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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 is Subversion?

    Subversion is a collaborative software tools for developers. It allows distributed workforces and teams that work simultaneously on the same codebase to keep track of each other's progress and saving a revision history.

  • Do I need a special software to use Subversion?

    No, it can be run from the command line — which is why many programmers refer to it as "SVN" — as well as on a live server.

  • What programming languages does Subversion support?

    It includes language bindings for C#, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, and Java.

  • What are the alternatives to Subversion?

    Git is a widely used solution for version control and is probably the most commonly used alternative to Subversion. There are also over 20 commercial version control systems available from many leading software and hardware manufacturers. You can also use CVS, which was a predecessor to Subversion, but it is no longer in active development.

  • What are the requirements for Subversion web hosting?

    It can run with relatively little disk space, 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. If a server has the ability to run Apache Portable Runtime, then it should have no problem running Subversion.

  • Do I have to run a web server myself in order to use Subversion?

    No, you simply have to purchase a hosting plan or use your existing hosting plan to install it on a web server.

  • Can it be used on a shared hosting plan?

    If your project requirements are not too demanding you can use it on a shared hosting plan. However, if your project becomes too demanding, you may need to upgrade to a VPS.

  • Can Subversion be installed by a novice?

    If you have never installed software on a web server manually, you may find this task slightly difficult. There is no one-click installer for Subversion and as such you would have to rely on using the command line for the installation process. Contact your hosting provider for instructions on installing it onto your server.

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

    To use the software itself, you do not need to know how to program. However, since it is geared for software developers, programming knowledge is expected to get the best value out of using it.

  • Is support available?

    There is no official support channel available, however, the community behind the project is rather active and you can find answers to most questions on their mailing list and the project's wiki.

  • What distinguishes Subversion from CVS as a version control solution?

    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 no longer in active development. Another major benefit of using Subversion is that it is easier on resources than CVS as it requires much less server memory.

  • Does Subversion support languages besides English?

    It has been translated into other languages including French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and others.

  • What license is Subversion released under?

    It's released under the Apache license and can be used and distributed for free.

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