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Desktop Trampoline

A cross-platform no-dependency C executable trampoline which lets GitHub Desktop intercede in order to provide Git with any additional info it needs (like credentials through GIT_ASKPASS or SSH_ASKPASS).

The intention is to support the same platforms that Electron supports.


This project is written as a Node project with the C-portions being compiled by node-gyp. Installing dependencies and building requires Node.js, and yarn. With those prerequisites the initial setup should be as easy as running yarn and subsequent builds can be done using yarn build. There are some tests available by running yarn test.


When doing any Git operation that requires authentication in Desktop, the application needs a way to provide those credentials to Git. There are several options available:

  • rely on the user's credential.helper config setting
  • implement our own credential storage that supports the full credential surface
  • implement a program that handles the Git AskPass protocol

The first option is unsatisfactory because it can be challenging to setup correctly, or may be changed under us.

The second option is excessive - the account details are already managed in GitHub Desktop, and we only need to provide the credentials to Git when required.

The third option is what we have currently settled on. An added benefit of this is it can be configured to ignore any fallback options when authenticating - reducing the potential for problems integrating with an existing Git setup.

What's a Trampoline?

There are many different descriptions for "trampoline" in computing but in this situation the trampoline is a component to pass inputs and outputs between programs that are otherwise challenging to integrate.

On one side, we have Git, which has a number of ways it can authenticate the user against a HTTPS remote.

On the other side, we have GitHub Desktop - an Electron app that is primarily running as a GUI. Electron also supports environment variables that allow us to run it like a command-line program.

To set an AskPass program for Git, we set the GIT_ASKPASS environment variable to our executable on disk. This is done by Desktop whenever it needs to spawn a Git operation that might require authentication.

The equivalent Bash shell code looks like this:

  # environment variable
  GIT_ASKPASS="C:/some/path/to/desktop-trampoline.exe" \
  # ensure Git doesn't block the process waiting for the user to provide input
  git \
  # unset the credential.helper defined in config
  -c credential.helper= \

Desktop also sets these environment variables when spawning Git, as it's the only way to pass information down to the authentication process:

  • DESKTOP_USERNAME - the account associated with the current repository
  • DESKTOP_ENDPOINT - the endpoint associated with the account

With this trampoline, all this info can be passed from GitHub Desktop to Git, and then back to GitHub Desktop via a TCP socket when Git requires us the user credentials, so Desktop can act based on that username and endpoint.

Why Need An Executable?

This was originally written as a batch file, which looked like this:

@echo off




While this is much more succinct than this C version, it has some technical limitations that we cannot work around:

  • batch files on Windows are launched using cmd /c {path} and there are a number of known limitations with Unicode characters in file paths
  • the Golang runtime - which Git LFS is built upon - also has problems launching batch files with spaces - golang/go#17149

Because some of our Desktop users don't have control over the account name on their machine - think students on a machine managed by their university IT staff, for example. We need to support these users in Desktop.

There are also some things missing from this script that are not easy to implement in batch files, such as adding logging to help diagnose environmental issues.

Thankfully if you set an executable for your GIT_ASKPASS environment variable, it avoids all these problems as Windows can just execute the program.

Why Need A TCP Server?

The main reason for using a TCP server is that it provides a generic and very powerful mechanism for GitHub Desktop to interoperate with Git and handle any other protocol Git would require in order to supply any kind of info.

Thanks to this, with only one generic trampoline that forwards everything via that TCP socket, the implementation for every possible protocol like GIT_ASKPASS can live within the GitHub Desktop codebase instead of having multiple trampoline executables.

SSH Wrapper

Along with the trampoline, an SSH wrapper is provided for macOS. The reason for this is macOS before Monterey include an "old" version of OpenSSH that will ignore the SSH_ASKPASS variable unless it's unable to write to a tty.

This SSH wrapper achieves exactly that: just runs whatever ssh exists in the path in a way that will use SSH_ASKPASS when necessary.

More recent versions of OpenSSH (starting with 8.3) don't require this wrapper, since they added support for a new SSH_ASKPASS_REQUIRE environment variable.


Package last updated on 12 Jul 2024

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