Managing the source code is one of the key factors in any development environment. Version control systems or VCS came into prominence to offer an effective solution to the code management needs while facilitating a version-controlled multi-user environment. With the growing popularity of practices like Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and Configurations as Code (CaC), the capabilities of version control systems have surpassed simply managing the application code to cover other areas of the software development life cycle.
Git and Apache Subversion (SVN) are the two leading VCS available these days. However, their approaches to version control are entirely different. In this post, let’s explore Git vs SVN, the main differences between these two version control systems.
The primary difference between Git vs SVN is their approach to code management. Git has a distributed architecture, while SVN is centralized. Both are enterprise-grade version control systems, with Git positioned as more of a source code management (SCM) tool while SVN acts more as a revision control system.
Any Git installation can act as both the server and the client. Each user will have a local copy of the repository with its full version history. It eliminates the need to constantly connect with the server while allowing local changes with faster VCS operations that can be pushed to the server later. This approach offers more flexibility in how you implement the VCS functionality and more freedom within development environments.
On the other hand, SVN requires a separate client and server with only the files a developer is working on are kept as a local copy. It requires constant communication with the server checking out files, and committing back to the server. This approach helps store large binary files in SVN as they will not be copied to every developer environment.
Storage requirements for each platform will be similar when only considering the source code. However, SVN offers a clear advantage over Git if there’s a need to store larger files.
This is where the flexibility of Git shines. SVN is based on a directory structure, and branches are created as directories inside the repository. When development is done, the changes are committed to the trunk. However, when multiple developers work in the same trunk, there can be changes that are not reflected in the branches of other developers. This situation leads to merging conflicts, missing files, etc., requiring a complex branching and merging model.
Git branches are only references to a specific commit, and branches can be created, edited, or deleted anytime without affecting the underlying commit. Thus, developers can easily create and merge branches or delete them to keep the overall repository clean. This flexibility also enables different branching strategies and reduces the overall complexity of branching.
Support and Community
Git has become the industry standard due to its more flexible approach to version control and robust feature set. It has also led to Git being natively supported in many platforms and becoming the default version control mechanism for many source control platforms. This extensive support helps to offer a comparatively convenient user experience when incorporating Git into third-party tools or platforms like CI/CD, with many support options to set up or troubleshoot Git.
Additionally, with a highly active global community contributing to the improvement of Git, there are a plethora of resources to gain knowledge about Git. If you encounter an error, the solution will be just a few keystrokes away from your favorite search engine. You can also find excellent articles like this on fixing the fatal: refusing to merge unrelated histories error.
In contrast, SVN has a comparatively smaller community with limited commercial support options. It also means that there will be fewer tools and platforms supporting SVN. However, it does not imply there is no way to gain support for SVN. There are thriving SVN providers with small yet supportive SVN communities, while they will not be as ubiquitous as Git.
Ease of Use
This is a point of contention between most developers where each one insists that their preferred VCS is the easiest tool. However, the consensus is that SVN is comparatively easier to get started with than Git. Both use CLI as the primary method of interacting with their repositories.
The steeper learning curve of Git can be attributed to the complexity of the platform. Yet, this complexity is also one of the strengths as it enables Git to offer more granular control and flexibility as a VCS.
Conclusion on Git vs SVN
Both Git and Apache Subversion are competent version control systems with their own strengths and weaknesses. The popularity of Git has made it the industry standard and the default VSC for most developments. Moreover, the flexibility and the feature set offered by Git make it an ideal platform to integrate with practices like Agile and DevOps. While Git is undoubtedly the leading platform, SVN should not be discarded without proper consideration. Features of SVN like the ability to handle large files and path-based user permissions can be crucial in your development environments.