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What is Subversion Hosting?

To make it easier for developers to track code changes, Subversion (SVN) hosting offers easily accessible repositories and a Web interface.

As you develop software, you'll need to manage the different revisions and ensure changes are properly tracked. Subversion is an open source version control system (VCS) that you will often see abbreviated to 'SVN'. If you want to learn how to code, picking up good habits is essential, and Subversion will help you to stay organised as you develop your own scripts.

What SVN Does

Subversion is used to track different versions of a project, such as a software application, while it's in active development. It saves snapshots of each file and helps developers to monitor changes and backtrack if they need to.

On an extremely basic level, Subversion monitors:

  • File operations (such as renaming, copying and moving files)
  • Directories
  • Files that are being worked on
  • The activities of different collaborators

It also produces a log file to XML format, so it's easy to see what's been changed, and who changed it. Changes to any file can be rolled back.

One of Subversion's biggest strengths is its ability to track work over a network, or over the web. This makes it ideal for collaborative projects, hence its popularity with the open source community. From the command line, it is run using the svn command, which gives it its abbreviated name.

Subversion was not the first entrant to this sector. It is a modern take on the Concurrent Versions System (CVS), which itself was a reworking of the Revision Control System (RCS); the latter was developed for simple development tasks, while CVS was used to coordinate developers who worked at different times to prevent them overlapping each others' work. Subversion replaces and improves on CVS, which is now rarely updated.

Subversion History

The first version of Subversion was formally released in 2004 by CollabNet after four years in development. CollabNet specifically wanted to replace CVS, the system it was currently using, and sought developers who were up to the challenge. One of the people who signed up was Jim Blandy who was working for Red Hat Software at the time.

As the freeware market exploded, Subversion became the default choice for version control. It has been used to measure development on many prominent projects, including many run by Google. Subversion was formally brought into the Apache family in 2010.

Subversion is now known as Apache Subversion and is maintained by a community of developers. Its open source position makes it accessible for all. CollabNet contributes financially to keep the project going.

Who Uses Subversion?

There are three main audiences for this type of software:

  • Coders who are working on a collaborative project
  • Technical writers developing documentation for a website or app
  • Web developers updating and improving website designs

However, Subversion can be used for practically any collaborative project. You could write a recipe book and invite others to improve your recipes. You could create a series of playlists and let others edit and expand on them.

However, remember that Subversion has quite a lot of specialised features, and it will be overkill for many small projects that don't require granular versioning. Subversion makes simple file editing and other basic tasks far more complicated, so it's only appropriate if you can justify that extra admin.

Web Hosting Requirements

Subversion saves a file path and a revision number for every file in the project. It does not host any files itself, so its data represents links to files rather than the files. This means Subversion can run on a relatively small disk space allocation. However, not all hosts will offer Subversion because it's so specialised. Look for specific details on the host's site, and submit pre-sales questions to make sure you'll get what you need.

Make sure your host can make Subversion private, and ensure it won't plaster your install with advertising. If you have a large team, check you won't be charged extra for sharing.

Backup provision is strongly recommended. Don't rely on your host's backups, since they're almost certainly private to their host, and you won't be allowed access to them. Pay for a good quality cloud backup service, or buy an appropriate service as an add-on to your hosting plan. If Subversion is central to your project, the extra cost will be justified.

SVN Frequently Asked Questions

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