another unproductive complaint about subversion

I remember in 2005 or so when I first started using Subversion, I liked it so much. It was much easier to use than CVS. Everyone said it would be make tagging and branching easier than CVS. In CVS, tagging was fine, but branching was such a pain that I never bothered.

Eventually, I found out that branching and merging were much easier, but still a real pain. Tagging, though, was completely insane. Tags were implemented as copies (just like branches). This sort of made sense as a cheap way for branches to work, but none for tags. Tags are labels for points in time in a repository. They shouldn’t be mutable, unless maybe to let you remove a label from rev 1 and put it on rev 2.

Because they’re implemented as copies, you can actually go in and alter the state of a tag, meaning that tags are useless as … tags. It also means that if you have a standard Subversion repository with trunk, branches, and tags directories, and you check out the whole thing, you check out absolutely every file in every revision. “Copies are cheap” was a big Subversion mantra back in the day, because in the repository, only files that changed were new files on disk – but that only goes for what’s in the repository, not your checkout. In your checkout, every copy of readme.txt is its own file – and it has to be, because even the tags are mutable. You can’t say that ./tags/1.000/readme.txt is the same file as ./tags/2.000/readme.txt just because there was no change between the two releases, because you could go change either of them, and if you do, you’d change both. Oops!

This came up today because of a piece of automated deployment code that did something like this:

$ mkdir TEMP
$ chdir TEMP
$ svn co $REPO/project
$ cd project/trunk
$ bump-perl-version
$ cd ..
$ svn cp trunk tags/$NEW_VERSION
$ svn ci -m "bump and tag $NEW_VERSION"

Checking out requires a whole lot of space, because it has to check out every single tag’s copy of every file. Tagging the new release is also fairly space hungry. How hungry? Well… the project I’m working on right now is a web application. Let’s call it New-Webapp.

If I export a copy of trunk from Subversion, getting just the files that make up the latest version of the application, it’s 1.9 megabytes.

If I check a copy of the trunk out, so now there’s all the extra working copy files, and it’s 5.2 megabytes.

If I check out the whole repo, getting every tag and branch (for your information, there is exactly one branch), it’s 207 megabytes.

Now, keep in mind that this gives me every file from every tagged release (there are 40 releases). This does not give me the entire revision history. There are many, many revisions missing. After all, what I have is basically 42 revisions: 40 releases, trunk, and one branch. That’s it.

If I use git-svn to build a git repository of the project, meaning that I have absolutely every revision, every tag, and every branch, it’s 249 megabytes. That’s all 1149 revisions.

I am so ready to be done with Subversion.

Written on October 15, 2008
git   stupid   subversion