Subversion, Subversion – what client shall I pick?

Since I’m using Eclipse at home for development, it seemed logical to go with Subclipse or Subversive – two of the top three clients listed on the Subversion homepage.  I also tried TortoiseSVN the the other of the top three.  Below are my experiences with the three.  (I haven’t tried branching yet in any of them.)  All have had a release within the past month.  My comments for Subclipse and Subversive are largely from slightly earlier versions though.

Note: See If you tried Subversive before, it’s time to try it again for an update.

Subclipse 1.4.8 (released February 27, 2009)
Pros:

  • It seemed faster to checkout a large project with Subclipse than Subversive.  I can’t prove this as my internet connection varies, but I did notice this a few times.   Another person had the same observation though.
  • Has been around longer.

Cons:

  • No tag awareness!  When I want to commit a file, I need to think about copying the directory to the tags directory.  This is a mental jump as I’m really just thinking I want to create a version – not about how Subversion data is stored.  I also worry that it is too easy to accidentally create the version in the wrong place.  Why invite trouble?  The CVS Eclipse plugin just asked for the name of the tag.
  • Similarly, I have to think about where the tags are stored when comparing to a past version.
  • One common thing I do in Eclipse is awkward – I want to compare the contents of a file to tagged versions.  If I do “compare with revision” I see all the revision numbers and commit comments, but the tag column is blank.  If I do “compare with branch/tag”, I see all the tags, but can only select one to see the compare before starting the whole process again.  Also, you can only compare with branch/tag on a project level – which takes forever – at least over my internet connection.  As a clumsy workaround, we’ve been storing the tag name and revision number on our “release notes” wiki page.  This is an extra manual step that I feel should be unnecessary.  If the tool would just show the tag in the “compare with revision” view like Eclipse does, it would be perfect.
  • The proposal to become an Eclipse project has been withdrawn.

How long I used before switching
A few months.  It wasn’t until the project got into the tagging phase when the tag awareness feature became problematic.

Subversive 0.7.7 (release February 24, 2009)
Pros:

  • Can compare file with “working copy” (last checked out) without connecting to network
  • Since November 2007, has been an incubator project on eclipse.org.  This reset the version number which is why .7 is newer than 1.0/1.1 on polarion.org.

Cons:

  • Installing requires two parts.  The connectors are a separate install for licensing purposes.
  • As in Subclipse, I want to compare the contents of a file to tagged versions.  Using “compare with revision” is worse than in Subclipse.  it doesn’t attempt to show the tags.  More importantly, you must pick which revision you want to compare to, wait a while, view it and then repeat the entire process to pick another revision.  Not nearly as easy to use as the Eclipse version.  (If you think to open the SVN history view first, you get the Eclipse/Subclipse based view where you see them all at once.  It still takes forever though for large projects as it is seeing what else changed in that revision.  Turning off “deep copy” didn’t help matters.)  I didn’t try compare to with branch/tag because I didn’t see the option.

How long I used before switching
I started with Subversive.  After a few months a switched to Subclipse.  Then I switched back to Subversive where I have been since December.

I wasn’t thrilled with either of these so I then tried a standalone client. Tortoise SVN 1.5.9 (released February 27, 2009)
Pros:

  • Checking out one project wasn’t hard.
  • I like the GUI – very intuitive.
  • Committing was simple from Windows.
  • A very cool graphical release view for tags and branching.
  • I really like the log viewer letting you filter by date and or message.  It makes it easy to find out which version you want to compare with.

Cons:

  • It’s not in the IDE.  If not using an IDE, this isn’t a problem of course.
  • Windows only.
  • To tag a project, you need to be aware of the directory structure.  (See my comments about Subclipse for why this scares me.)  There is a graphical explorer to find the tags directory.

How long I used before switching
I just tried it for a few days.  I really wanted an Eclipse based plugin – was just looking to see if this was better.  If I wasn’t using Eclipse, this would be fine.

Conclusion

Both Subclipse and Subversion are usable Eclipse plugins for Subversion.  I prefer Subversive a bit and am going with that at home.  The main reason being tag awareness (I tend to deploy/tag on a weekday evening when I am tired and more likely to mess things up.)  I am keeping TortoiseSVN on my machine for the non-Java code checkins I need to do.  Note that you do have to pick one or the other.    You can’t point to both Tortoise and an Eclipse plugin for the same directory.  As a result, the last week of development on my home computer for Javaranch looked like:

  1. Sunday – Do a bit of Java development in JForum project using Eclipse.  Check out/commit using Subversive.
  2. Monday night – Generate the book promotion materials in PickWinners project by updating the build.properties and running an Ant build script.  (I don’t check these in on Monday since they are so easy to regenerate if something happens to my computer over the course of the week.)
  3. Wednesday night – Production deployment.  I wanted to get in some changes that would make sending private messages to the winners a two click operation.  (It took six clicks for each winner last time it was my turn.)  Tag JForum project using Subversive.
  4. Friday night – Pick winners for book promotion copying winners from web page into one of the files generated on Monday.  Commit using TortoiseSVN.  I like that I didn’t need to open Eclipse on Friday – picking winners is now a web page and the commit happened in Windows.

Many weeks I do less Subversion work at home.  It so happens last week was representative of the breadth of SVN operations I do.  I liked the split between Subversive for JForum (Java development) vs TortoiseSVN for PickWinners (Ant build and text files) and plan to continue that way. I’ll be interested to hear what my co-promotion coordinator uses to commit when it is his turn.  I’m not overly thrilled with either Subversion Eclipse plugin.  I’m thinking of pulling in the JForum project into another directory in Tortoise to use it for file comparison too!

This analysis isn’t so useful for recommending a tool in a corporate scenario where network connections are more reliable and projects are huge.  My suspicion is that Subclipse is better in that environment.  Especially if the majority of tagging operations are done through an automated build.

12 thoughts on “Subversion, Subversion – what client shall I pick?

  1. I really wish there existed a free tool like TortoiseSVN for Mac users. Right now, the Eclipse plugins are about the best you can do. Even the proprietary (non-free) SVN tools for mac pale in comparison to TortoiseSVN. There’s just nothing like it.

  2. Anyone tried SmartSVN? The Foundation version is free and takes care of my SVN needs. I found it after getting fed-up with Tortoise.

  3. “You can’t point to both Tortoise and an Eclipse plugin for the same directory.”

    I use TortoiseSVN and Subclipse together all the time. I have never had a problem using both, even within the same transaction (e.g., TortoiseSVN to add the files, then commit with Subclipse, or vice versa).

  4. If you’re worried about making a mistake while creating a tag, then automate it in a script. For example, my Ant script defines a target which execs svn to create a tag, switch the working copy to the tag, and build the project.

  5. >Can compare file with “working copy” (last checked out) without connecting to network

    subclipse can do the same.

    >No tag awareness! When I want to commit a file, I need to think about copying the directory to the tags directory. This is a mental jump as I’m really just thinking I want to create a version – not about how Subversion data is stored. I also worry that it is too easy to accidentally create the version in the wrong place.

    This is more a subversion problem, not really client dependent.

  6. Peter,
    It appears the feature I care about is in professional. I’ll give foundation a shot though and see how it compares to Tortoise seeing how it doesn’t have that feature either. I’ll post back here after I’ve tried it a couple weeks.

    Gene,
    I’ll have to experiment with that more. Subversive didn’t seem happy when I tried. I’ll try it with Subclipse.

    Pukkaone,
    I may wind up going down that road. At the moment I’m still evaluating clients. The command line will be “if all else fails” option.

    Valentijn,
    The thing is that CVS is tag aware. Making it feel like a step backward from the client point of view.

  7. We are using SmartSVN because it is very well thought, intuitive usable and works fine on all our development platforms, not just Windows. I can’t stand any IDE integration, because I don’t see the big picture.

  8. As far as stand-alone clients go, I really love SmartSVN’s interface. It’s very intuitive, works on any platform, and there’s file-browser integration on Windows (which I believe TortoiseSVN has to).

    Alas, I’ve been using it for a while, and there have been bugs showing up regularly that force re-installs. Currently, it freezes on “querying cache…”, and removing the local application data or doing svn cleanup didn’t help.

    Two years or so ago, I had bad experiences with Subclipse/Subversive, given my current frustration with SmartSVN, I’m going to give them another shot.

  9. Gene,
    “I use TortoiseSVN and Subclipse together all the time. I have never had a problem using both, even within the same transaction (e.g., TortoiseSVN to add the files, then commit with Subclipse, or vice versa).”

    You’re right; this does work. I guess I’ll be using Subclipse rather than Subversive now. That way I can use it with Tortoise. Tagging isn’t as bad in Tortoise. I can navigate to the tags directory at least leaving me just the tag name to hand type. It’s just an extra step than CVS. I wish I could get Tortoise to remember the tag directory. I guess it can’t because you could be working with multiple repositories. Still, it’s the same relative path.

  10. Pingback: If you tried Subversive before, it’s time to try it again | Down Home Country Coding With Scott Selikoff and Jeanne Boyarsky

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