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Version Control with Subversion

C Pilato, Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-51033-6
430 pages
£ 24.99
Published: 2nd October 2008
reviewed by Paul Waring
   in the December 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

I use Subversion on a daily basis for several projects, though I've always felt that I'm not getting the most out of it and there are plenty of things which I'm still not sure how to do, so a book claiming to cover every aspect of using Subversion is probably just what I need.

The book starts off with a useful introduction to the fundamental concepts of version control and the principles behind how Subversion handles revisions. In the second chapter I was pleased to see an introduction to the internal help provided by the Subversion command line client. Internal help is something which is often overlooked in technical books, but I find myself using it all the time. If you prefer a dead tree version, there's a copy of all the help in a later chapter as well.

Other chapters give comprehensive coverage of all the main version control tasks, such as creating branches, tagging releases and merging branches back into the main trunk. System administrators get two chapters on creating and maintaining repositories — a useful addition given that often the users and the administrators are one and the same in many small projects. Should you want to embed Subversion in other pieces of software or learn how to use the various APIs, there's a chapter dedicated to this too.

For those of you who are more familiar with Subversion's predecessor, CVS, there is an appendix which covers most of the major differences, both in syntax and design. By the time I started using version control Subversion was the de facto choice for new projects, so I've never spent much time with CVS, but the appendix looks sufficiently comprehensive to cover most of the common areas.

The only things which are missing from this book is an explanation of why you might want to use Subversion as opposed to any other version control system (particularly Git), although one could presume that if you have picked up a book on this topic you're already decided that Subversion is the tool for you. The lack of any mention of clients other than the standard command line option was also somewhat disappointing, especially given that there are plenty of useful clients and plugins out there (e.g. Subclipse for the popular Eclipse IDE) which could easily have been introduced briefly in an appendix.

Overall, this book is a worthwhile purchase if you use Subversion on a regular basis, and particularly so if you work on projects with several branches. This text also covers Subversion 1.5, so it's about as up to date as you can get, although anyone using Debian Etch will still be on 1.4 by default. Finally, the text has been released under a free licence, so you really can try before you buy — and if you're not happy with any aspect of it, you can always rewrite a few chapters and release your own version.

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