CVC Guide

Conservator Version Control is a way of downloading and manipulating datasets from Conservator. A CLI used to be distributed as a separate file within every dataset. It is now included in Conservator CLI.

For a list of commands, open a terminal and run:

$ conservator cvc --help

Don’t worry if that command looks too long. Conservator CLI adds a shortcut command for all things CVC:

$ cvc --help

If you don’t have the conservator or cvc command, please install the Conservator CLI library by following the Installation guide.


The following operations are supported via CVC:

  • Add frames (JPEG files only)

  • Delete frames

  • Add annotations

  • Add/edit custom dataset/frame metadata

  • Adding, removing, or changing associated files

The --help option only provides subcommands and options for the command it immediately follows. To get the options of a subcommand, you must explicitly type it. For example: cvc upload --help.


The basic workflow to clone and download a dataset:

$ cvc clone DATASET_ID   # clones the dataset repo into a subdirectory
$ cd "DATASET NAME/"     # the dataset is cloned into a directory with the same name,
                         # in the current working directory
$ cvc download           # download media

Now, you can make modifications to index.json or associated_files. In addition to modifying existing associated files, you can add one or more new associated files by copying them into the associated_files subdirectory. Then, publish your changes:

$ cvc publish "Your commit message here"

If you need to pull remote changes:

$ cvc pull

Note that an updated index.json file may reference new frames that will have to be downloaded (using cvc download).

Using CVC without configuration

If you want to use CVC without creating a configuration, you can provide the Conservator instance URL and your API key on the command like, like so:

$ cvc clone DATASET_ID --url <CONSERVATOR_URL> --api-key <API_KEY>
$ cvc --url <CONSERVATOR_URL> --api-key <API_KEY> download

Note that, when cloning a dataset, the URL and API key must be provided after the dataset id; for all other operations, they must be before any other parameters, including the command name.

index.json vs JSONL Files

Cloning a dataset using cvc will create four files that contain the dataset’s metadata:

  • index.json - Contains all dataset metadata, including details on the dataset itself, details on the dataset’s frames, and details on which videos were used to create the dataset.

  • dataset.jsonl - Contains dataset metadata - e.g. name, any tags applied to the dataset, dataset owner, etc.

  • videos.jsonl - Contains details of the videos used to create the dataset.

  • frames.jsonl - Contains details of the dataset’s frames, including annotations and attributes

In most cases, if you wish to make changes to your dataset locally and manage those changes via cvc, you can do that by editing index.json. Some datasets, howvever, are too large to manage via index.json, in which case the index.json file will only contain an error message. Such datasets can be managed and updated using JSONL files.

JSONL is very similar to plain JSON; the main difference being that while a JSON file represents a single JSON object, a JSONL file contains multiple valid JSON objects - one per line. It is therefore very important, when updating a dataset by editing JSONL, to ensure that you do not add any additional linebreaks.


  • If your dataset does not have JSONL files, committing it via the Conservator UI will generate those files, and they will be available the next time you clone or pull the dataset.

  • Any changes pushed to a dataset via cvc will be reflected in both index.json and the relevant JSONL file after the dataset has been pulled.

  • If you try to commit and push changes to both index.json and one of the JSONL files at the same time, it will fail. You cannot push changes to index.json and one of the JSONL files at the same time.

Adding Frames

You can stage new frames to be uploaded to a dataset using the stage-image command:

$ cvc stage-image path/to/some/file.jpg ../some/other/path.jpg etc.jpg
$ cvc stage-image ./someimages/*.jpg

This can be reverted using the unstage-image command:

$ cvc unstage-image path/to/some/file.jpg ../some/other/path.jpg etc.jpg

To upload the images, use the upload-images command:

$ cvc upload-images

This will upload the images to Conservator, and add frame data to your local index.json or frames.jsonl file. You can edit that data (to add e.g. tags, location, etc.) before committing and pushing it; or, you can upload your images, commit the changes to index.json or frames.jsonl, and push them to Conservator in a single step using the publish command:

$ cvc publish "Uploaded new frames"

This will upload the frames to conservator, and also add them to frames.jsonl. Then, it will commit and push the changes to frames.jsonl


Uploading will also copy staged images alongside other downloaded dataset frames into the data/ folder. Use the --skip-copy option to not copy frames. Do not move images manually into the dataset folder, or the data folder. Also note that, after adding frames, the new frame data will be reflected in both frames.jsonl and index.json.

Additional Reference

For information on any command, use the --help option after the command. For example:

$ cvc download --help

You can use the --log option before any command to set the log-level. For example, to see debug prints while uploading some frames:

$ cvc --log DEBUG upload

By default, CVC operates in the current working directory. However, you can add -p or --path to work in a different directory:

$ cvc --path "/home/datasets/some other dataset" pull

A local dataset directory must contain an index.json file to be considered valid.

Datasets are downloaded as git repositories. Many cvc commands simply wrap git commands. Unfortunately, not many features of git are supported by Conservator (such as branching). For that reason, please avoid using raw git commands, and prefer using cvc for everything. There are also plans to transition away from git, so getting used to using cvc now will make that transition easier later.

Global Cache

By default, Conservator-CLI uses .cvc/cache to store downloaded frames. In some cases, it can be useful to use a single cache shared across many dataset downloads. Duplicate frames will not be downloaded twice. To use a global cache, set the CVC Cache Path to an absolute path. This can be done when initially configuring Conservator, or by editing your config:

$ conservator config edit

Be careful, using a global config makes it difficult to clean up downloaded frames from a single dataset.


Clone a Dataset from a known ID:

$ cvc clone DATASET_ID

By default, this will clone the dataset into subdirectory of the current directory, with the name of the dataset. To clone somewhere else, use the --path option:

$ cvc clone DATASET_ID --path where/to/clone/

This directory should be empty.

If you want to checkout a specific commit after cloning, you can include the --checkout option:

$ cvc clone DATASET_ID --checkout COMMIT_HASH

You can then use cvc checkout HEAD to return to the most recent commit.

Clone Timeout Workaround

For larger datasets, you may experience timeouts when trying to clone a dataset. While Conservator continues to optimize datasets, there is a workaround for some use cases. Datasets downloaded in this fashion will not have version control and therefore will not support push and pull commands. But it can be useful for downloading frames and annotation data.

First, create a directory to hold your dataset, and enter it:

$ mkdir my_dataset
$ cd my_dataset

Then, download the dataset’s latest index.json file:

$ conservator datasets download-index <dataset id>

The download may take some time (and a few attempts), but should be successful far more often than a full clone.

There are some limitations with datasets cloned with this method, as they are not full git repositories. In general, the only command that will work without error is cvc download.

Downloading Frames

Download all frames from index.json:

$ cvc download

Frames will be downloaded to the data/ directory within the dataset.

You can also include raw image data:

$ cvc download -r


$ cvc download --include-raw

This will download raw tiff images to rawData/, if they exist for the dataset.

By default, CVC performs 10 downloads in parallel at a time. For faster connections, you can increase this number by using the --pool-size option (-p for short); for example:

$ cvc download --pool-size 50  # download 50 frames at a time

When using a global cache, it may be necessary to run the download command using the -s | --symlink flag which will create a symlink versus a hard link in the data/ directory of the cloned dataset (i.e. if the cache is on a different volume).

$ cvc download -s

Commit History

Show log of commits:

$ cvc log

You can use cvc checkout to view files at a specific commit, or cvc show to see more info about a specific commit.

Checking out a Commit

Checkout a commit hash:

$ cvc checkout COMMIT_HASH

You can also use relative commit references. For example, to reset to the most recent commit (such as when you want to return after checking out some other commit):

$ cvc checkout "HEAD"


Checking out a commit is a destructive action. Any local changes will be overwritten.

Commit Info

Shows information on the most recent commit:

$ cvc show

You can also view a specific commit by passing its hash:

$ cvc show COMMIT_HASH


Print staged images and changed files:

$ cvc status

Use cvc publish to send these changes to Conservator.

Current Changes

Show changes in index.json and associated_files since last commit:

$ cvc diff

Staging New Images

Stage images for uploading:

$ cvc stage-image some/path/to/a.jpg

All files must be valid JPEG images. You can specify as many paths as you want, including path wildcards. These images can be uploaded using the cvc upload-images or cvc publish commands.

Images can be un-staged using the unstage-images command:

$ cvc unstage-image some/path/to/a.jpg

Uploading and Adding Staged Images

Upload any staged images, and add them to frames.jsonl:

$ cvc upload-images

By default, the staged images will also be copied to the local dataset’s data/ directory. This way, you don’t need to re-download the frames. To disable the copy, use the --skip-copy option.

Validating Changes

The index.json file in any dataset should match the format expected by conservator. This format is defined by a JSON schema, and you can validate locally:

$ cvc validate

This command is also run (and required to pass) before adding or committing new changes.

Making a Commit

Commit changes to index.json and associated_files with the given commit message:

$ cvc commit "Your commit message here"

This runs cvc validate and only commits if the current index.json is valid.

Push Local Commits

Push your local commits to Conservator:

$ cvc push

Publish: Upload, Commit, Push

A frequent usage pattern is to upload frames, commit changes to index.json, and push. All three steps can be done with a single command:

$ cvc publish "Your commit message"

If you don’t have any images staged, the upload process will be skipped. So this is also a suitable replacement for commit, push. Any modifications or additions to associated files will also be included in the commit.

Pull Local Commits

Pull the latest commits, assuming there are no local changes:

$ cvc pull

This will update index.json and the associated_files directory.

This won’t download new frames that were added to index.json. You must run cvc download again to get these new frames.