SCM Command Line Interface Comparison

With the current discussion on gnome-hackers about whether to switch Gnome over to Subversion, it has been brought up a number of times that people can switch from CVS to Subversion without thinking about it (the implication being that this is not true for Arch). Given the improvements in Bazaar, it isn’t clear that Subversion is the only system that can claim this benefit.

For the sake of comparison, I’m considering the case of a shared repository accessed by multiple developers over SSH. While this doesn’t exploit all the benefits of Arch, it gives a better comparison of the usability of the different tools.


Before using any of CVS, Subversion or Arch, you’ll need a repository. This can be done with the following commands (run on the repository server):

cvs init /cvsroot
svnadmin create --fs-type=fsfs /svnroot
baz make-archive --signed /archives/

(the --signed flag can be omitted if you don’t want to cryptographically sign change sets)

Once the archive is created, you’d need to make sure that everyone has write access to the files, and new files will be created with the appropriate group ownership. This procedure is the same for each system.

Now before users of the arch archive can start using the archive, they will need to tell baz what user ID to associate. Each user only needs to do this once. The email address used should match that on your PGP key, if you’re using a signed archive.

baz my-id "Joe User <>"

Next you’ll want to import some code into the repository. This will be done from one of the client machines, from the source directory:

cvs -d :ext:user@hostname:/cvsroot import modulename vendor-tag release-tag
svn import . svn+ssh://user@hostname/svnroot/modulename/trunk
baz import -a sftp://user@hostname/archives/

In the subversion case, we’re using the standard convention of putting the main branch in a trunk/ subdirectory. In the arch case, you need a three-level module name, so I picked a fairly generic one.

Working with the repository

The first thing a user will want to do is to create a working copy of the module:

cvs -d :ext:user@hostname:/cvsroot get modulename
svn checkout svn+ssh://user@hostname/svnroot/modulename/trunk modulename
baz get sftp://user@hostname/archives/ modulename

The user can then make changes to the working copy, adding new files with the add sub-command, and removing files with rm sub-command. For Subversion there are also mv and cp sub-commands. For Arch, the mv sub-command is supported.

To bring the working copy up to date with the repository, all three systems use the update sub-command. The main difference is that CVS and Subversion will only update the current directory and below, while Arch will update the entire working copy.

If there are any conflicts during the update, you’ll get standard three-way merge conflict markers in all three systems. Unlike CVS, both Subversion and Arch require you to mark each conflict resolved using the resolved sub-command.

To see what changes you have in your working copy, all three systems support a diff command. Again, this works on the full tree in Arch, while only working against a subtree in CVS and Subversion. In all three systems, you can request diffs for individual files by passing the filenames as additional arguments. Unfortunately baz requires you to pass “--” as an argument before the filenames, but hopefully that’ll get fixed in the future.

When it is time to commit the change, all three systems use the commit sub-command. This command also works on a full tree with Arch.

Branching and Merging

Creating a branch is relatively easy in all three systems:

cvs tag foo-anchor . ; cvs tag -b foo .
svn cp . svn+ssh://user@host/svnroot/modulename/branches/foo
baz branch modulename--foo--0

Unlike CVS and Subversion, the baz command will also switch the working copy over to the new branch. By default it will create a branch in the same repository, but can just as easily create a branch in another location.

To switch a working copy between branches, the following commands are used:

cvs update -r foo
svn switch svn+ssh://user@host/svnroot/modulename/branches/foo
baz switch modulename--foo--0

If we switch the working copy back to the trunk, we can merge the changes from the branch you’d do the following:

cvs tag -r foo foo-DATE .; cvs update -j foo-anchor -j foo-DATE .
svn merge -r branch-rev:HEAD svn+ssh://user@host/svnroot/modulename/branches/foo
baz merge modulename--foo--0

This is where Arch’s history sensitive merging starts to shine. Since the working copy retains a record of what changes it is composed of, the merge operation simply pulls over the changes that exist in the branch but not in the working copy — there is no need to tell it what range of changes you want to apply.

To merge more changes from the branch, the CVS and Subversion commands change, while the Arch one remains constant:

cvs tag -r foo foo-DATE .; cvs update -j foo-LAST-DATE -j foo-DATE .
svn merge -r last-merge-rev:HEAD svn+ssh://user@host/svnroot/modulename/branches/foo
baz merge modulename--foo--0


The current Bazaar command line interface isn’t that different from CVS and Subversion (it’s definitely worth a second look if tla scared you off). The main difference is that some of the operations work on the whole working copy rather than a subset by default. In practice, this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

The history sensitive merge capabilities would probably be quite useful for Gnome. For example, it would make it trivial to merge bug fixes made on the stable branch to the head branch.

Disconnected development is a natural extension to the branching and merging support mentioned earlier. The main difference is that you’d have to make a local archive, and then create your branch of the code in that archive instead of the main one. The rest is handled the same.