Menu Search
Jump to the content X

7 Version Control Systems Reviewed


If you’ve ever collaborated with other people on a project, you know the frustration of constantly swapping files. Some do it by email, some through file upload services and some by other methods. It’s a pain in the neck, and every designer and developer knows it. Revision control is an excellent way to combat the problem of sharing files between workers.

Most web-developers have probably worked with some sort of revision control system, but designers may find it a foreign concept. The most obvious benefit of using revision control is the ability to have an unlimited number of people working on the same code base, without having to constantly send files back and forth.

But designers and developers can both benefit from using revision control systems to keep copies of their files and designs. You can instantly browse previous “commits” to your repository and revert to earlier versions if something happens.

This article reviews some of the top open-source version control systems and tools that make setting up a version control system easy.

CVS Link


CVS2 is the grandfather of revision control systems. It was first released in 1986, and Google Code still hosts the original Usenet post announcing CVS. CVS is the de facto standard and is installed virtually everywhere. However, the code base isn’t as fully featured as SVN or other solutions.

The learning curve isn’t too steep for CVS, and it’s a very simple system for making sure files and revisions are kept up to date. While CVS may be an older technology, it’s still quite useful for any designer or developer for backing up and sharing files.

Tortoise CVS3 is a great client for CVS on Windows, and there are many different IDEs, such as Xcode174 (Mac), Eclipse5, NetBeans6 and Emacs7, that use CVS.

CVS Resources Link

SVN Link


Subversion13 is probably the version control system with the widest adoption. Most open-source projects use Subversion as a repository because other larger projects, such as SourceForge, Apache, Python, Ruby and many others, use it as well. Google Code14 uses Subversion exclusively to distribute code.

Because of Subversion’s popularity, many different Subversion clients are available. If you’re a Windows user, Tortoise SVN15 is a great file browser for viewing, editing and modifying your Subversion code base. If you’re on a Mac, Versions16 is an elegant client that provides a “pleasant way to work with Subversion.” Xcode174 is Apple’s developer environment and Subversion client that ships with Leopard on a Mac.

SVN Resources Link

Git Link


Git26 is the new fast-rising star of version control systems. Initially developed by Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds, Git has recently taken the Web development community by storm. Git offers a much different type of version control in that it’s a distributed version control system. With a distributed version control system, there isn’t one centralized code base to pull the code from. Different branches hold different parts of the code. Other version control systems, such as SVN and CVS, use centralized version control, meaning that only one master copy of the software is used.

Git prides itself on being a fast and efficient system, and many major open-source projects use Git to power their repositories; projects like:

GitHub31 has recently helped establish Git as a great version control system, providing a beautiful front end for many large projects, such as Rails32 and Prototype33. However, Git isn’t as easy to pick up as CVS or SVN, so it’s much harder to use for a beginner.


Git Resources Link

Mercurial Link


Mercurial39 is another open-source distributed version control system, like Git. Mercurial was designed for larger projects, most likely outside the scope of designers and independent Web developers. That doesn’t mean that small development teams can’t or shouldn’t use it. Mercurial is extremely fast, and the creators built the software with performance as the most important feature. The name “mercurial” is an adjective that means “Relating to or having characteristics (eloquence, swiftness, cleverness) attributed to the god Mercury.”

Aside from being very fast and scalable, Mercurial is a much simpler system than Git, which is why it appeals to some developers. There aren’t as many functions to learn, and the functions are similar to those in other CVS systems. It also comes equipped with a stand-alone Web interface and extensive documentation on understanding Mercurial if you have been using another system.

Resources for Mercurial Link

Bazaar Link


Bazaar45 is yet another distributed version control system, like Mercurial and Git, that offers a very friendly user experience. It calls itself “Version control for human beings.” It supports many different types of workflows46, from solo to centralized to decentralized, with many variations in between.

One of the main features of Bazaar is the fine-grained control you’ll have over the setup. As shown with the workflows, you can use it to fit almost any scenario of users and setups. This is a great revision control system for nearly any project because it’s so easy to modify. It’s also embeddable, so you can add it to existing projects.

Bazaar also has a strong community47 that maintains things like plug-ins48 and lots of third-party tools49, such as GUI software to add a graphical interface to the system.


Bazaar resources: Link

LibreSource Link


LibreSource56 is a Web portal used to manage collaborative projects. It’s based on Java/J2EE and is more a set of visual collaborative tools to help facilitate projects and teams. While the other systems discussed so far have been designed more on a “command line” level, LibreSource is centered more on tools that don’t have a big learning curve.

It has built-in features such as Wiki pages, forums, trackers, Synchronizers, Subversion repositories, files, download areas, drop boxes, forms, instant messaging and more. Think of LibreSource as a collaboration hub for project development.

LibreSource is perfect for the developer or designer who doesn’t want to learn lots of technical jargon and wants to focus more on communication with the project’s members. Just install the package and start collaborating, without facing much of a learning curve.


Resources for LibreSource Link

Monotone Link

Monotone60 is the baby of the distributed revision control bunch. While many of Monotone’s peers focus on performance, Monotone places higher value on integrity than performance. In fact, it can take quite a bit of time for a new user of Monotone to simply download the initial repository due to the extensive validation and authentication required.

Monotone is fairly easy to learn if you’re familiar with CVS systems, and it can import previous CVS projects. However, it’s not quite as popular as other version control systems.

Monotone Resources Link

Version Control Tools Link

  • QCT GUI commit tool63
    A version control commit tool that supports Mercurial, Bazaar, Cogito (Git), Subversion, Monotone, and CVS.
  • Meld64 is a merge and diff tool that allows you to compare two or three files and edit them in place, while updating automatically. It works with CVS, Subversion, Bazaar and Mercurial.
  • Push Me Pull You65 is another GUI for distributed version control systems. It works with Mercurial, Git, Bazaar and Darcs.

Version Control Resources Link

Footnotes Link

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14
  15. 15
  16. 16
  17. 17
  18. 18
  19. 19
  20. 20
  21. 21
  22. 22
  23. 23
  24. 24
  25. 25
  26. 26
  27. 27;a=summary
  28. 28
  29. 29
  30. 30
  31. 31
  32. 32
  33. 33
  34. 34
  35. 35
  36. 36
  37. 37
  38. 38
  39. 39
  40. 40
  41. 41
  42. 42
  43. 43
  44. 44
  45. 45
  46. 46
  47. 47
  48. 48
  49. 49
  50. 50
  51. 51
  52. 52
  53. 53
  54. 54
  55. 55
  56. 56
  57. 57
  58. 58
  59. 59
  60. 60
  61. 61
  62. 62
  63. 63
  64. 64
  65. 65
  66. 66
  67. 67
  68. 68

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Glen Stansberry is the editor at Web Jackalope, a blog about creative Web development.

  1. 1

    Wow, thanks, never used any of those applications but I will certainly check out some of those. Thanks.

  2. 2

    My favorite GUI SVN Client is SmartSVN. Cross platform and easy to use. The compare tool is one of the best I’ve seen.

  3. 3

    I’ve recently switched over to Mercurial (abbreviated Hg after Mercury) after using SVN for years and finding Git’s mish-mash of sub-programs horrendous to use (the quality varies so much, whereas Hg is pure Python code throughout). Also, how come you didn’t mention Mozilla use Hg for Firefox etc? I just wish their were more GUI clients for Hg on Mac.

  4. 4

    best tool is textmate’s integrated svn :)

  5. 5

    I recently switched to Git although it took a little while to pick things up it was worthwhile. I stringly suggest getting the Peepcode Screencast on Git. It was the best $9 I’ve spent and well worth the hour to run through it.

  6. 6

    I’d like to note that the Fedora Project doesn’t use git in quite the way you represent. Packaging, the major use of version control for Fedora is currently done in cvs with many people exploring how we can move to one or more other version control systems.

    The link you have is actually to the service that we run. The canonical URL is We have hosting services for various upstream projects. We support git, hg (, bzr (, and subversion in fedorahosted.

  7. 7

    My favorite goes to Subversion (hosted @ Beanstalk) with Tortoise as client.
    The ultimate combo !

  8. 8

    I used to use svn with Versions, but I can’t really say I enjoyed the experience. If you’re not afraid of terminal, I’d recommend you give Git a try. Once you have figured out how to set it up, it’s a breeze to use.

  9. 9

    I always used Tortoise CVS it works great!
    Have to check the other ones out ass well soon.

    nice post again….

  10. 10

    One major downside to CVS is that it doesn’t support binary diffs. So if you use it for more than code you end up with a lot of duplication. The other tools are more efficient so if for example you have a website project you can include images, mock-ups and such in the repository as well.

  11. 11

    I use CVS and SVN quite a lot, never knew about the others

  12. 12

    I’m using the subversion way, with svn on Ubuntu as client. Nice listing by the way

  13. 13

    Excellent list. Also very helpful.

  14. 14

    I think that Git is becaming more and more popular because of the Rails Community, but Mercurial and Baazar are also good choices.
    Very Nice Listing. Thanks!

  15. 15

    I just switched to using SVN for my web development projects and I will never go back. For OS X using Versions Versions has been a pleasant way to implement SVN into my workflow. Combine Versions with Changes Changes for diff comparison and I’m pretty sure you’ll never go back to “file.htm.old” again.

  16. 16

    Great article! I’ll definitely give a chance to Bazaar.

    jQuery tips, version control… looks like some developpers are sneaking inside SM :)

  17. 17

    VersionsVersions for Mac OSX is great! It’s still in Beta, but far superior and more user-friendly than all of the other SVN clients I’ve tried for either Mac or PC.

  18. 18

    I use TortiseSVN on Windows and svnX for Mac. For Hosted SVN we use Springloops which is similar to Beanstalk but has a friendly UI and Deployment actually makes sense.

  19. 19

    We use SVN from long time and is very great as a versioning tool. As a client we use mixed, TortoiseSVN (admin, advanced users) and SVN for Dreamweaver (visual developers, HTML coders).
    This 2 combination is the best we find out.

  20. 20

    Excellent info.
    I have used CVS before and not dared to use any other yet.
    Will try to use others sometime.

    Pathange Vinay

    • 21

      Hello All Version Control guru’s

      Excellent article and comments from you all..

      How are you doing? just a small favor.. I am evaluating an alternate tool from CVS that is currently used by my org.. As HP support is no longer available, I was told, CVS is on its way out.. We need an alternate tool.. Now we have parallel software changes coming up, is it worthwhile to use SVN or GIT or Mercurial.. Kindly advice.. Any recommendations welcome from Version Control Guru’s posted in this website..


      • 22

        Sathish Murugan

        June 8, 2011 10:46 pm

        Hi Ram,

        I’m using Nebula from BluePhenix. It sounds good to use. You can manage more than one release at a time and you can do changes of one release to another. Just try Nebula, You will avoid all these listed software (Personal Opinion)


  21. 23

    Mercurial section should include link to Bitbucket – a equivalent of GitHub

  22. 24

    Excellent info.
    I’m just about to introduce version control for my company projects. The list came at just the right time, before I pick something that boxes us into a corner.

    Mark Jones

  23. 25

    Take a look at DropBox project (website here).
    It’s main purpouse is to provide folders which can be synchronized among few computers. It’s not a typical CVS software, but You can use it for a small project groups. It’s easy to use, has a web interface nad runs under linux/windows (not sure about Mac). I strongly recommend it.

    (this is not an add :-) )

  24. 26

    I have used all the above (except LibreSource) + GNU Arch, SVK (with SVN backend). The best according to me (right balance) is Hg/Mercurial. For a real pro wanting full control and needs raw speed (little faster than hg) is Git. Git is cool but beware that you can easily mess around by trying commands that a novice should not be playing with!

  25. 27

    brilliant – I used to use 4projects, VCS is much better for virtual teams than email :)

  26. 28

    I find Git is much easier to learn than subversion. Type “git init” and your repository is ready. Compare this to subversion: “svnadmin create --fs-type fsfs .” Not to mention branching, tagging, renaming or removing files.
    There are much more commands in Git than in Subversion, but you need only a few for daily work.

  27. 29

    Never used this kind of applications before, but will certainly give it a go.
    Do any of these tools work for images as well code, as this will be ideal.

  28. 30

    Ever since I switched from SVN to Git, I have been glad I made the switch. Being able to have the flexibility that Git brings to the table is just an amazing facet to development.

  29. 31

    I use svn via VisualSVN – there server was free and took about 10 minutes to setup and their client (although you’re not forced to use it) integrates itself into Visual Studio seamlessly.

  30. 32

    Using SVK is a great way to provide distributed version control with a Subversion server. Best thing about using SVK is that it is heterogeneous meaning some clients can use SVN and some can use SVK without experiencing issues.

  31. 33

    I appreciate the article. But I’d like to extend the question. I’m a lone and very basic developer with no current experience with version control systems. A friend recommended SVN but I’ve barely gotten my hands around Eclipse and Mysql. which are the current backbone of my development environment. I am using the Brit, Eclipse based, report writer against MySql databases.(I’m on windows, XP and vista with Freeware only) I’ve looked at the Svn documentation, but am very wary of adding that complexity into the environment I barely understand. I’d like to continue to set up an environment that can grow, (languages and tools) as I do. I only have so much bandwidth for learning!

    What advice does this much smarter crowd have to offer???

  32. 34

    Does anybody have any information on job/part number applications for design? Working at a larger company we would like to have a piece of software that allows to look up part numbers etc that we can place at the bottom of our printed documents.

    Version control would also be nice. Just wondering if anybody had any experience with this.


  33. 35

    Just finished setting up SubVersion/Apache server with TortoiseSVN clients for a pile of legacy code with myriad branches. I like it so far, finally get lazy boss to almost document his changes (using “log required” policy). At least now I know where and what they are and the order they occurred.

    My only prior experience was SourceSafe and PVCS, so I cannot compare to the distributed products. I will say that I would have a concern over the integrity of multiple repositories.

    I liked the article and found it very informative.

  34. 36

    The article is right on time but I’m wondering about this:
    How do you use svn in a graphic studio for files like .cdr, .jpg, .indd etc?

  35. 37

    Tom Brander: You should definitely give version control a try. It’s nice even for a single developer. And you can start off very simply: at a minimum, you only need to know how to set up a repository and check in your code and changes. Then you can go on your way, knowing that all your changes exist in the repository if you ever need them. You can put off learning even simple things like how to look through the history and fetch old versions until you actually need them (or are bored and have some spare bandwidth for learning).

    I won’t try and tell you which you should use…it probably doesn’t matter too much. Getting started with any one should be pretty simple, and the basic concepts will transfer reasonably well if you decide to switch later. If you have a friend who uses SVN, that may well be the best choice for you. I think the biggest hurdle getting started is figuring out the terminology — sometimes you know what effect you want to achieve, but not what it’s called in the documentation. So having someone to ask questions of can be helpful.

    Good luck!


  36. 38

    Hey Thanks for this, this would definitely help a lot.

    Cheers :)

  37. 39

    Ronald @

    September 19, 2008 11:18 pm

    nice huge list.thanks for this one.its very useful

  38. 40

    Very thorough set of reviews – SVN’s been a bit of a fearful topic for me (a designer) after having some horrible experiences with Tortoise SVN a few years back that had to do with a problem between swapping files across OS’s… I’ve always held out hope that a new wave of SVN tools would make some of the tricker parts of SVN easier to use, and from this list I think I’ll end up trying out at least a few. Thanks for the great information. MakeDesign,NotWar

  39. 41

    Well done!!! Keep on smashing us!!

  40. 42

    Joshua, Thanks for the advice, That’s along the lines of what I’ve been thinking, I guess I’ll just have to leap, like with most things! I’ll probably try SVN, with one of the Eclipse plug ins, and go from there.

  41. 43

    Tourtoise svn and the svn plugin for eclipse are really the best in my oppinion

  42. 44

    You have one important thing forgotten: for most shared projects, there have to be an extra server, mostly Apache. For CVS and SVN, there have to be a customized configuration, for e.g. the mod_dav has to be activated for CVS and SVN, but not for Bazaar. To know, if a custom configuration is required or if the SCM system fits to the default configuration, is important for many people. They’ll learn which SCM systems could be used cost-effective and fast to set up.

  43. 45

    1. I usually work in projects involving very large files (lossless compression video files) and it would be nice if everyone on the team had local access to the files, because it’s way to slow to work across the network. Would any of this systems be right for me?

    2. what about disk space? As far as I understand all of this system allow the users to go back to earlier versions, that will probably take a lot of disk space since they are big bynary files and a lot of things change. Is it possible not keep the history?

  44. 46

    sccs was the first verison control system I’m aware of, UNIX System III from AT&T/Bell Labs circa 1981.

  45. 47

    You guys really gave Monotone short shrift here- it’s quite a nice setup with some very smart people working on it.

  46. 48

    An excellent comparison worthy of Smashing Magazine. I’m glad to see that Smashing has been writing more lately on back-end development (i.e., scripting, version control, etc.) as well as the design-focused posts that we’ve all come to know and love you for. I think, for me at least, you’ve hit just the right mix!

  47. 49

    SpringLoops are pretty good!

  48. 50

    Thanks and really a great knowledge base ! As far as now I have used CVS as well as SVN. I am using it on a Mac platform and its really very helpful for the easy version control of the various doc’s I work regularly as a part of quality Control. I am using iSVN on a Mac platform. Great post fr the beginners!

  49. 51

    With topics like these and some unanswered questions I really wish there’s a forum on this site to discuss and share the knowledge beyond comments… but that’s just a thought :)

  50. 52

    Bazaar’s the shit. It’s so easy to setup and to use, I’m inclined to say it’s the almost perfect version control system for any not-so-tech-savvy designer, if ever needed. Even using it on the command line is pretty simple.

    I always feared vc but wanted to get into it, as it really can save you from headaches. I started reading a book about Subversion three times but always gave up. Not that I could not understand it, I’m more of a developer than a designer, but it bored me to death. Now Bazaar is really simple to get started with and has a pretty easy to understand user guide that will walk you through the very basic steps needed to maintain projects. Sometimes you won’t need anything more. And if you do need more later on, be sure, Bazaar has it; despite its simplicity.

    P.S.: I’m not on Canonical Ltd.’s payroll. :P


↑ Back to top