Time to svn commit like it's the year 2000: Apache celebrates 20 years of Subversion

Git outta here – has it been that long?

People bursting into the party

The Apache Software Foundation has decreed this week to be the 20th anniversary of the source code management system, Subversion. So, happy birthday SVN!

The Subversion project was kicked off by software outfit CollabNet in 2000. The plan was to create an open source version-control system that worked a bit like the Concurrent Versions System (CVS) that was popular at the time, but with improved functionality.

CollabNet contacted Karl Fogel in February 2000 to see if he fancied having a crack at the project.

Brian Behlendorf, co-founder of CollabNet and co-founder of The Apache Software Foundation, described the decision to do so as one of the best of his life.

Fogel enthusiastically agreed to get involved and design work began in May 2000. By 2001 the system was self-hosting and the Subversion team were able to drop CVS for management of the project's source code and move to Subversion instead.

The desire to build something that walked and talked like CVS, but just did it all a bit better means that, unlike the methodology of Git, Subversion uses a centralised revision control model. With Git, Linux supremo Linus Torvalds declared CVS as an example of what not to do. We doubt he's sent the SVN gang a birthday cake, having described their baby as "the most pointless project ever started."

In 2009 Subversion was submitted to the Apache Incubator, and by February 2010 had emerged as a top-level project. Today, the Apache Software Foundation continues to use Subversion in its own infrastructure, housing millions of lines of code and more than 1.8 million commits across 300 Apache Top-Level Projects and sub-projects.

Indeed, if a centralised model is what you're after, then Subversion continues to perform admirably. Delighting in the fact that the system was "still going strong," Fogel said: "In situations where Subversion's centralized model is the right tool for the job, it really shines."

One of the earlier Subversion developers, Brian Fitzpatrick, added: "Even though most people use Git today in the Open Source world, Subversion was the catalyst that allowed folks to move from CVS to Git and so many other modern day version control systems."

With Subversion celebrating 20 years since that initial conversation, Git looms large. The 2018 Stack Overflow survey showed almost 90 per cent of respondents checking in their code via Git. In 2015, 36.5 per cent were hanging on to Subversion, but the lure of Git has proved too great to resist.

This month was also the 25th anniversary of the release of the first Microsoft-branded version of Visual SourceSafe. Oddly, nobody seems to have broken out the bunting for that particular millstone milestone. ®

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