SVN vs Git: Which Version Control System Should You Use?
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Version Control Systems (VCS), like Git and SVN, track and manage code changes and provide an efficient way to collaborate on software development projects. A VCS is especially useful as a software development project grows in size and complexity, but even the simplest projects can benefit from tracking code changes with a VCS.
Git and SVN are two of the most popular open source VCS solutions. Git has recently skyrocketed in popularity due to its use by developers collaborating on open-source projects. SVN, on the other hand, has been more commonly used in enterprise software development projects.
This guide discusses the features and pros and cons of Git and SVN to help you choose the best VCS for your software development project.
What is the Git Version Control System?
Git is a distributed version control system. In this type of VCS, a project contributor creates a local repository that is a full clone of a central repository. With a local clone of the central repository, each contributor is able to work on the project completely offline on their own computer. When changes are ready, contributors can push and merge them with the central repository.
Git has immense support from the open-source community. It has quickly become one of the most used version control systems for software development projects.
What is SVN?
Apache Subversion (SVN), is a centralized version control system. When working with this type of VCS, all project files exist on a central repository server. The central repository has a “trunk,” which contains the current, stable version of the project. When working on new features, contributors can make “branches” from the trunk. Each branch is stored in a sub-folder on the central repository. When changes are ready, a branch can be merged into the trunk.
SVN has a long and successful history and stands as a titan in the version control world. It has widespread usage for enterprise projects, with features like granular access control that make it excel in that context.
Git vs SVN: Pros and Cons
To help you understand how these two version control solutions match up, this section walks you through the pros and cons of each.
Git Pros and Cons
Git’s pros are the following:
Operates locally. Contributors work on clones of the main repository, which they can continue to work on offline, without a network connection to the main repository. Contributors only need to connect when changes are ready to be pushed. This also helps limit network traffic to the main repository.
Avoids having a single point of failure. The repository is distributed in local copies, so there is less to worry about if a failure occurs on the main repository. The main repository can be restored from one of the local copies.
Handles merging from multiple contributors effectively. Contributors all work independently on their copies of the main repository. Git then provides a robust system for reconciling and merging each contributor’s changes. Staging is part of this, allowing contributors to focus on particular features without affecting others.
Git’s cons are the following:
Has a higher learning curve. Using Git to collaborate on a project requires that you make your changes locally, stage those changes, and merge the changes back into the main branch. This process can get complicated, especially for non-technical users.
Lacks granular access control. Git supports applying limits on a contributor’s ability to create branches and merge changes on the main repository. However, you cannot restrict access to specific parts of the repository. Anyone with access to the repository has access to everything in the repository, with local repositories being clones of the entire codebase.
Does not effectively handle storing large binary files. Git cannot compress these files effectively, meaning that the repository size can grow exponentially with each change to a large binary file.
SVN Pros and Cons
SVN’s pros are the following:
Takes an easier approach. The path between creating a new feature branch and merging it into the trunk is relatively short and intuitive to grasp. This makes SVN a tool that requires less training when getting started and can be effectively taken up by non-technical contributors.
Facilitates a top-down approach. Since everything is centralized in an SVN repository, there is a single instance of the entire repository. This allows for granular repository access control. Each contributor’s access can be limited to particular directories and files. SVN is a good choice when you need to manage security hierarchies within a repository.
Efficiently stores large binary files. Teams that need to store binary files, especially when those binary files change frequently, can do so without worrying about exponential storage increases with each change. While this is not a concern for every team, this feature can be a significant boon for some workflows and version control use cases.
SVN’s cons are the following:
Provides limited offline capabilities. Everything operates on a centralized repository using a client-server approach. When contributors are offline and unable to access the server, they essentially lose the ability to contribute. This also entails a higher level of traffic to the main repository’s server, since contributors have to access it constantly.
The centralized repository server can be a single point of failure. Since contributors do not make local copies of the entire repository, unless a backup copy is made, there is only one instance of the entire repository. If an issue occurs with the instance, such as data corruption, it can have dire repercussions on a software development project.
Advantages of Git Over SVN
The ability to work locally and offline is one major advantage to Git. SVN requires contributors to be connected to the main repository server, which essentially eliminates working offline.
Git also outperforms SVN when it comes to merging and conflict resolution. Git has been designed for an open-source setting where numerous contributors may be working on the same parts of a codebase. To allow for this type of collaboration, Git has built up a robust system for resolving merge conflicts that makes the process smoother, and more manageable.
Git’s distributed model of version control helps mitigate the potential for loss of the main repository. Since contributors clone the main repository, the risk of completely losing your main repository is greatly reduced. On the other hand, SVN’s centralized model of version control creates the potential for a single point of failure should anything happen to the main repository.
Advantages of SVN Over Git
SVN’s centralized repository model makes it easier to manage contributions and contributors. Git does not support codebase access restrictions — a contributor who has access to the repository has access to the entire repository. SVN, by contrast, provides granular control, allowing for limits on particular contributors down to the directory, and file levels.
SVN also makes contributing easier. Git has robust conflict handling, but its system can often be daunting for newcomers. SVN’s system is more approachable, because the path between creating a new feature and merging it into the trunk is shorter and simpler.
SVN wins out on some performance considerations. It handles network traffic exceptionally well. So, while contributors may have to be connected to the server to complete work, the network load for this is managed efficiently. Also, SVN compresses and stores large binaries quite efficiently. If your project includes large binary files, you might consider using SVN.
Which Should You Use?
Each of the version control systems covered here — SVN and Git — has its particular strengths and weaknesses. Each one fits different use cases better than the other, and neither one wins out over the other one outright.
Use SVN when you need a VCS that favors top-down management, easy contributions, and does not require you to work entirely offline. SVN often comes out on top for enterprise usage specifically for its granular access control, and it is the clear choice if you need to set up security hierarchies.
To get started with SVN, be sure to read through our guide How to Install and Use the Subversion CLI Client.
Use Git when you need numerous contributors to work in parallel, where you expect lots of potential merge conflicts, and when you need contributors to be able to work locally offline. Because it handles merge conflicts, Git makes sense for most open-source projects, where contributors often work without external coordination. Git shines in a wide range of environments with complex codebases and distributed teams.
To learn more and start working with Git, check out our guide Getting Started with Git.
SVN and Git are both powerful version control systems that each use a different approach to managing and merging code changes. Git uses a distributed model, whereas SVN uses a centralized model. Which VCS that you choose largely depends on your software development project’s requirements. After reading this guide, you should be able to select the best version control system for your needs.
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