May 7, 2018

Labels vs Snapshots


Labels and snapshot branches can be used for successful source code change management. Since both features can achieve similar results, deciding when to use each can become confusing. 

What Is a Label in Branching?

Labels mark a version of a file or repository. So, labels allow you to retrieve a past version of a file that was marked for a specific reason.

When to Use Labels

Labels are ideal if you want to mark a version of a file or files for future reference and there isn't a need or requirement to preserve the original file name or location. You could use labels on a group of files to indicate a bug fix or a change request. 

Why Use Labels?

Some reasons to use labels include marking a release, a build, or a defect fix.

The benefit of using labels is that you can use a more logical approach for marking file versions. For example, instead of having to remember which file version was associated with a release, you can look for the "Release XYZ" label. If you get the file based on that label, you will get the revision associated with Release XYZ.

Using Labels in Surround SCM

In Surround SCM, labels only capture file content. If you perform a get based on the "Release XYZ" label, the file will include only the content that was in the file when you applied the label. You are not guaranteed that the file name will be the same (if the file was renamed after the label) or that the file will be placed in the same directory (if the file was moved after the label).

Because of this, labels are not the best approach to have guaranteed repeatable builds or releases. If you have to do an old build or release and your old build scripts expect a file to have a certain name or be in a specific directory, the build may fail if you use labels. 

What Is a Snapshot (Static) Branch?

A snapshot branch is a static branch. They can't be modified in any way.

When to Use a Snapshot

Use snapshots when you want to capture a milestone, especially those that you may need to come back to in the future. If you may need to recreate an old build or release, snapshot branches are the way to go.

Why Use Snapshot Branches?

Snapshot branch history includes the full history of a file in the parent branch. You can view the actions performed on a file before the branch was created and get, view, or diff files from the parent branch.

Using Snapshot Branches in Surround SCM

Like labels, snapshot branches capture file content in Surround SCM.

This could be:

  • The time of when the branch is created.
  • A specific point in time. 
  • Content mapped to a label.
  • Content mapped to the latest version associated with a state in the workflow. 

Note that if you create the snapshot branch based on a label or the latest version mapped to a state in the workflow, the branch only contains the files that meet that criteria.

Unlike labels, snapshot branches capture the file name and directory structure. Because of this, snapshot branches are the way to go in order to have guaranteed repeatable builds. Your build scripts for those old builds will be able to find all the files regardless of renaming or moving files.

Get Help With Branching

Learn more about successfully using branching as part of source code management.



Note: This post was originally published on June 2, 2008 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.