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Subversion Client Evaluation

Even though I am a huge believer in DVCS, for some projects I am still bound to use subversion.  I have development environments set up under Windows (primarily .NET), Mac OS (Mono and iPhone) and Linux (Mono, Haskell), so I’d like my tools to be nearly identical on all three platforms to reduce any friction not directly related to writing code.

I use version control on any project I do, some of them being cross-platform projects (e.g. mono ports), so having frictionless access to my VCS on any platform is of primary concern to me. All version control systems I happen to use at the moment run on all platforms and have good (svn, git) or excellent (hg) command line utilities, but I like the comfort of a GUI. Especially for browsing history and diffing or merging, graphical tools are irreplaceable.

Finding a good multi-platform VCS Client GUIs for subversion is not very easy, I have evaluated quite a few of them but haven’t reached any final conlusion. Here are my notes on each:

Qt based, only very basic repository operations, no stable version available, development has stalled in 2007. No recent releases (SVN 1.6.x) available.

Qt based, lightweight and solid. Actively developed, recent releases available. Easy project set-up and configuration. The GUI is very streamlined and sufficient for day to day use. Very intuitive. No merge support.

WxWidgets based, development has stalled in late 2009. There might be future maintenance but so far it doesn’t look very promising. Ugly GUI. Haven’t tried any further.

Qt based, rich feature set and actively developed. The user interface is not very intuitive but you’ll get used to it. I found refreshing the repository status to be very slow. So far the most complete OSS choice (including merge support). I’d prefer QSvn for the standard tasks.

Java based, sadly enough it’s commercial. You’ll get a 30-days trial for the pro version, after that only features of the “Foundation” version are enabled. I have found it to be very intuitive, stable and fast. SmartSVN has some features that will make life with SVN easier such as prepared commits (think of a private patch queue, unfortunately not in the free edition) and a graphical revision graph. Very good merge support.

In principle I am a fan of stand-alone utilities as I think of coding and version control as sequential tasks. Having to collect my changes manually forces me to review them once more before finally comitting, which is a good thing. Subversion is a very mature VCS and has been around for very long, so I expected to find some decent OSS Clients for it. To be honest, the existing projects seem to be far behind here. The commercial SmartSVN is the best stand-alone client I have seen.

Given this situation, I am heavily leaning towards using IDE integrated tools for subversion. In contrast to a DVCS, using a centralized system takes away more than enough freedom anyway, so using IDE integrated tools won’t hurt any further. Most of the IDEs I use provide native Subversion support (XCode, MonoDevelop, Eclipse) or via a plugin (AnkhSVN for Visual Studio). The supported features are equivalent to what a simple tool like QSvn has to offer, for everything else I’ll probably use SmartSVN.

  1. bogdan
    April 23, 2010 at 03:19


    Nice writeup, thanks. Having evaluated these, I am interested in your opinion of two other clients our team is considering:

    kdesvn (http://kdesvn.alwins-world.de/)
    RabbitVCS (http://rabbitvcs.org/)

    Best Regards

  2. April 27, 2010 at 23:02

    Hello bogdan,

    both are Linux only, so I haven’t evaluated them. KDESvn looks nice but is only an option if you use KDE (some prefer Gnome or XFCE, so it’s not an option then). RabbitVCS looks like a solid clone of TortoiseSVN.

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