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November 27, 2007

Notes on Mercurial SCM, compared to Subversion and GIT

Filed under: Uncategorized — negev @ 5:55 pm

Mercurial – Source Control

Mercurial (hg) is a distributed versioning system. I’ve installed it and tried just a little. Following are my notes based on and my experience.

Mercurial and GIT are both free distributed versioning systems. Main differences – GIT possibly a little faster, but it requires maintenance (repacking the repositories). There’s no user manual for GIT, only docs for the invdividual commands.

hg uses language very similar to Subversion, although some terms have different meaning. It introduces some more terminology specific to merging and branches, and it sounds confusing to me as a SVN user. Probably it clears out with practice.

In overall Mercurial looks more ‘human friendly’. It’s focused more on how we people think of history of documents and parallel changes (branches). It takes responsibility for book-keeping branches/merges, while in Subversion you need to keep track or identify start and end revisions in the branch you’re merging from. In SVN you need to find those start/end revisions by date, or by ‘svn log –stop-on-copy’ command. hg takes care of all that. Those were the ‘high level’ hg branches and merges. ‘Low level’ branches and merges occur all the time when pulling from other team members.

SVN has a URL for each subfolder/file in the repository – which covers all branches, tags, everything. hg has URLs but only for the main, public branch (tip or head?).

Niceties of Mercurial:

  • easy reverting of all subfolders and their files – ‘hg revert .’

  • easy pullback

  • little merges – everything you do is in your local repository. Then you merge it with changes of other people. Because merging is the daily bread, hg makes it as simple as possible

  • simple installation and administration. It only stores repository on file system, while SVN can use DB and FS.

  • history search by programmable filters via ‘hg bisect’ (logarithmic rather than sequential search)

The positives of being distributed

  • 0 day start

    • once you install locally, you can commit locally

    • works over SSH without setting any deamon/DB on the server, once you install hg on it

  • local searches over whole history – very quick


  • update, merge are separate tasks. ‘hg update’ updates your local repository, but it doesn’t update your working directory – use ‘hg merge’ for that.

  • The simplest way to have ‘high-level’ branches is to have one repository for a branch. That’s OK locally, but if you want the branches to be stored on a server then developers need rights to create them and it gives extra work. hg supports several branches in same repository but it’s when the usage gets more advanced/complicated. But, it looks nicer/easier than keeping track of SVN branches (within same repository).


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