07.04.2008 On Moving Gtk+ to Git

See: http://blogs.testbit.eu/timj/2008/04/07/07042008-on-moving-gtk-to-git/ (page moved)

There have been several requests about hosting Gtk+ (and GLib) as a Git repository recently and since that topic has come up more and more often, I meant to write about this for quite some time.

Let’s first take a look at the actual motivation for such a move. There are a good number of advantages we would get out of using Git as a source code repository for Gtk+ and GLib:

  • We can work offline with the Gtk+ history and source code.
  • We can work much faster on Gtk+ even when online with tools such as git-log and git-blame.
  • It will be much easier for people to branch off and do development on their own local branches for a while, exchange their code easily with pulling branches between private repositories, etc. I.e. get all the advantages of a truly distributed versioning system.
  • With Git it’s much easier to carry along big Gtk+ changes including history by using cherry picking and (interactive) rebasing.
  • We can make proper public backups of the source code repositories. This ought to be possible already via svnsync, but isn’t for svn.gnome.org because we run an svn 1.3.x server instead of an svn 1.4.x server that is required by svnsync. (Yes, this issue has been raised with the sysadmins already.)

A quick poll on IRC has shown that all affected core maintainers are pretty much favoring Git over SVN as a source code repository for GLib/Gtk+.

However, here are the points to be considered for not moving the repositories to Git (just yet):

  • Complexity; Git is often perceived to be harder to use than SVN, there are several attempts to mitigate this problem though: Easy Git Giggle yyhelp.
    With some of the above, Git is as easy to use as SVN is, so Git complexity doesn’t need to be holding anyone off at this point.
  • Git may be stable and mature these days, but git-svn is not there yet. It is generally good enough to create local Git mirrors of SVN repositories and work from those to have most of the Git convenience on top of an SVN project.
    But git-svn has seen structural changes recently, quite some rewriting and bug fixing that indicate it’s still too much in flux for the one-and-only SVN->Git migration for projects at the scale of Gtk+. This is not meant as criticism on git-svn, fairly the opposite actually. It’s good to see such an important component be alive and vivid. All issues I’ve raised with the maintainer so far have been addressed, but it seems advisable to wait for some stabilization before trusting all the Gtk+ history to it.
  • Gitweb interfaces already exist for GLib/Gtk+ mirrors, for example on testbit: Testbit Git Browser.
    These can be used for cloning which is much faster than a full git-svn import. Alternatively, shallow git-svn imports can be created like this:
      git-svn clone -T trunk -b branches -t tags -r 19001 svn://svn.gnome.org/svn/gtk+

    This will create a repository with a mere ~1000 revisions, including all changes since we branched for 2.12. We’re using such a shallow repository for faster cloning of our GSEAL() development at Imendio: view gtk+.git.

  • In summer 2006, we’ve had the first test migration of all of GNOME CVS to SVN, in December 2006 we’ve had the final migration. During that period, the Beast project stayed migrated to SVN to work out the quirks from the CVS->SVN migration before we migrate all other GNOME modules and have to fix up everyones converted modules. There were quite some issues that needed fixing after the initial test migration and in the end we had to rebuild the Beast development history from pieces. Preventing the other GNOME modules from such hassle was the entire point in migrating Beast early on, so I’m not complaining.
    However, given the size and importance of GLib/Gtk+, the development history of those projects shouldn’t be put at a similar risk. That is, GLib/Gtk+ shouldn’t be pioneering our next source repository migration, let some other small project do this and work out the quirks first.
  • git-svn already provides a good part of the Git advantages to developers while Gtk+ stays hosted in SVN. Albeit due to mismatching hashes, syncing branches between distinct git-svn checkouts of different people is tedious. Setting up an “official” git-svn mirror on git.gtk.org could probably help here. Also, to ease integration, jhbuild could be extended to use git-svn instead of svn commandos to update SVN modules, if the current module has a .git/ subdirectory instead of a .svn/ subdirectory.

The bottom line is, there’s a good number of advantages that Git already can (or could) provide for our development even without migrating the repositories to Git right away. When exactly will be a good point for migrating GLib/Gtk+ and possibly other GNOME modules might not be an easy call, but right now is definitely too early.