Git vs. SVN: Which version control system is right for you?

Version control systems are integral to building software. They combine your repository of project files with a history of all your code changes, making it easy to edit and understand your code over time.

The main benefit of using a version control system is that it keeps your team’s workflows organized as they work through various types of releases. With one in place, team members can easily research, track, and undo code. They can work on the same code simultaneously without code conflicts. And they track who made what changes when and why.

But before you implement one into your team’s workflow, you need to figure out which version control system is right for you. While most options out there have similar benefits, their differences are important.

Git vs. SVN version control systems

With all version control systems, project files sit on a server where you push your files to when you have completed your work on your local machine. However, deciding whether to use a centralized version control system (like SVN) or a distributed version control system (like Git) will affect how you commit changes.

Remember, not all version control systems fit all teams and all needs. A method that works perfectly for one company may be entirely wrong for your team. To determine which system to use, you need to look at how each system works.

SVN

Also known as Subversion, SVN represents the most popular centralized version control system on the market. With a centralized system, all files and historical data are stored on a central server. And developers commit their changes directly to that central server repository.

Work is comprised of three parts:

  1. Trunk: The trunk is the hub of your current, stable code and product. It only includes tested, unbroken code.
  2. Branches: Here is where you house new code and features. Using a copy of the trunk code, team members conduct research and development in the branch. Doing so allows each team member to work on the enhanced features without disrupting each other’s progress.
  3. Tags: Consider tags a duplicate of a branch at a given point in time. Tags aren’t used during development, but rather during deployment after the branch’s code is finished. Marking your code with tags make it easy to review and, if necessary, revert your code.

Here’s how this process looks: to create a new feature you first branch the code from the trunk, i.e. take an exact copy of the trunk and place it into a new folder within the branches area. Then you work on your feature. When you’re done, you merge your changes back into the trunk.

The benefit of branching is the ability to make commits into the branch without breaking the trunk. You only merge into the trunk when your code is error-free. This keeps your trunk stable. And users generally appreciate how easy it is to use and understand SVN.

However, working on one central server means there is a single point of failure. If there is an error, it can destroy all builds. Limited offline access is also a frequent point of complaint.

Git

While centralized systems were the version control system of choice for nearly a decade, Git has surpassed them in recent years.

Version control system popularity

Source

Unlike SVN, Git utilizes multiple repositories: a central repository and a series of local repositories. Local repositories are exact copies of the central repository complete with the entire history of changes.

The Git workflow is similar to SVN, but with an extra step: to create a new feature, you take an exact copy of the central repository to create your local repository on your local machine (you can think of this as your “local trunk”). Then you work on your local repository exactly as you would in SVN by creating new branches, tags, etc. When you’re done, you merge your branches into your local repository (i.e. local trunk). When you’re ready to merge into the central repository, you push your changes from your local repository to the central repository.

Many people prefer Git for version control for a few reasons:

  1. It’s faster to commit. Because you commit to the central repository more often in SVN, network traffic slows everyone down. Whereas with Git, you’re working mostly on your local repository and only committing to the central repository every so often.
  2. No more single point of failure. With SVN, if the central repository goes down or some code breaks the build then no other developers can commit their code until the repository is fixed. With Git, each developer has the own repository, so it doesn’t matter if the central repository is broken. Developers can continue to commit code locally until the central repository has been fixed, and then they can push their changes.
  3. It’s available offline. Unlike SVN, Git can work offline, allowing your team to continue working without losing features if they lose connection.

Teams also opt for Git is open source and cross-platform, so support is available for all platforms, multiple sets of technologies, languages, and frameworks. And it’s supported by virtually all operating systems.

There is one con teams find frustrating: the ever-growing complexing of history logs. Because developers take extra steps when merging, history logs of each issue can become dense and difficult to decipher. This can potentially make analyzing your system harder.

In conclusion

Whether your team uses Git or SVN, you’ll benefit from being able to track and review your code for better releases. Just be sure to choose an issue tracking software that supports your choice, so you’re able to properly track that work over time.

If you’re in the market for issue tracking software, Backlog integrates fully with Git and SVN, providing your team the ability to set up private repositories, propose and compare code changes, leave in-line comments on code, and document your work with wikis. You can try it yourself with our 30-day free trial; no credit card required.

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