Another common version control concept is a
tag. A tag is just a
“snapshot” of a project in time. In Subversion,
this idea already seems to be everywhere. Each repository
revision is exactly that–a snapshot of the filesystem
after each commit.
However, people often want to give more human-friendly names
to tags, like
release-1.0. And they want to
make snapshots of smaller subdirectories of the filesystem.
After all, it's not so easy to remember that release-1.0 of a
piece of software is a particular subdirectory of revision
Once again, svn copy comes to the
rescue. If you want to create a snapshot of
/calc/trunk exactly as it looks in the
HEAD revision, then make a copy of it:
$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/trunk \
-m "Tagging the 1.0 release of the 'calc' project."
Committed revision 351.
This example assumes that a
/calc/tags directory already exists. (If
it doesn't, you can create it using svn
mkdir.) After the copy completes, the new
release-1.0 directory is forever a
snapshot of how the project looked in the
HEAD revision at the time you made the
copy. Of course you might want to be more precise about
exactly which revision you copy, in case somebody else may
have committed changes to the project when you weren't
looking. So if you know that revision 350 of
/calc/trunk is exactly the snapshot you
want, you can specify it by passing
-r 350 to
the svn copy command.
But wait a moment: isn't this tag-creation procedure the
same procedure we used to create a branch? Yes, in fact, it
is. In Subversion, there's no difference between a tag and a
branch. Both are just ordinary directories that are created
by copying. Just as with branches, the only reason a copied
directory is a “tag” is because
humans have decided to treat it that way:
as long as nobody ever commits to the directory, it forever
remains a snapshot. If people start committing to it, it
becomes a branch.
If you are administering a repository, there are two
approaches you can take to managing tags. The first approach
is “hands off”: as a matter of project policy,
decide where your tags will live, and make sure all users know
how to treat the directories they copy in there. (That is,
make sure they know not to commit to them.) The second
approach is more paranoid: you can use one of the
access-control scripts provided with Subversion to prevent
anyone from doing anything but creating new copies in the
tags-area (See Chapter 6, Server Configuration.) The paranoid
approach, however, isn't usually necessary. If a user
accidentally commits a change to a tag-directory, you can
simply undo the change as discussed in the previous section.
This is version control, after all.
Sometimes you may want your “snapshot” to be
more complicated than a single directory at a single
For example, pretend your project is much larger than our
calc example: suppose it contains a
number of subdirectories and many more files. In the course
of your work, you may decide that you need to create a working
copy that is designed to have specific features and bug fixes.
You can accomplish this by selectively backdating files or
directories to particular revisions (using svn update
-r liberally), or by switching files and directories
to particular branches (making use of svn
switch). When you're done, your working copy is a
hodgepodge of repository locations from different revisions.
But after testing, you know it's the precise combination of
data you need.
Time to make a snapshot. Copying one URL to another won't
work here. In this case, you want to make a snapshot of your
exact working copy arrangement and store it in the repository.
Luckily, svn copy actually has four
different uses (which you can read about in Chapter 9, Subversion Complete Reference), including the ability to copy a
working-copy tree to the repository:
$ svn copy my-working-copy http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/tags/mytag
Committed revision 352.
Now there is a new directory in the repository,
/calc/tags/mytag, which is an exact
snapshot of your working copy–mixed revisions, URLs,
Other users have found interesting uses for this feature.
Sometimes there are situations where you have a bunch of local
changes made to your working copy, and you'd like a
collaborator to see them. Instead of running svn
diff and sending a patch file (which won't capture
tree changes, symlink changes or changes in properties), you can
instead use svn copy to “upload”
your working copy to a private area of the repository. Your
collaborator can then either check out a verbatim copy of your
working copy, or use svn merge to receive
your exact changes.
While this is a nice method for uploading a quick snapshot
of your working copy, note that this is not
a good way to initially create a branch. Branch creation should
be an event onto itself, and this method conflates the creation
of a branch with extra changes to files, all within a single revision.
This makes it very difficult (later on) to identify a single
revision number as a branch point.
Have you ever found yourself making some complex edits
/trunk working copy) and
suddenly realized, “hey, these changes ought to be in
their own branch?” A great technique to do this can
be summarized in two steps:
$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/trunk \
Committed revision 353.
$ svn switch http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/branches/newbranch
At revision 353.
The svn switch command, like
svn update, preserves your local edits.
At this point, your working copy is now a reflection of the
newly created branch, and your next svn
commit invocation will send your changes
To submit comments, corrections, or other contributions to the text, please visit