Git in my Subversion

Two weeks ago, I discovered magic: it’s possible to initialize a Git repo inside of Subversion (SVN).

Since the advent of Github as a leading collaboration platform, I’ve forever been trying to reconcile the Git to SVN workflow. Progress is faster in Git(hub) because it’s a far superior platform for fostering contributions. Seamless pull requests are much nicer than the multi-step process of creating and uploading patches. Distribution still happens in SVN, however, because many legacy deploy systems are coupled to it. Etsy took the leap of switching from SVN to Git, and essentially recommends against it. For the time being, we need to be able to live with both.

Two years ago (almost to the day), I wrote a post called “How to properly use Git with Subversion.” The thing is though — it wasn’t ever properly using Git with SVN. It was grinding the two tools together like a sixteen year-old learning to drive a stick. Furthermore, if I ever nuked my Git repo, I’d have to wait literally for hours to run git svn fetch on the repo. Boone has worked in a similar way for a while; I eventually gave up and started copying my files over manually when I needed to release. Mo does this with an rsync command.

A recent stroke of insight has changed my outlook on life, improved how I sleep, increased my libido, and generally made me a much happier developer. It’s this: Git and SVN can live side-by-side in the same directory. You just need to tell them to ignore each other.

This afternoon, for instance, I decided to spend a little bit of time on Edit Flow. I like to develop Edit Flow locally, keep the VIP shared plugins repo version on the bleeding edge, and occasionally release a version on Because I haven’t yet applied this “Git in my Subversion” approach to what’s in the latter two repos, let me now walk through what that looks like.

The first thing you should do is edit the “svn:ignore” property on your existing SVN repo. You can do so with:

svn propedit svn:ignore edit-flow

In this situation, I specifically want SVN to ignore two things: .git and .gitignore. Add those, save, and commit. SVN will now respect Git’s living style.

Next, change into your target directory and initialize a new Git repo. Running the following pulls my full remote project into the working directory:

git remote add -f origin

But, if I run git status, I’ll see that my local working files aren’t tracked by Git, I can’t checkout master or change branches, and Git is flummoxed. Don’t worry — as long as you’ve kept Git as master, and ported your SVN commits back to Git, you can run:

git checkout -f master

Boom, Git in my Subversion. Running git status I notice there’s a lot of .svn junk I don’t want tracked in my repo, so I create a .gitignore file to handle those (on trunk, I also ignore the wpcom-helper.php file we use for every community plugin to handle local action and filter modifications). The integration is complete.

With Git and SVN side-by-side, I can easily pull features I’ve developed locally into the VIP shared plugins repo, VIPs can create pull requests for community plugins, and I can push hotfixes discovered by usage back to the Git(hub) master project. It works well because Git and SVN are tracking the same files, but I don’t have to get them to live together harmoniously — they just ignore each other. Git-SVN be damned, this is much better.

24 Replies to “Git in my Subversion”

  1. I accidentally mixed git with SVN in a SVN tracked directory and went “ho, the hell with it, it seems to work after all”. My only concern is that you can now have 2 repo that are totally unsynced

    1. Yes, one limitation this approach has is that the repos are completely independent of one another and never share histories, etc. Philosophically I’m not opposed to this. Pragmatically, it hasn’t yet posed a problem.

  2. This is a great idea. I’m just trying it out with my Google Analytics plugin to see if I can get used to it. Already when I use both GIT and SVN I tend to treat my SVN as a bit of a second class citizen. It gets bundled commits, and often I bundle far too many at once. Maybe now I’ll remember to commit to SVN more often.

    1. Well, I ran into my first problem with this already. It freaks out my IDE. I use Komodo, and I love that I can use simple keyboard shortcuts from inside a file to view a svn or git diff, revert, commit, etc. However, when the directory is both SVN & Git, it doesn’t seem to be able to do anything. It ends up being alt+tab to terminal and command line tools, which isn’t bad but it’s not near as nice as the built-in tools.

      1. As a followup, I had something weird in my setup. Komodo sees SVN first, and ignores Git. It’s not ideal (although I’m not sure what kind of UI WOULD be ideal for something like this), but it’s really not that bad.

  3. Can I come out of the closet now? I’ve got a project where this kind of accidentally happened; the main project uses SVN, but a very significant plugin uses Git. I always felt a little dirty.

    Aaron: I totally get the confused IDE thing, Netbeans sees Git first and looks no further. I use DTerm to quickly and easily get at the relevant directory in the command line, which works well for me.

  4. So I’m assuming you’re developing and testing the plugin somewhere else, then pulling in changes to your SVN repo via git, then committing via SVN, right? Because if I have the entire SVN repo for my plugin checked out, I can’t actually *use* the plugin.

    1. Because if I have the entire SVN repo for my plugin checked out, I can’t actually *use* the plugin.

      If you’re referring to your plugin directory (with /trunk, /tags, etc.), I actually have all of those checked out somewhere else for the occasional release. In this case, I check out the Git repo into /trunk.

        1. Really nice tip, but what do I do in situation like this: Let’s say I have version 1.0.0 in trunk. I fix some bugs and decide to tag it 1.0.1. I change version in plugin-name.php and readme.txt and check it in to trunk. But what if before I copy trunk to tag 1.0.1. someone try to install the plugin? It will probably result in an error? Or not? If yes, how to prevent it from happening?

  5. @Daniel – You might want to update the post to note that this pattern requires Subversion 1.7. With that release Subversion centralized its metadata storage rather than sprinkle .svn folders in every sub-directory. If you’re using an older cut of svn the git checkout commands will break the svn sub-directory metadata gets removed.

  6. I use a slight twist on your setup.

    I code against GIT on the head/trunk and have production branch which I keep checked on a separate folder which merge head into when I am happy with the changes and its this folder that I have SVN also setup on.

    So the workflow is code /test/debug code on the git only head and then on the production folder I just do a merge and commit in git and then a commit in SVN

    I tried to switching the working/head but found it was unstable (and fought to switch back) so I am happy to with the extra code copy.

  7. Well, dangit, Dan! After struggling with your original implementation, killing it, and then getting sick at the thought of fetching all that crap from the Repository.. this is a heck of a boon! Thank you!

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