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What is CVS Hosting?

CVS stands for Concurrent Versions System, an open source revision and versioning control system used in software development. If you've ever used Microsoft Word, you're aware of the Track Changes feature, which allows more than one person to edit a document, and displays the edits to all who have access.

CVS takes the effort out of collaboration

In layman’s terms, CVS is reminiscent of Microsoft Word’s ‘Track Changes’ feature, which allows more than one person to edit a document and displays the edits to all who have access. Authors are able to reinstate older versions of the document, too, should any errors be made. The same approach is used in popular content management systems and platforms such as Wordpress.

CVS offers the same kind of collaborative environment for developers working on the same software project. It allows every edit and change to be tracked and identified, and again, if any mistakes are made it's possible to revert to a previous iteration and immediately fix errors, maintaining functionality and saving valuable man-hours in the process. It makes collaboration and creation efficient and easier to manage.

All revisions made to the code using CVS are kept in a repository. The biggest advantage to repositories is that they are usually available via a Web-based browser. This kind of interface makes accessing the repositories much easier for all who may be working on the same project. It does away with many compatibility issues and helps streamline the collaborative process.

CVS Limitations

While CVS can speed up development and training by allowing multiple developers access to numerous versions of code, it is still no substitute for good planning and management.

CVS merely stores various iterations of the code in its repository and it cannot replace a proper build system.

Although it can speed up communication and streamline the development process, CVS is not a substitute for good intra-team communication and cooperation. The system can provide team leaders and managers with a better insight into the inner workings of their teams, but it is still just another tool in the developers’ collaborative arsenal.

CVS can help developers identify and track bugs in some situations, but this largely depends on the way it is used and on the way developers choose to treat bugs. It can also be used to streamline testing, but CVS is not an automated testing programme.

Alternative Version System Solutions

Since CVS has been around since the eighties, it has managed to attract a sizable following. However, there are a number of alternatives, including open source GNU licensed tools and proprietary ones.

Apache Subversion (SVN) is one of the more widespread alternatives and it was designed to address some CVS shortcomings. SVN is distributed under the Apache license, but it is still free an open source. Over the years many developers have adopted SVN over CVS thanks to its comprehensive feature set, but it still has a number of limitations.

However, both SVN and CVS are relatively dated and facing strong competition from new version system solutions.

Git differs from CVS and SVN since it is built for Unix-like systems and does not need a centralised server. However, Git may not be the best choice for individual developers and it can be more difficult to use than CVS and SVN.

Mercurial is another distributed revision tool that tries to blend the best of both worlds, as it shares a lot of features found in SVN, but it is a decentralised system. While it is easier to master than Git, Mercurial lacks some features found on other platforms.

A number of less popular or niche solutions as well, including open source and commercial clients, including TortoiseGit, GitX, Gittiapp, SmartGit and others.

Hosting Considerations

CVS servers are compatible with most platforms on the market and clients for numerous operating systems, even obsolete ones, are widely available.

It should also be noted that CVS is not a true configuration management system although this term is used in some marketing pitches. Some hosts may say they offer CVS hosting, but this basically means they allow developers to store their CVS repositories.

Remote repositories can be used on a wide range of servers and hardware requirements can be described as modest in this day and age.

Needless to say, there are a number of security considerations when dealing with remote repositories, so sound security practices should always be employed.

CVS Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does CVS stand for? What is it?

    CVS stands for Concurrent Versions System or Concurrent Versioning System. It is an automated revision control system used by software developers. CVS is used to keep track of all changes in files used by developers, allowing them to track down changes that may have caused problems.

  • Who is the publisher? Is CVS regularly updated?

    The system was published and maintained by the CVS Team. CVS was originally released in 1990, but development has all but ceased. The latest version was released in mid-2008. CVSNT, a CVS port for several operating systems, was in active development for a while, but as of 2010 this is no longer the case.

  • Why does CVS still have so many followers?

    Old habits die hard. Developers who honed their skills in the nineties and at the turn of the millennium are quite familiar with CVS. In addition, CVS is open source, allowing anonymous changes and various features that may be used by decentralized groups of developers.

  • What about alternatives?

    There are a number of similar systems that allow you to track changes either using proprietary programs or through a browser interface. OpenGrok, Git, SVN, Mercurial TortoiseCVS, Bonsai CVS and Cervisia are some of them.

  • I have a lot of old CVS repositories and I might need them again. How do I set up a CVS server if I choose to move to a new host?

    CVS is ancient and you should no trouble finding all the necessary components to set up a server. Usually, all it takes to set up a Linux-based server is OpenSSH, although other access methods can be used to access CVS repositories, but not in all ports.

  • What about IDEs? Do users of integrated development environments need CVS?

    No, most of them don’t, as they have moved on to other, more up to date systems. A lot of IDEs feature support for CVS, including Eclipse, Emacs, Komodo, NetBeans, Visual Studio and others.

  • What should I watch out for if I still need a host with CVS support?

    Some hosts tend to erroneously market CVS support as configuration management system support, which is not true since CVS is not a configuration management system. Also, some hosts claiming to offer CVS hosting basically allow users to store their CVS repositories, which is possible on most hosting plans.

  • Hosting a vast repository of my code online sounds risky. What about security?

    Security is always important, especially if you deal with sensitive information, such as unreleased software or confidential projects. Of course, if you deal with such projects on a regular basis you are probably well aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions.

  • Should I be aware of any compatibility issues?

    Not really. Most people nowadays use browsers to access CVS repositories, which means they can access them from practically any system with a standard browser, regardless of platform. Cross-platform compatibility should not be a problem.

  • What programming language is CVS written in?

    The software was developed in C, not C++ or anything fancy, just good old C. Remember, CVS was developed in the eighties.

  • What’s RCS? Is it part of CVS?

    RCS, or Revision Control System, is a separate program developed for revision management. CVS is used to track changes, while RCS is used to manage the changes in each source code file.

  • Does CVS keep loads of copies of different source code files?

    No, it doesn’t work that way. CVS repositories only contain the changes rather than thousands of different copies for each committed revision. It’s not a backup system, it’s a versioning system.

  • How does CVS compare to Apache Subversion?

    Apache Subversion (SVN) is a widely used alternative and for the most part it is compatible with CVS. It is widely used by the open source community and published under the Apache License. Unlike CVS, Apache Subversion still receives regular updates, as of 2015. It also supports commits as atomic operations, which CVS does not.

  • What about Git? How does it compare?

    Git is a distributed revision control system and unlike client – server systems like CVS, every Git directory is also a repository with version tracking capabilities. Git was developed by Linus Torvalds for Linux development.

  • Mercurial is another alternative, is it worth checking out?

    Yes. Mercurial is a distributed revision control systems that can operate on Windows and Unix-like systems. It’s free and published under GNU GPL v2. It has gained a strong following since its launch in 2005 and is currently used by Facebook, Mozilla, SourceForge, Nginx and other organizations and projects.

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