[svn] Why is Git better than Subversion?

I've been using Subversion for a few years and after using SourceSafe, I just love Subversion. Combined with TortoiseSVN, I can't really imagine how it could be any better.

Yet there's a growing number of developers claiming that Subversion has problems and that we should be moving to the new breed of distributed version control systems, such as Git.

How does Git improve upon Subversion?

This question is related to svn git

The answer is

This is the wrong question to be asking. It's all too easy to focus on git's warts and formulate an argument about why subversion is ostensibly better, at least for some use cases. The fact that git was originally designed as a low-level version control construction set and has a baroque linux-developer-oriented interface makes it easier for the holy wars to gain traction and perceived legitimacy. Git proponents bang the drum with millions of workflow advantages, which svn guys proclaim unnecessary. Pretty soon the whole debate is framed as centralized vs distributed, which serves the interests of the enterprise svn tool community. These companies, which typically put out the most convincing articles about subversion's superiority in the enterprise, are dependent on the perceived insecurity of git and the enterprise-readiness of svn for the long-term success of their products.

But here's the problem: Subversion is an architectural dead-end.

Whereas you can take git and build a centralized subversion replacement quite easily, despite being around for more than twice as long svn has never been able to get even basic merge-tracking working anywhere near as well as it does in git. One basic reason for this is the design decision to make branches the same as directories. I don't know why they went this way originally, it certainly makes partial checkouts very simple. Unfortunately it also makes it impossible to track history properly. Now obviously you are supposed to use subversion repository layout conventions to separate branches from regular directories, and svn uses some heuristics to make things work for the daily use cases. But all this is just papering over a very poor and limiting low-level design decision. Being able to a do a repository-wise diff (rather than directory-wise diff) is basic and critical functionality for a version control system, and greatly simplifies the internals, making it possible to build smarter and useful features on top of it. You can see in the amount of effort that has been put into extending subversion, and yet how far behind it is from the current crop of modern VCSes in terms of fundamental operations like merge resolution.

Now here's my heart-felt and agnostic advice for anyone who still believes Subversion is good enough for the foreseeable future:

Subversion will never catch up to the newer breeds of VCSes that have learned from the mistakes of RCS and CVS; it is a technical impossibility unless they retool the repository model from the ground up, but then it wouldn't really be svn would it? Regardless of how much you think you don't the capabilities of a modern VCS, your ignorance will not protect you from the Subversion's pitfalls, many of which are situations that are impossible or easily resolved in other systems.

It is extremely rare that the technical inferiority of a solution is so clear-cut as it is with svn, certainly I would never state such an opinion about win-vs-linux or emacs-vs-vi, but in this case it is so clearcut, and source control is such a fundamental tool in the developer's arsenal, that I feel it must be stated unequivocally. Regardless of the requirement to use svn for organizational reasons, I implore all svn users not to let their logical mind construct a false belief that more modern VCSes are only useful for large open-source projects. Regardless of the nature of your development work, if you are a programmer, you will be a more effective programmer if you learn how to use better-designed VCSes, whether it be Git, Mercurial, Darcs, or many others.

Well, it's distributed. Benchmarks indicate that it's considerably faster (given its distributed nature, operations like diffs and logs are all local so of course it's blazingly faster in this case), and working folders are smaller (which still blows my mind).

When you're working on subversion, or any other client/server revision control system, you essentially create working copies on your machine by checking-out revisions. This represents a snapshot in time of what the repository looks like. You update your working copy via updates, and you update the repository via commits.

With a distributed version control, you don't have a snapshot, but rather the entire codebase. Wanna do a diff with a 3 month old version? No problem, the 3 month old version is still on your computer. This doesn't only mean things are way faster, but if you're disconnected from your central server, you can still do many of the operations you're used to. In other words, you don't just have a snapshot of a given revision, but the entire codebase.

You'd think that Git would take up a bunch of space on your harddrive, but from a couple benchmarks I've seen, it actually takes less. Don't ask me how. I mean, it was built by Linus, he knows a thing or two about filesystems I guess.

Git also makes branching and merging really easy. Subversion 1.5 just added merge tracking, but Git is still better. With Git branching is very fast and cheap. It makes creating a branch for each new feature more feasible. Oh and Git repositories are very efficient with storage space as compared to Subversion.


I think it's fairly safe to say that amongst developers, the SVN Vs. Git argument has been raging for some time now, with everyone having their own view on which is better. This was even brought up in the of the questions during our Webinar on Subversion in 2010 and Beyond.

Hyrum Wright, our Director of Open Source and the President for the Subversion Corporation talks about the differences between Subversion and Git, along with other Distributed Version Control Systems (DVCS).

He also talks about the upcoming changes in Subversion, such as Working Copy Next Generation (WC-NG), which he believes will cause a number of Git users to convert back to Subversion.

Have a watch of his video and let us know what you think by either commenting on this blog, or by posting in our forums. Registration is simple and will only take a moment!

Eric Sink from SourceGear wrote series of articles on differences between distributed and nondistributed version controls systems. He compares pros and cons of most popular version control systems. Very interesting reading.
Articles can be found on his blog, www.ericsink.com:

Subversion is very easy to use. I have never found in the last years a problem or that something doesn't work as expected. Also there are many excellent GUI tools and the support for SVN integration is big.

With Git you get a more flexible VCS. You can use it the same way like SVN with a remote repository where you commit all changes. But you can also use it mostly offline and only push the changes from time to time to the remote repository. But Git is more complex and has a steeper learning curve. I found myself in the first time committing to wrong branches, creating branches indirectly or get error messages with not much informations about the mistake and where I must search with Google to get better informations. Some easy things like substitution of markers ($Id$) doesn't work but GIT has a very flexible filtering and hook mechanism to merge own scripts and so you get all things you need and more but it needs more time and reading of the documentation ;)

If you work mostly offline with your local repository you have no backup if something is lost on your local machine. With SVN you are mostly working with a remote repository which is also the same time your backup on another server... Git can work in the same way but this was not the main goal of Linus to have something like SVN2. It was designed for the Linux kernel developers and the needs of a distributed version control system.

Is Git better then SVN? Developers which needs only some version history and a backup mechanism have a good and easy life with SVN. Developers working often with branches, testing more versions at the same time or working mostly offline can benefit from the features of Git. There are some very useful features like stashing not found with SVN which can make the life easier. But on the other side not all people will need all features. So I cannot see the dead of SVN.

Git needs some better documentation and the error reporting must be more helpful. Also the existing useful GUIs are only rarely. This time I have only found 1 GUI for Linux with support of most Git features (git-cola). Eclipse integration is working but its not official released and there is no official update site (only some external update site with periodical builds from the trunk http://www.jgit.org/updates) So the most preferred way to use Git this days is the command line.

I like Git because it actually helps communication developer to developer on a medium to large team. As a distributed version control system, through its push/pull system, it helps developers to create a source code eco-system which helps to manage a large pool of developers working on a single project.

For example say you trust 5 developers and only pull codes from their repository. Each of those developers has their own trust network from where they pull codes. Thus the development is based on that trust fabric of developers where code responsibility is shared among the development community.

Of course there are other benefits which are mentioned in other answers here.

First, concurrent version control seems like an easy problem to solve. It's not at all. Anyway...

SVN is quite non-intuitive. Git is even worse. [sarcastic-speculation] This might be because developers, that like hard problems like concurrent version control, don't have much interest in making a good UI. [/sarcastic-speculation]

SVN supporters think they don't need a distributed version-control system. I thought that too. But now that we use Git exclusively, I'm a believer. Now version control works for me AND the team/project instead of just working for the project. When I need a branch, I branch. Sometimes it's a branch that has a corresponding branch on the server, and sometimes it does not. Not to mention all the other advantages that I'll have to go study up on (thanks in part to the arcane and absurd lack of UI that is a modern version control system).

The main points I like about DVCS are those :

  1. You can commit broken things. It doesn't matter because other peoples won't see them until you publish. Publish time is different of commit time.
  2. Because of this you can commit more often.
  3. You can merge complete functionnality. This functionnality will have its own branch. All commits of this branch will be related to this functionnality. You can do it with a CVCS however with DVCS its the default.
  4. You can search your history (find when a function changed )
  5. You can undo a pull if someone screw up the main repository, you don't need to fix the errors. Just clear the merge.
  6. When you need a source control in any directory do : git init . and you can commit, undoing changes, etc...
  7. It's fast (even on Windows )

The main reason for a relatively big project is the improved communication created by the point 3. Others are nice bonuses.

With Git, you can do practically anything offline, because everybody has their own repository.

Making branches and merging between branches is really easy.

Even if you don't have commit rights for a project, you can still have your own repository online, and publish "push requests" for your patches. Everybody who likes your patches can pull them into their project, including the official maintainers.

It's trivial to fork a project, modify it, and still keep merging in the bugfixes from the HEAD branch.

Git works for the Linux kernel developers. That means it is really fast (it has to be), and scales to thousands of contributors. Git also uses less space (up to 30 times less space for the Mozilla repository).

Git is very flexible, very TIMTOWTDI (There is more than one way to do it). You can use whatever workflow you want, and Git will support it.

Finally, there's GitHub, a great site for hosting your Git repositories.

Drawbacks of Git:

  • it's much harder to learn, because Git has more concepts and more commands.
  • revisions don't have version numbers like in subversion
  • many Git commands are cryptic, and error messages are very user-unfriendly
  • it lacks a good GUI (such as the great TortoiseSVN)

A few answers have alluded to these, but I want to make 2 points explicit:

1) The ability to do selective commits (for example, git add --patch). If your working directory contains multiple changes that are not part of the same logical change, Git makes it very easy to make a commit that includes only a portion of the changes. With Subversion, it is difficult.

2) The ability to commit without making the change public. In Subversion, any commit is immediately public, and thus irrevocable. This greatly limits the ability of the developer to "commit early, commit often".

Git is more than just a VCS; it's also a tool for developing patches. Subversion is merely a VCS.

I think Subversion is fine.. until you start merging.. or doing anything complicated.. or doing anything Subversion thinks is complicated (like doing queries to find out which branches messed with a particular file, where a change actually comes from, detecting copy&pastes, etc)...

I disagree with the winning answer, saying the main benefit of GIT is offline work - it's certainly useful, but it's more like an extra for my use case. SVK can work offline too, still there is no question for me which one to invest my learning time in).

It's just that it's incredibly powerful and fast and, well -after getting used to the concepts - very useful (yes, in that sense: user friendly).

For more details on a merging story, see this : Using git-svn (or similar) *just* to help out with an svn merge?

One of the things about SubVersion that irks me is that it puts its own folder in each directory of a project, whereas git only puts one in the root directory. It's not that big of a deal, but little things like that add up.

Of course, SubVersion has Tortoise, which is [usually] very nice.

All the answers here are as expected, programmer centric, however what happens if your company uses revision control outside of source code? There are plenty of documents which aren't source code which benefit from version control, and should live close to code and not in another CMS. Most programmers don't work in isolation - we work for companies as part of a team.

With that in mind, compare ease of use, in both client tooling and training, between Subversion and git. I can't see a scenario where any distributed revision control system is going to be easier to use or explain to a non-programmer. I'd love to be proven wrong, because then I'd be able to evaluate git and actually have a hope of it being accepted by people who need version control who aren't programmers.

Even then, if asked by management why we should move from a centralised to distributed revision control system, I'd be hard pressed to give an honest answer, because we don't need it.

Disclaimer: I became interested in Subversion early on (around v0.29) so obviously I'm biased, but the companies I've worked for since that time are benefiting from my enthusiasm because I've encouraged and supported its use. I suspect this is how it happens with most software companies. With so many programmers jumping on the git bandwagon, I wonder how many companies are going to miss out on the benefits of using version control outside of source code? Even if you have separate systems for different teams, you're missing out on some of the benefits, such as (unified) issue tracking integration, whilst increasing maintenance, hardware and training requirements.

Git and DVCS in general is great for developers doing a lot of coding independently of each other because everyone has their own branch. If you need a change from someone else, though, she has to commit to her local repo and then she must push that changeset to you or you must pull it from her.

My own reasoning also makes me think DVCS makes things harder for QA and release management if you do things like centralized releases. Someone has to be responsible for doing that push/pull from everyone else's repository, resolving any conflicts that would have been resolved at initial commit time before, then doing the build, and then having all the other developers re-sync their repos.

All of this can be addressed with human processes, of course; DVCS just broke something that was fixed by centralized version control in order to provide some new conveniences.

"Why Git is Better than X" outlines the various pros and cons of Git vs other SCMs.


  • Git tracks content rather than files
  • Branches are lightweight and merging is easy, and I mean really easy.
  • It's distributed, basically every repository is a branch. It's much easier to develop concurrently and collaboratively than with Subversion, in my opinion. It also makes offline development possible.
  • It doesn't impose any workflow, as seen on the above linked website, there are many workflows possible with Git. A Subversion-style workflow is easily mimicked.
  • Git repositories are much smaller in file size than Subversion repositories. There's only one ".git" directory, as opposed to dozens of ".svn" repositories (note Subversion 1.7 and higher now uses a single directory like Git.)
  • The staging area is awesome, it allows you to see the changes you will commit, commit partial changes and do various other stuff.
  • Stashing is invaluable when you do "chaotic" development, or simply want to fix a bug while you're still working on something else (on a different branch).
  • You can rewrite history, which is great for preparing patch sets and fixing your mistakes (before you publish the commits)
  • … and a lot more.

There are some disadvantages:

  • There aren't many good GUIs for it yet. It's new and Subversion has been around for a lot longer, so this is natural as there are a few interfaces in development. Some good ones include TortoiseGit and GitHub for Mac.
  • Partial checkouts/clones of repositories are not possible at the moment (I read that it's in development). However, there is submodule support. Git 1.7+ supports sparse checkouts.
  • It might be harder to learn, even though I did not find this to be the case (about a year ago). Git has recently improved its interface and is quite user friendly.

In the most simplistic usage, Subversion and Git are pretty much the same. There isn't much difference between:

svn checkout svn://foo.com/bar bar
cd bar
# edit
svn commit -m "foo"


git clone [email protected]:foo/bar.git
cd bar
# edit
git commit -a -m "foo"
git push

Where Git really shines is branching and working with other people.

David Richards WANdisco Blog on Subversion / GIT

The emergence of GIT has brought with it a breed of DVCS fundamentalists – the ‘Gitterons’ – that think anything other than GIT is crap. The Gitterons seem to think software engineering happens on their own island and often forget that most organizations don’t employ senior software engineers exclusively. That’s ok but it’s not how the rest of the market thinks, and I am happy to prove it: GIT, at the last look had less than three per cent of the market while Subversion has in the region of five million users and about half of the overall market.

The problem we saw was that the Gitterons were firing (cheap) shots at Subversion. Tweets like “Subversion is so [slow/crappy/restrictive/doesn't smell good/looks at me in a funny way] and now I have GIT and [everything works in my life/my wife got pregnant/I got a girlfriend after 30 years of trying/I won six times running on the blackjack table]. You get the picture.

Google Tech Talk: Linus Torvalds on git


The Git Wiki's comparison page


Git in Windows is quite well supported now.

Check out GitExtensions = http://code.google.com/p/gitextensions/

and the manual for a better Windows Git experience.

Thanks to the fact it doesn't need to communicate with a central server constantly, pretty much every command runs in less than a second (obviously git push/pull/fetch are slower simply because they have to initalise SSH connections). Branching is far far easier (one simple command to branch, one simple command to merge)

Subversion is still a much more used version control system, which means that it has better tool support. You'll find mature SVN plugins for almost any IDE, and there are good explorer extensions available (like TurtoiseSVN). Other than that, I'll have to agree with Michael: Git isn't better or worse than Subversion, it's different.

The funny thing is: I host projects in Subversion Repos, but access them via the Git Clone command.

Please read Develop with Git on a Google Code Project

Although Google Code natively speaks Subversion, you can easily use Git during development. Searching for "git svn" suggests this practice is widespread, and we too encourage you to experiment with it.

Using Git on a Svn Repository gives me benefits:

  1. I can work distributed on several machines, commiting and pulling from and to them
  2. I have a central backup/public svn repository for others to check out
  3. And they are free to use Git for their own

I have been dwelling in Git land lately, and I like it for personal projects, but I wouldn't be able to switch work projects to it yet from Subversion given the change in thinking of required from staff, without no pressing benefits. Moreover the biggest project we run in-house is extremely dependent on svn:externals which, from what I've seen so far, does not work so nicely and seamlessly in Git.

Easy Git has a nice page comparing actual usage of Git and SVN which will give you an idea of what things Git can do (or do more easily) compared to SVN. (Technically, this is based on Easy Git, which is a lightweight wrapper on top of Git.)

Why I think Subversion is better than Git (at least for the projects I work on), mainly due to its usability, and simpler workflow:


It's all about the ease of use/steps required to do something.

If I'm developing a single project on my PC/laptop, git is better, because it is far easier to set up and use. You don't need a server, and you don't need to keep typing repository URL's in when you do merges.

If it were just 2 people, I'd say git is also easier, because you can just push and pull from eachother.

Once you get beyond that though, I'd go for subversion, because at that point you need to set up a 'dedicated' server or location.

You can do this just as well with git as with SVN, but the benefits of git get outweighed by the need to do additional steps to synch with a central server. In SVN you just commit. In git you have to git commit, then git push. The additional step gets annoying simply because you end up doing it so much.

SVN also has the benefit of better GUI tools, however the git ecosystem seems to be catching up quickly, so I wouldn't worry about this in the long term.

I absolutely love being able to manage local branches of my source code in Git without muddying up the water of the central repository. In many cases I'll checkout code from the Subversion server and run a local Git repository just to be able to do this. It's also great that initializing a Git repository doesn't pollute the filesystem with a bunch of annoying .svn folders everywhere.

And as far as Windows tool support, TortoiseGit handles the basics very well, but I still prefer the command line unless I want to view the log. I really like the way Tortoise{Git|SVN} helps when reading commit logs.

Other answers have done a good job of explaining the core features of Git (which are great). But there's also so many little ways that Git behaves better and helps keep my life more sane. Here are some of the little things:

  1. Git has a 'clean' command. SVN desperately needs this command, considering how frequently it will dump extra files on your disk.
  2. Git has the 'bisect' command. It's nice.
  3. SVN creates .svn directories in every single folder (Git only creates one .git directory). Every script you write, and every grep you do, will need to be written to ignore these .svn directories. You also need an entire command ("svn export") just to get a sane copy of your files.
  4. In SVN, each file & folder can come from a different revision or branch. At first, it sounds nice to have this freedom. But what this actually means is that there is a million different ways for your local checkout to be completely screwed up. (for example, if "svn switch" fails halfway through, or if you enter a command wrong). And the worst part is: if you ever get into a situation where some of your files are coming from one place, and some of them from another, the "svn status" will tell you that everything is normal. You'll need to do "svn info" on each file/directory to discover how weird things are. If "git status" tells you that things are normal, then you can trust that things really are normal.
  5. You have to tell SVN whenever you move or delete something. Git will just figure it out.
  6. Ignore semantics are easier in Git. If you ignore a pattern (such as *.pyc), it will be ignored for all subdirectories. (But if you really want to ignore something for just one directory, you can). With SVN, it seems that there is no easy way to ignore a pattern across all subdirectories.
  7. Another item involving ignore files. Git makes it possible to have "private" ignore settings (using the file .git/info/exclude), which won't affect anyone else.

For people looking for a good Git GUI, Syntevo SmartGit might be a good solution. Its proprietary, but free for non-commercial use, runs on Windows/Mac/Linux and even supports SVN using some kind of git-svn bridge, I think.