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Every object in the Editor has a distinct GlobalObjectId. This is (effectively) the identifier Unity uses to hold references to other objects. It is guaranteed to be unique and stable between editor sessions.
GlobalObjectIds are not available at runtime. However, they are available in Play Mode in the editor. If you use these in play mode, keep in mind the notes on prefabs below.
All notes below only apply to running the game in Play mode in the Editor.
When a scene is loaded in play mode, prefabs are unpacked 1) into standard game-objects. These gameobjects have a different GID than the original prefab. However the GID of the unpacked GameObjects is *still* unique and stable!
For example. You may have a prefab in the scene with GID:
after unpacking (either by scene load or using PrefabUtility), it will generate a GameObject with GID:
Note how the zero at the end of the second GID implies the object is no longer a prefab, which is correct. I call these two GlobalObjectIds the 'Prefab GlobalObjectId' and the 'Unpacked GlobalObjectId'.
You can convert between the two using the following formula:2)
(prefabGid.targetObjectId ^ prefabGid.targetPrefabId) & 0x7fffffffffffffff
GlobalObjectId.GlobalObjectIdentifiersToObjectsSlow with a GlobalObjectId that was assigned to a now-deleted object, the Object returned will sometimes be a valid, arbitrary Object in the project, rather than the correct value of
This seems to be a bug. The correct result should have been
null, because that GID was deleted.
I have had some luck [dark magic] querying these 'bad' GIDs individually with
GlobalObjectIdentifierToObjectSlow. This seems to properly return null in certain cases. This does not cure all cases, however3).
Update: This is fixed in 2021.1 bug tracker.