May 28, 2015

Mercurial vs Perforce Overview

Version Control
Coding Best Practices

Mercurial is quickly fading from popularity. And many are looking for an alternative. That's why we break down Mercurial vs. Perforce Helix Core in this blog. We also share a Mercurial cheat sheet including Mercurial commands — and how they compare to Perforce commands (Helix Core). 

➡️ Easily Migrate From Mercurial

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Mercurial vs Perforce

Mercurial is a distributed version control system. Perforce Helix Core is a centralized version control system. Many Mercurial teams migrate to Helix Core instead of Git.


Mercurial's popularity is faded. And many version control systems have discontinued Mercurial support, such as Bitbucket. Others have considered Mercurial vs. Git, as well as Mercurial vs. Perforce.

Migrating to Helix Core is a wise choice for Mercurial users. See for yourself why Mercurial teams switch to Helix Core. Try it free for up to 5 users and 20 workspaces.

Get Helix Core

Handling Work-In-Progress

The main difference is that while Mercurial includes modifications automatically, but Perforce Helix Core does not.

Helix Core maintains all work-in-progress via a concept known as a changelist, and in particular your work-in-progress is maintained in a changelist named “default”.

Mercurial users largely don’t need to worry about this. Simply run the reconcile command to prepare for a commit, and it will include all adds, deletes, and modifications in your default changelist.

Otherwise, work-in-progress is handled similarly by Mercurial and Helix Core. Modifications to versioned files are part of your next commit by default. So, the only operations a Mercurial user typically expects to “tell” the system about are file adds and deletes.

This is usually handled via the “hg add” and “hg remove” commands, but the “hg addremove” command is a third alternative. It adds all new files and removes all missing files previously tracked with a single command. Helix Core reconcile command achieves a similar end result.


Mercurial users have long enjoyed shelving as a feature. Shelving in Perforce Helix Core is similar but differs in that Mercurial shelves can be named whereas Helix Core shelves use a changelist, which is numbered and has a description instead.

For example, the default changelist has one shelf where work in progress will be saved automatically when switching branches or what not.


In Mercurial terms, a “path” is a “pointer” from/to which content may be cloned/pushed. Perforce Helix Core users know these as “remote specifications” or just “remotes” for short.

Further, a Mercurial “path” offers only a small subset of what Helix Core offers.

A Helix Core remote specification is much more powerful insofar as it includes the ability to map content very selectively. Folders and files may be flexibly remapped, completely changing the hierarchical structure for the local repository as needed.

And unlike Mercurial, a single Helix Core depot may also include content from multiple remote specifications (all of whose content may be re-mapped). 


A Mercurial commit is also quite similar to the Perforce Helix Core submit, with one important difference.

Mercurial users are accustomed to their commits having two separate IDs: (1) a monotonically increasing integer unique and valid only within the scope of the current, local repository, and (2) a forty-character hash value that is both unique and valid in every version of the repository.

In contrast, each Helix Core changelist, submitted or pending, is identified by a single, monotonically increasing integer number. Many developers won’t care about these details, but DevOps personnel tasked with tying revision IDs to other integrated systems should be aware of them.


There are also minor differences in the naming conventions.

Mercurial users are accustomed to their default path for push and their default branch name both being “default”. In contrast, Perforce Helix Core uses “origin” for its default remote name and “main” for the default branch name. This can be a source of confusion when Mercurial users first get started and can’t seem to switch back to the “default” branch; just use “main” instead and you’ll be fine.

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Mercurial Commands: hg Commands vs. p4 Commands

Here's a quick Mercurial cheat sheet of Mercurial commands. We've also included a comparison of hg commands versions p4 commands

The commands are fairly similar. For example, initializing a new repository requires a “p4 init” rather than an “hg init”, while the usual “hg addremove” followed by “hg commit” is instead “p4 rec” followed by “p4 submit”. All along the way “hg status” is replaced by “p4 status”. 

Cheat Sheet: Mercurial Commands vs. Perforce Commands


hg Command

p4 command

Stage your changes


reconcile (rec for short)

List all branches


switch -l

Branch and switch to it

branch newBranch

switch -c newStream

Create an empty branch

(no equivalent)

switch -cm newStream

Switch to a branch

up branchName

switch streamName

Clone a repository

clone repository

clone -p host:port -r remote

Clone part of a repository

(no equivalent)

clone -p host:port -f fileSpecification

Commit your work



Initialize a repository



Merge work from a branch

merge branchName

merge --from streamName

Get latest updates

pull update

fetch -u -r remoteName -S streamName

Push all local commits



Rewrite history


unsubmit / resubmit

List all remotes



Create a new remote

(no equivalent)

remote newRemoteName

View your changes



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Migrate from Mercurial to Perforce Helix Core

Mercurial is becoming more and more outdated. That's why it's time to migrate from Mercurial to Perforce Helix Core.

As you can see, many of the commands are identical while others are a little different, but those provide what you need to get started. In fact, the above “cheat sheet” nicely serves the majority of day-to-day use cases.

Mercurial users transitioning to Helix Core should feel right at home with very little effort. See for yourself why migrating to Perforce Helix Core is the right choice for Mercurial users.

➡️ Easily migrate to Helix Core

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