How to get help

All DataLad errors or problems you encounter during DataLad-101 are intentional and serve illustrative purposes. But what if you run into any DataLad errors outside of this course? Fortunately, the syllabus has a whole section on that, and on one lazy, warm summer-afternoon you flip through it.


You realize that you already know the most important things: The number one advice on how to get help is “Read the error message.”. The second advice it “I’m not kidding: Read the error message. The third advice, finally, says “Honestly, read the f***ing error message.

Help yourself

If you run into a DataLad problem and you have followed the three steps above, but the error message does not give you a clue on how to proceed, the first you should do is

  1. find out which version of DataLad you use

  2. read the help page of the command that failed

The first step is important in order to find out whether a command failed due to using a wrong DataLad version. In order to use this book and follow along, your DataLad version should be datalad-0.12 or higher, for example.

To find out which version you are using, run

$ datalad --version
datalad 0.12.0rc6.dev186

If you want a comprehensive overview of your full setup, datalad wtf1 is the command to turn to (datalad-wtf manual). Running this command will generate a report about the DataLad installation and configuration. The output below shows an excerpt.

$ datalad wtf
## configuration <SENSITIVE, report disabled by configuration>
## datalad 
  - version: 0.12.0rc6.dev186
  - full_version: 0.12.0rc6.dev186-g9aa12
## dataset 
  - path: /home/me/dl-101/DataLad-101
  - repo: AnnexRepo
  - id: 71f03bec-32ac-11ea-b7a4-e86a64c8054c
  - metadata: <SENSITIVE, report disabled by configuration>
## dependencies 
  - cmd:git: 2.20.1
  - tqdm: 4.32.2
  - cmd:annex: 7.20190819+git2-g908476a9b-1~ndall+1
  - cmd:bundled-git: 2.20.1
  - cmd:system-git: 2.24.0
  - cmd:system-ssh: 7.9p1
  - appdirs: 1.4.3
  - boto: 2.49.0

This lengthy output will report all information that might be relevant – from DataLad to git-annex or Python up to your operating system.

The second step, finding and reading the help page of the command in question, is important in order to find out how the command that failed is used. Are arguments specified correctly? Does the help list any caveats?

There are multiple ways to find help on DataLad commands. You could turn to the documentation. Alternatively, to get help right inside the terminal, run any command with the -h/--help option (also shown as an excerpt here):

$ datalad get --help
Usage: datalad get [-h] [-s LABEL] [-d PATH] [-r] [-R LEVELS] [-n]
                   [-D DESCRIPTION] [--reckless] [-J NJOBS]
                   [PATH [PATH ...]]

Get any dataset content (files/directories/subdatasets).

This command only operates on dataset content. To obtain a new independent
dataset from some source use the INSTALL command.

By default this command operates recursively within a dataset, but not
across potential subdatasets, i.e. if a directory is provided, all files in
the directory are obtained. Recursion into subdatasets is supported too. If
enabled, relevant subdatasets are detected and installed in order to
fulfill a request.

Known data locations for each requested file are evaluated and data are
obtained from some available location (according to git-annex configuration
and possibly assigned remote priorities), unless a specific source is

  Power-user info: This command uses git annex get to fulfill
  file handles.


Get a single file::

   % datalad get <path/to/file>

Get contents of a directory::

   % datalad get <path/to/dir/>

Get all contents of the current dataset and its subdatasets::

   % datalad get . --recursive

  PATH                  path/name of the requested dataset component. The
                        component must already be known to a dataset. To add
                        new components to a dataset use the ADD command.
                        Constraints: value must be a string [Default: None]

  -h, --help, --help-np
                        show this help message. --help-np forcefully disables
                        the use of a pager for displaying the help message
  -s LABEL, --source LABEL
                        label of the data source to be used to fulfill
                        requests. This can be the name of a dataset sibling or
                        another known source. Constraints: value must be a
                        string [Default: None]
  -d PATH, --dataset PATH
                        specify the dataset to perform the add operation on,
                        in which case PATH arguments are interpreted as being
                        relative to this dataset. If no dataset is given, an
                        attempt is made to identify a dataset for each input
                        PATH. Constraints: Value must be a Dataset or a valid

This for example is the help page on datalad get (the same you would find in the documentation, but in your terminal). It contains a command description, a list of all the available options with a short explanation of them, and example commands. The paragraph Options shows all optional flags, and all required parts of the command are listed in the paragraph Arguments. One first thing to check for example is whether your command call specified all of the required arguments.

Asking questions (right)

If nothing you do on your own helps to solve the problem, consider asking others. Check out neurostars and search for your problem – likely, somebody already encountered the same error before and fixed it, but if not, just ask a new question with a datalad tag.

Make sure your question is as informative as it can be for others. Include

  • context – what did you want to do and why?

  • the problem – paste the error message (all of it), and provide the steps necessary to reproduce it.

  • technical details – what version of DataLad are you using, what version of git-annex, and which git-annex repository type, what is your operating system and – if applicable – Python version? datalad wtf is your friend to find all of this information.

The “submit a question link” on DataLad’s GitHub page page prefills a neurostars form with a template for a question for a good starting point if you want to have more guidance or encounter writer’s block.

Common git-annex warnings and errors

A lot of output you will see while working with DataLad originates from git-annex. It’s outputs can be wordy and not trivial to comprehend even if everything works. This following section will list some common git-annex warnings and errors and attempts to explain them.

Upon installation of a dataset, you may see:

[INFO    ]     Remote origin not usable by git-annex; setting annex-ignore
[INFO    ]     This could be a problem with the git-annex installation on the remote. Please make sure that git-annex-shell is available in PATH when you ssh into the remote. Once you have fixed the git-annex installation, run: git annex enableremote origin

This warning lets you know that git-annex will not attempt to download content from the remote “origin”, because it is not usable. This can have many reasons, but as long as there are other remotes you can access the data from, you are fine.


Another type of warning you may encounter during installation is:

[INFO   ] Submodule HEAD got detached. Resetting branch master to point to 046713bb. Original location was 47e53498


Another one from a missing git config:

[WARNING] It is highly recommended to configure git first (set both and before using DataLad. Failed to verify that git is configured: CommandError: command '['git', 'config', '']' failed with exitcode 1
| Failed to run ['git', 'config', ''] under None. Exit code=1. out= err= []CommandError: command '['git', 'config', '']' failed with exitcode 1
| Failed to run ['git', 'config', ''] under None. Exit code=1. out= err= [].  Some operations might fail or not perform correctly.


If one does not have an SSH key configured, e.g., on a server (from remodnav paper on brainbfast):

[INFO   ] Cloning [2 other candidates] into '/home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav'
Permission denied (publickey).
[WARNING] Failed to run cmd ['ssh', '-fN', '-o', 'ControlMaster=auto', '-o', 'ControlPersist=15m', '-o', 'ControlPath="/home/homeGlobal/adina/.cache/datalad/sockets/6ca483de"', '']. Exit code=255
| stdout: None
| stderr: None
[ERROR  ] Failed to clone from any candidate source URL. Encountered errors per each url were: (OrderedDict([('', "Cmd('/usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git') failed due to: exit code(128)\n  cmdline: /usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git clone --progress -v /home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav []"), ('', "Cmd('/usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git') failed due to: exit code(128)\n  cmdline: /usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git clone --progress -v /home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav []"), ('', "Cmd('/usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git') failed due to: exit code(128)\n  cmdline: /usr/lib/git-annex.linux/git clone --progress -v /home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav []")]),) [install(/home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav)]
[ERROR  ] Installation of subdatasets /home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav failed with exception: InstallFailedError:
Failed to install dataset from any of: ['', ''] [] [install(/home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav)]
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "code/", line 811, in <module>
    savefigs(args.figure, args.stats)
  File "code/", line 410, in savefigs
  File "code/", line 274, in confusion
    load_anderson(stimtype, finame)
  File "code/", line 28, in load_anderson
  File "/home/homeGlobal/adina/env/remodnav/lib/python3.5/site-packages/datalad/interface/", line 492, in eval_func
    return return_func(generator_func)(*args, **kwargs)
  File "/home/homeGlobal/adina/env/remodnav/lib/python3.5/site-packages/datalad/interface/", line 480, in return_func
    results = list(results)
  File "/home/homeGlobal/adina/env/remodnav/lib/python3.5/site-packages/datalad/interface/", line 468, in generator_func
    msg="Command did not complete successfully") Command did not complete successfully [{'type': 'dataset', 'status': 'error', 'action': 'install', 'message': ('Installation of subdatasets %s failed with exception: %s', '/home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav', "InstallFailedError: \nFailed to install dataset from any of: ['', ''] []"), 'path': '/home/homeGlobal/adina/paper-remodnav/remodnav'}]



wtf in datalad wtf could stand for many things. “Why the Face?” “Wow, that’s fantastic!”, “What’s this for?”, “What to fix”, “What the FAQ”, “Where’s the fire?”, “Wipe the floor”, “Welcome to fun”, “Waste Treatment Facility”, “What’s this foolishness”, “What the fruitcake”, … Pick a translation of your choice and make running this command more joyful.