Distributed revision control

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In computer programming, distributed revision control, also known as distributed version control or decentralized version control, allows many software developers to work on a given project without requiring them to share a common network. The software revisions are stored in a distributed revision control system (DRCS), also known as a distributed version control system (DVCS).

Distributed vs. centralized[edit]

Distributed revision control takes a peer-to-peer approach to version control, as opposed to the client-server approach of centralized systems. Rather than a single, central repository on which clients synchronize, each peer's working copy of the codebase is a complete repository.[1] Distributed revision control synchronizes repositories by exchanging patches (sets of changes) from peer to peer. This results in some important differences from a centralized system:

Other differences include:

DVCS proponents point to several advantages of distributed version control systems over the traditional centralised model:

Software development author Joel Spolsky, the owner of a commercial DVCS, described distributed version control as "possibly the biggest advance in software development technology in the [past] ten years."[4]

A disadvantage is that initial cloning of a repository is slower as compared to centralized checkout, because all branches and revision history are copied. This may be significant if access speed is slow and the repository size is large enough. For instance, the size of the cloned git repository (all history, branches, tags, etc.) for the Linux kernel is approximately the size of the checked-out uncompressed HEAD, whereas the equivalent checkout of a single branch in a centralized checkout would be the compressed size of the contents of HEAD (except without any history, branches, tags, etc.). Another problem with DVCS is the lack of locking mechanisms that is part of most centralized VCS and still plays an important role when it comes to non-mergable binary files such as graphic assets.


Open systems[edit]

An "open system" of distributed revision control is characterized by its support for independent branches, and its reliance on merge operations. Its general characteristics include:

For a list of distributed revision control systems, see the comparison of revision control software.

Replicated systems[edit]

A replicated system of distributed revision control depends on a replicated database. A check-in is equivalent to a distributed commit. Successful commits create a single baseline, which reduces the need for merges. An example of a replicated distributed system is Code Co-op.

Work model[edit]

The distributed model is generally better suited for large projects with partly independent developers, such as the Linux kernel project, because developers can work independently and submit their changes for merge (or rejection). The distributed model flexibly allows adopting custom source code contribution workflows. The integrator workflow is the most widely used.

In the centralized model, developers must serialize their work, to avoid problems with different versions.


Closed source DVCS systems such as Sun WorkShop TeamWare were widely used in enterprise settings in the 1990s and inspired BitKeeper (1998), one of the first open systems. BitKeeper went on to serve in the early development of the Linux kernel.

First generation open-source DVCS systems include Arch and Monotone. The second generation was initiated by the arrival of Darcs, followed by a host of others.

When the publishers of BitKeeper decided in 2005 to restrict the program's licensing,[5] free alternatives Bazaar, Git, and Mercurial followed not long after.


Some originally centralized systems are starting to offer distributed features. For example, Subversion is able to do many operations with no network.[6] It may become more difficult to separate natively distributed vs centralized systems.

Many tools rely on version control, such as wikis, file systems, and text editors. Some are starting to adopt/integrate DVCS features, for example the Gazest wiki, ikiwiki.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wheeler, David. "Comments on Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS) Software Configuration Management (SCM) Systems". Retrieved May 8, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Bryan. "Distributed revision control with Mercurial". Retrieved July 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Workflows - Mercurial". Mercurial.selenic.com. 2012-08-19. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  4. ^ Spolsky, Joel (2010-03-17). "Distributed Version Control is here to stay, baby". Joel on Software. Retrieved 2010-06-18. 
  5. ^ "Bitmover ends free Bitkeeper, replacement sought for managing Linux kernel code". Wikinews. April 7, 2005. 
  6. ^ OSDir.com. "Subversion for CVS Users :: OSDir.com :: Open Source, Linux News & Software". OSDir.com. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 

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