Unix convention meaning "standard input.")

Another (usually) correct approach is:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob *,

This works because the trailing comma prevents the command shell from matching any files, unless you happen to have files named with a trailing comma in the current directory. If the pattern matches no files, it is passed into Fossil's main() function as-is by the C runtime system. Since Fossil uses commas to separate multiple glob patterns, this means "all files at the root of the Fossil checkout directory and nothing else."

Converting .gitignore to ignore-glob

Many other version control systems handle the specific case of ignoring certain files differently from fossil: they have you create individual "ignore" files in each folder, which specify things ignored in that folder and below. Usually some form of glob patterns are used in those files, but the details differ from fossil.

In many simple cases, you can just store a top level "ignore" file in .fossil-settings/ignore-glob. But as usual, there will be lots of edge cases.

Git has a rich collection of ignore files which accumulate rules that affect the current command. There are global files, per-user files, per workspace unmanaged files, and fully version controlled files. Some of the files used have no set name, but are called out in configuration files.

In contrast, fossil has a global setting and a local setting, but the local setting overrides the global rather than extending it. Similarly, a fossil command's --ignore option replaces the ignore-glob setting rather than extending it.

With that in mind, translating a .gitignore file into .fossil-settings/ignore-glob may be possible in many cases. Here are some of features of .gitignore and comments on how they relate to fossil:


In a project with source and documentation:

  +-- doc
  +-- src

The file doc/.gitignore might contain:

# Finished documents by pandoc via LaTeX
# Intermediate files

Entries in .fossil-settings/ignore-glob with similar effect, also limited to the doc folder:

doc/*.tex, doc/*.toc, doc/*.log, doc/*.out, doc/*.tmp

Implementation and References

Most of the implementation of glob pattern handling in fossil is found glob.c, file.c, and each individual command and web page that uses a glob pattern. Find commands and pages in the fossil sources by looking for comments like COMMAND: add or WEBPAGE: timeline in front of the function that implements the command or page in files src/*.c. (Fossil's build system creates the tables used to dispatch commands at build time by searching the sources for those comments.) A few starting points:

File Description
src/glob.c Implementation of glob pattern list loading, parsing, and matching.
src/file.c Implementation of various kinds of canonical names of a file.

The actual pattern matching is implemented in SQL, so the documentation for GLOB and the other string matching operators in SQLite is useful. Of course, the SQLite source code and test harnesses also make entertaining reading.