SVN vs Git: Finding the Best Fit for Your Development Workflow

Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
·
Last updated on May 20, 2024

Version control is at the center of software development projects, so choosing the best version control system (VCS) for your team’s development workflow is critical. Apache SVN and Git are popular source code management tools, each with their own advantages and limitations. Keep reading to learn about what factors you should consider when choosing between SVN vs Git and the key differences between Git and SVN.

Versioning Models: Centralized vs. Distributed

SVN is a centralized VCS where code changes are checked into a central server. This svn server is the single source of truth and contains the entire code repo along with its change history. Developers only download the part of the repo they are working on, which means less time spent syncing their local files. However, this also means that any time a change needs to be committed the developer must be connected so they can upload it to the server. 

Git is a decentralized VCS, which means that every developer downloads the entire repo to their computer and works locally with their version until they are ready to commit their changes. Some of the benefits of this model are that local operations are much quicker, you can work completely offline, and every developer essentially has a full backup of the repo. The downside is that downloading the entire repo can be slow if your code base or assets are large, and any time you want to sync the latest changes you must download the entire repo.

Workflow and Collaboration: Branching and Merging

SVN uses a directory structure for branching. Developers download only the files they need for their tasks, and once they are done they commit everything back to the main trunk. Since everyone is working off the same main branch developers might run into merge conflicts more frequently. To avoid merge conflicts, SVN supports file locking, which prevents other developers from editing the file until the lock is released. SVN also supports shelving as an additional workflow to prevent merge conflicts. This allows developers to store work in progress so they can work on another area and commit those changes without committing the work in progress.

A key difference between Git and SVN is that Git supports flexible branching, including feature and topic-based branching. Because Git is a distributed VCS, developers can create, merge, and delete local branches quickly as needed, without impacting the main repo branches. Git also includes a staging area where developers can review commits and choose which ones are ready to update in the repo, allowing devs to work on multiple tasks at once without needing to finish them all in order to complete their commit. Git only supports locking with Git LFS for large files, which might lead to merge conflicts for other files if multiple developers are working on them. Merge conflicts can often be avoided if developers use the staging area and sync their repos often.

Performance and Scalability

As a centralized VCS, SVN efficiently handles repositories with large code bases and large digital assets, such as graphics and binary files. Developers only download what they are working on, so they don’t lose time downloading unnecessary large files. One drawback to the SVN model is that commits are done transactionally. If multiple commits are happening at the same time they will be queued and processed one at a time. Nonetheless, SVN manages network traffic efficiently.

Since Git is a decentralized VCS, it is better suited for smaller repositories that are primarily source code. With a smaller team, it’s easy to keep up with merging and pulling changes. But with a large code base or large files, repeatedly downloading the full repo and change history can become a time-consuming task.

Learning Curve and Ease of Use

With a single main branch that uses a simple file directory structure, SVN has a lower learning curve and is easier for non-technical users to pick up. The ability to lock files means that developers can avoid merge conflicts, making the merging process less daunting to less experienced developers.

Git’s branching strategy allows for more flexibility. But the process of making changes locally, staging them, and merging them back into the main branch can be overwhelming to new developers. Git does not support file locking natively. Although it does have a robust set of features for resolving merge conflicts, learning how to incorporate that into your development process can be time-consuming.

Ecosystem and Tooling Support

SVN has a long history of enabling teams to operate and collaborate effectively, particularly in industries that require large digital assets, like gaming, semiconductors, and manufacturing. SVN is a set of C libraries with good API support that has been well documented by the open-source community. This has led to widespread integration with industry leading software across the software development lifecycle. There are integrations for tools such as JIRA, Visual Studio, Jenkins, Unity, Unreal Engine, and Maya.

Git quickly became a widely adopted choice for teams that wanted distributed version control. Similar to SVN, Git has a broad spectrum of integrations across industries. You can find integrations with many types of products, including those for IDEs, continuous integration, continuous deployment, testing, tracking, reporting, and game development. If you use a source code hosting platform like GitHub or Assembla, many of the integrations will be ready to use.

SVN vs Git Pricing

SVN and Git are both open-source, so while there is no direct licensing cost for either VCS, you will need to factor in operational costs associated with hosting and maintaining instances. If you are self-hosting, whether on-prem or in the cloud, that includes server costs, and the staffing cost to make sure your VCS stays online, up to date, and functional with the rest of your infrastructure.

The other option is to outsource to a VCS hosting solution or SaaS provider like GitHub, Beanstalk, or Assembla. These providers have introductory instances available for free – either to a limited number of users or for a limited period of time – and allow easy upgrades to paid plans as your project scales. Their platforms also include custom tools to help you throughout the software development lifecycle and they maintain integrations with leading industry-standard software.

Git and SVN Hosting on Assembla

We support Git and SVN hosting side by side in the cloud. Assembla is the leading provider of SVN cloud hosting — we host the highest number of SVN repositories globally — and our service is celebrated for its speed, complete with SSH acceleration.

If your team uses SVN and Git but wants to work in a unified platform that supports end-to-end SDLC tools, then our team would love to talk with you about how our cloud solution can meet your development needs.

We can also help you transition from SVN to Git. Our team of DevOps experts can plan and execute your migration to ensure a seamless transition with post-migration training and support.

To find out more about how your team can benefit from SVN and Git hosted by Assembla, start a free 14 day trial of Assembla.

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Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone is an instructor at Miami University in Ohio for the Computer and Information Technology department, specializing in process and DevOps. Prior to teaching, Allison worked at Microsoft for 18 years, first as a Technical Writer, then as a Program Manager and Director at Xbox. In her last role she was a regular contributor to MicrosoftGameDev.com.

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