Subversion is an open source version control system used by developers to manage source code; it was an improvement over CVS which it to some extent replaced. Everyone loved it until Linus Torvalds came up with an alternative called Git which is better suited for the distributed development typical of large open source projects like Linux. Now everyone loves Git – with a bit of love left over for another distributed system called Mercurial – and Subversion has become a tad unfashionable, though still widely used.
David Richards is president and CEO of WANdisco, which has a source code management suite based on Subversion. He has announced his intention to “shake up Software Change Management” by fixing Subversion’s weak points. He writes:
Enough is enough. Subversion gets a lot of criticism due to the shortcomings of branching and merging, especially when compared with GIT and others, and we simply don’t have the time to debate whether or not this should be done when it clearly should be.
Why so combative? Well, there a few curious points here. Subversion was originally sponsored by Collabnet, which has its own ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) suite which uses Subversion, as well as a free product called Subversion Edge which packages the official open source release with some convenient tools. Subversion did not become a top-level Apache project until February 17 2010. According to Richards, there is now competition between commercial companies to be seen as the primary Subversion sponsors. In a blog post today, Richard refers to “commercial interests that are dependent on the perception that they are the ones developing Subversion” and adds:
We also believe it’s unhelpful when certain unscrupulous committers decide to commit trivial changes in large files to simply get their stats up.
Richards feels that Subversion development has stagnated:
Didn’t the community just announce a road map? Yes they did, but that’s pretty much all that happened (and that really pisses us off.) The commit logs (code committed by developers to the project) tell the real story. We are not happy with the volume, speed or participation on the project right now. Blogging, or answering questions on user lists are important, but so is writing source code.
The not-so-veiled threat in Richards’ post is that he will fork Subversion if necessary. He says “we don’t believe that [forking] is necessary” but when he adds later that “we would prefer that this be a community effort” it seems clear that forking is an option.
Richard says that WANdisco held a “summit” of companies with a vested interest in Subversion and that there was “a common theme: branching and merging must improve.”
Personally I like Subversion though it is also obvious that Git is superior for many projects. Richards does not help his cause by accusing “GIT Fanatics” of being unfair in their criticisms. The comments to his post are worth reading, for example:
I used Subversion without prejudice over CVS because it was better. Today I use Git without prejudice over the other two. Git has changed how I work. I use facilities in Git that are not possible with Subversion or CVS.
Developers who take this view will not care much now about Subversion. Still, a lot of people still use it, probably many more than those who use Git, and improvements would be welcome. I am not clear though why the CEO of WANdisco is sounding so embattled, or what politics or difference of opinion is dividing the Subversion community, and would like to hear more about it.
Update: clarified that Subversion Edge is a free product
Update 2: The Apache Software Foundation replies in a blog post:
WANdisco’s false implication that it is in some kind of steering position in Subversion development discredits the efforts of other contributors and companies … we welcome WANdisco’s involvement in Subversion, and failure on WANdisco’s part to address the above concerns will have no effect on the acceptance of technical work funded by WANdisco. We simply felt it necessary to clarify WANdisco’s role in Apache Subversion, for the benefit of our users and potential contributors.