Ode to subversion

This isn't normally a tech blog because:

  1. there are enough of those

  2. I generally don't think about computers outside of work



However, I wanted to write a quick blurb about subversion. Subversion is a "version control system", which is a computer program that lets you store incremental versions of things. Back in the old days, when computer programs were on punch cards or tape, there were jobs for people who kept the cards or tapes, catalogued them, and lent them out to programmers who were working on them. Today, that job is fully automated by systems like RCS, CVS, subversion, Clear CASE, PVCS, etc.

Version control is not a self-evident concept, until you screw something up. Why would I want every single change stored away on a separate machine? Well, imagine this scenario: You're coding, it's 2 days to release, and it's late. You make a fairly boneheaded change (*cough*hack*cough*), and you put it into the product. Let's say your change touched 14 files in 10 different directories. It's 10 pm, so you just pray the thing will work and then you head home.

Come morning, it's broken, and you've got 1 day to back out the change and put the real fix in. Without version control, that's an ardous manual process--and God help you if you didn't write down which files changed! However, with a system like subversion, you can request the version of the code BEFORE your change went in with a single command.

* * *

Here at LXK, we've been using an ancient system called PVCS, written for Windows NT 3.51 that was a disaster. No one we hired knew how to use it, and learning the system was a waste because no other version control system worked like PVCS. For our latest project, we switched to Subversion, and it's been like a night/day difference.

Checkouts are simple, commits are simple, branches and tags are not only possible--they're easy! Trying new things is now safe...

Good, solid tool that I recommend, along with the excellent book Pragmatic version control using Subversion by Mike Mason. It's been right at my fingertips for the last 3 months, and I find something neat every time I open it.

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