Git vs SVN
November 14, 2018

Git vs. SVN – What Is The Difference?

Git at Scale

If you are browsing for a version control solution, you might check out some open source options. But how do Git and Subversion (SVN) compare?

Read more to learn the fundamental differences between these systems.

Server Architecture

Git software is installed on a workstation and acts as a client and a server. With SVN, there is a separate server and client. With Git, every developer has a local copy of the full version history of the project on their individual machine. With SVN, only the files a developer is working on are kept on the local machine, and the developer must be online, working with the server.

SVN users check out files and commit changes back to the server. Git changes happen locally. The advantage is that the developer doesn’t have to be connected all the time. Once all the files are downloaded to the developer’s workstation, local operations are faster.

In the past, Git developers each having a copy of the full version history meant they could easily share changes before pushing them to a central repository. Now all the sharing is done in central repositories, like a GitHub. And, in today’s world, enterprises have projects that span multiple repositories that include large binary files. As projects grow, storing locally is not really realistic or desirable. When it comes to Git vs. SVN performance,  the client-server model of SVN outperforms with larger files and code bases.

SVN Wins for Storing Binary Files

Storing large binary files in Git can slow down the very advantages they claim to have over SVN. Developers spend time waiting to check out the full repository onto their computer. Every time a large file is changed and committed, Git repositories grow exponentially.

Of course, there are workarounds for storing your binaries in Git, such as Git LFS. But still, every developer action leads to a mountain of change history data. This is going to slow down performance.

In SVN, only the working tree and the latest changes are checked out onto local machines. Check outs take less time in SVN when there are a lot of changes to binary files.

SVN vs. Git Branching

One of the most common complaints about SVN is its tedious branching and complicated merging model. It can be time consuming. SVN branches are created as directories inside a repository. This directory structure is the core pain point with SVN branching. When the branch is ready, you commit back to the trunk.

Of course, you’re not the only one merging changes. Your version of the trunk might not reflect developers’ branches. This means conflicts, missing files, and jumbled changes riddle your branch.

Developers like Git because of its effective branching model. In Git, branches are only references to a certain commit, making them lightweight yet powerful. Git allows you to create, delete, and change a branch anytime without affecting the commits. If you need to test out a new feature or you find a bug, you can make a branch, make the changes, push the commit to the central repo, and then delete the branch.

Access Controls

Access control is another key in the Git vs. SVN debate. Both systems take different approaches when it comes to permissions and access. By default, Git assumes that all the contributors have the same permissions.

On the other hand, SVN allows you to specify read and write access controls per file level and per directory level.

Security With Git or SVN

With SVN, the repository’s change history is pretty consistent. To make any change to the repository’s history, you need access to the central server.

Git’s distributed nature allows anyone to change any part of their local repository’s history. Although pushing a changed history is heavily discouraged, it can happen. This causes problems if other developers are relying on particular changes.

In Git, the complete history of the repository is “backed up” each time a developer clones it to their computer. This natural backup mechanism is useless if neglected.

Making regular backups is highly encouraged in both Git and SVN. You do not want to be on the receiving end of a server crash without a recent copy of your shared server.

Storage Requirements

As the arguments for Git or SVN rage on, you may notice that when it comes to storage – there is no difference. Surprisingly, the disk space usage is equal for both Git and SVN repositories. This is true even though SVN tracks changes on a file level and Git tracks changes in the repository level.

Then again, storing large binary files in SVN would be much smaller than their Git equivalent.

Which Is More intuitive — Git or SVN?

A major advantage in the Git vs. SVN match is that SVN often considered easier to learn. This is especially true for non-technical users. They are able to catch on to common operations quickly.

Although both use the command line as the primary user interface, syntax in Git can overwhelm beginners. SVN is more readily used by non-programmers who want to version non-code assets. Learn more about SVN commands and see how they stack up against other version control systems.

Switch to What VCS?

There are a couple of reasons for making the switch from SVN. It isn't a great tool for automation and DevOps. And that it no longer has a vibrant community supporting it.

Git seems like a no-brainer when looking for a more modern and supported system to replace SVN. Especially since it is also open source: you won’t have to budget for something that you aren’t paying for today.

However, if you are working with large files, have large global teams, security concerns, or other “at scale” challenges, Git may create more problems than it solves. Check out our Perforce comparison guide to see how Helix Core stacks up.