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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 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some good reasons to use Subversion?

    Subversion is a collaborative software for those who work in the development and programming communities. Distributed workforces and teams that work simultaneously on the same codebase will find Subversion to be a great asset for keeping track of each other's progress and saving a revision history. Subversion can be run from the command line - which is why many programmers refer to it as 'SVN' - as well as on a live server.

  • Are there any reasons not to use Subversion?

    For custom software development and website programming projects, Subversion is a great solution for managing revision histories. However, it is not always necessary for smaller websites that run on modern platforms. Many content management systems available today have revision history built into their platforms. Some of the most popular systems deployed today - in particular, WordPress and certain wiki systems - come with complete revision histories for every page created.

  • What are the alternatives to Subversion?

    Subversion is still a very relevant version control solution. CVS was a predecessor to Subversion that is no longer supported or developed, but could be used as an alternative if you are doing revision control on an obsolete website or program. Git is widely used solution for version control and is probably the most commonly used alternative to Subversion that is relevant and actively supported. There are also over 20 commercial version control systems available from many leading software and hardware manufacturers.

  • What are the requirements for Subversion web hosting?

    Subversion can run on a relatively small disk space allocation, but its server and the client will not be able to sync if they are more than 1 major release apart. Subversion can be integrated into any major server version - Apache, Unix, MacOS X, and several more. If a server has the ability to run Apache Portable Runtime, then it should have no problem running Subversion.

  • Are there any additional specific hosting recommendations?

    When you use Apache, there are a lot of requirements that it dictates. One of the biggest is memory usage on your server. While Subversion requires far less server memory than some of its competitors in the market, you will want to review all of the other applications on the server using resources before blindly installing Subversion.

  • What does self-hosted mean? I don’t have to run a server myself, do I?

    Self-hosted servers and their associated platforms do not require YOU to personally own the server and manage it to host your site. Instead, self-hosted simply means that hosting is not provided directly by the development team that created the version control solution you are using to manage revisions of your software or website. In order to use a self-hosted Subversion as your version control, you will need to review the hosting requirements with your provider before installing it as an option with their packages.

  • Do I need managed hosting in order to use Subversion as my CMS?

    The answer to this question depends on your answer to the question "how much responsibility are you willing to accept for the maintenance of your website?" The more unique your web server becomes, the greater your need will be for professionally managed services. Shared hosting often comes with some managed services included. If you have a dedicated hosting solution, however, managed services are not always required as part of your agreement. To be fair, this is the case with any self-hosted version control solution - not just Subversion.

  • Can I host Subversion on a shared hosting plan?

    Because Subversion is so flexible and light on resources, it is feasible to host it on a shared hosting platform. However, if you and a team of developers are programming software or applications on a shared hosting server, you may not have enough resources to allocate. So while you can host this on a shared platform, it is not recommended because shared hosting is probably not the best environment for development.

  • Do I need to be concerned about installation?

    No. Subversion is a light application that is compatible with almost any server type. Because your server is likely compatible and Subversion is unlikely to interfere with your public facing website, there shouldn't be any issues or concerns with installing it onto your server. If you are inexperienced with installing software onto your server, perhaps a consultation with your hosting provider is necessary before attempting to upload Subversion.

  • Is there any reason not to use a one-click installation wizard?

    There are a couple version control software available through one-click installation wizards - according to our research, Subversion isn't one of them. Because it isn't available, you will either need to be familiar with installing software via FTP client or another server access point like cPanel. That said, if Subversion ever does become available through a one-click installation, you shouldn't have any problem using it to load Subversion. Consult with your hosting provider before installing this if you are inexperienced with uploading software to a server.

  • Do I have to know how to program to use Subversion?

    Tough question. Subversion is a simple and effective program to use for revisions and version control of your development projects. However, because it is intended to review code on multiple webpages, a user of Subversion will probably need to be a savvy programmer to get value out of the software. So, to use Subversion itself, you do not need know how to program. But in order to get value out of Subversion, you are likely to need a programmer to also use the solution.

  • How does Subversion compare to CVS as a version control solution?

    CVS was used to coordinate developers who worked at different times to prevent them overlapping each others' work. You can probably still use CVS if you have an outdated website that you need to maintain through version control. Subversion replaces and improves on CVS, which is now rarely updated. Another major benefit of using Subversion is that it is easier on resources than CVS. With Subversion, you can expect to need much less server memory than you would for comparable CVS repositories.

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