Git vs SVN. Know the difference

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Version control systems (VCS) are an integral part of every developer’s life. The version control system will take care of the collaboration between the developers in the team, storing different versions will help in having backups on the remote repository. It will also help roll back to the previous commits and the last version of the source code. Two popular source control platforms are Git and SVN. In his article, I will discuss these tools and their key differences. But, before that, let me briefly tell you what version control is.

What is Version Control?

As the name version control suggests, it refers to the category of software tools that make it possible for the software team to look after the changes made to the source code. The system records all the made changes to a file, so a specific version may be rolled if needed in the future. It is the responsibility of the version control system to keep all the team members on the same page. It makes sure that everyone on the team is working on the latest version of the files and, most importantly, make sure that all these people can work simultaneously on the same project. So, below are the advantages of using a version control system:

  • It helps manage the source code by keeping track of all the modifications made to the code.
  • It also protects the source code from any unintended human error and consequences.
  • It keeps a record of all the modifications made to the code, and these changes are to be recorded for future references and in case they are needed to discover the root cause of any particular problem.
  • It can compare earlier versions of the code, and this makes it possible for developers to go back at any time and compare the earlier versions of the code to help fix the mistake while reducing disruption to all team members.
  • The version control system supports the developer’s workflow. They are known to provide a smooth continuous flow of changes made to the code and prevent developers from getting frustrated in the course of this mechanism

What is Git?

Git is the most popular version control system globally because it is free, open-source, super-fast, and scalable. Operations like branching and merging are slow and painful in other version control systems like Subversion or TFS, but they are very fast in Git. It is an open-source distributed version control system, so you can start using it right now without fear of having any costs or penalties. You can use it for almost any kind of digital project. With Git, you can create the historical record and versioning of your source code, whether you are doing a web application, a mobile application, or you are actually building a python script for a machine learning solution.

Git is a version control system for managing files, and as a developer, you have a Git client on your machine, and you can make changes and create local repositories of a program on your computer. And then, you can sync up with a remote service such as GitHub or Gitlab environment where you can actually store files remotely. Then you can allow remote teams to have access to those changes in the actual application you made. So, you can track the changes easily you have. The tool is inherently distributed, making it very easy to manage the code for large teams and bring people in very quickly. One of the things that I really like about Git is that it’s not a linear development approach. It is not starting from A and going to Z model, it’s a nonlinear approach that allows you to have branches that people are working on in parallel to your master branch, where people are actually doing the delivery of the production code.

What is SVN?

SVN stands for Subversion. SVN is a free and open-source version control system. It manages files and directories and the changes made to them over time. This allows you to recover old versions of your data or examine the history of how your data changed.

SVN helps you keep tracking a code to ensure that if you have a piece of code, that works. For example, if Developer 1 works on a code that works but Developer 2 works on a code that doesn’t work, we can go back to Developer 1 piece of code that worked. SVN helps us work collaboratively, so we don’t have to email our code back and forth. We can go to one repository on two different computers, and we open up the same code. On top of being awesome and cool and letting you share code between two people, it also enables you to make your code open source.

In SVN, you first create your first piece of code on computer 1, then you will upload to the SVN, which is located in the cloud. Once the code is uploaded to the SVN, it can be downloaded to multiple different computers and edited by each of those computers. In SVN, you can choose which line of code from which program you want to use in the SVN version, and once you decide that, you can then update the SVN with only those lines.

Git vs SVN: Key Differences

Centralized vs Distributed

The main difference between Git and SVN is that Git is a distributed version control system, whereas SVN is a centralized version control system.

A centralized version control system like SVN has a central server where all the files are stored, and everybody has to check in and check out from that centralized server. All of the versions are managed within that server environment, but the problem is

if that central server crashes, which doesn’t happen very often, but it can happen, you end up losing all of your files.

In distributed version control system like Git, you still have a centralized server that manages the files. Still, the difference is that as a developer you check out all of the files for a project so you can actually manage the whole project locally on your development machine and make your changes. Then you can just check-in and out the changes that you have made to the centralized server. So the opportunity you have here is that if the server itself goes down, you will not be in a situation where you lose all the history because everybody working on the actual application has all of the versions of the code locally on their machine.

Easy to Learn

So, Git is very useful, but it is a bit difficult to learn for some developers. It has more concepts and commands to learn, whereas SVN is much easier to learn. You are just checking in checking out in SVN, so it looks very easy when you are using SVN. But although Git takes some time to learn, it is very useful so almost all the use cases in a project.

Handling Binary Files

Git is slow when it deals with large binary files that are frequently changing whereas if it is not changing frequently, you can keep on storing them. At the same time, SVN can handle large binary files very easily. So, you can use SVN when you are working with binary files.

Internal directory

Git creates only a .git directory, whereas the internal directly in SVN is .svn. The .git directory is only one directory within the repo whereas SVN will create .svn directory in each folder, like whatever folder you have in your code, in each folder, you get something like .svn.

User Interface

Git currently does not have a very good UI, but the Git online UI is still considered quite helpful, whereas SVN has many good user interfaces. But I would say that Git is still catching up, and with the popularity of Git, there are very nice UI  coming up, and you can use them.


In Git, branches refer to a specific certain commit. These are lightweight, but a user can still create, delete and change a branch at any time without affecting the commits. For example, when a user has to test new features or bugs, the user can make a branch, incorporate the changes, push the commit to the central repo, and then delete the branch.

In SVN, branches are created as directories inside a repository. When the branch is ready, you commit back to the trunk in the case while merging changes. If the user’s version of the trunk does not reflect in the other user’s branches, this creates conflicts. This makes it branching and merging complicated and time-consuming in SVN.

Below is a summarized table that shows the key differences between Git and SVN.


Comparison Git SVN
Founded In 2005 2000
Written In C, Shell, Perl, Tcl C
Developer(s) Junio Hamano and others Apache Software Foundation
License GNU (General public license) Open source under the Apache License
Architecture Type Distributed version control system Centralized version control system
Repository Cloning Yes No
Storage Requirements Limited capacity for large binary files Can easily handle large binary files
Ease of Use Hard to learn Easy to learn
Branching and Merging Easy Time-consuming
Usage Used by 90% of developers Used by 10% of developers
Network Access Not mandatory Required for all SVN operations
Performance Push/pull operations are faster Push/pull operations are slower
Content Git stores the content as metadata SVN stores files of content
Cloning This feature is available This feature is not available
Cryptographic hashing It supports cryptographically hashed contents. This feature is not available

Final Thoughts

So that was all about the two most popular version control systems, Git and SVN. Git and Subversion are both awesome version control systems, yet they have some fundamental differences. It is an ongoing debate in the developer community. Both control systems are different, so you can find the ideal tool for yourself by evaluating all their features depending on your requirements.

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