ID Numbers

Taskwarrior assigns ID numbers to tasks. The ID number is actually a simple line count of the entries in the file. When a task is completed or deleted, it is moved to the file, and loses the ID. All tasks, pending or otherwise, have a UUID, and are always addressable by UUID.

By keeping the tasks in two separate files, average performance is improved. This works because most of the commands and reports are based on only the pending tasks, which are in the file. This file tends to stabilize at a constant size, regardless of the amount of work you are getting done [1]. The file, on the other hand, grows unbounded. This means that some reports, such as the completed or all report will run slower over time because there is more data to read and display.

One nice side effect of this mechanism is that the ID numbers of pending tasks remain small, and less prone to error during data entry.

One downside is that ID numbers change occasionally, although in a predictable way.

Garbage Collection

When a task is marked as deleted, it gets a new status, and an end attribute, among other things. The task is written back into the file, but it doesn't belong there - it belongs in the file. There is an operation called Garbage Collection (gc) that is automatically run by taskwarrior to move tasks into the correct files. When moving tasks between the files, ID numbers are affected, because they are simply line numbers in the file.

But gc is only run occasionally: it is run immediately before any command that displays ID numbers, such as a report, but not when a task is modified in any way. The reason is concerned with general usage. Here is a typical taskwarrior usage scenario for a few commands:

$ task list
$ task 34 done
$ task 45 modify priority:H
$ task 56 delete
$ task list

The first command shows a report that contains ID numbers. The next three commands use the ID numbers shown in the report. The last command shows ID numbers again. Clearly, while the middle three commands are being run, it would be a mistake to renumber any tasks. When the last command is run, new ID numbers are shown, and any subsequent commands would use those. This is why only commands that display ID numbers perform a gc first.


The gc configuration setting may be set to 'off' to disable the gc operation. This has the effect of letting data accumulate in the file, and effectively making the ID numbers static. This slows down almost every command. Disabling gc should be used on a per-command basis, if at all, in this way:

$ task rc.gc=off list

The setting can be made permanent, but this is not recommended.

[1] Based on more than 7 years of monitored usage.