svn command line tutorial for beginners 

April 17th, 2007 mysurface


The aim of this tutorial is to guide beginners for using svn command line with simple examples.

This post is not going to focus on svn installation, as the installation is available anywhere, let me list some links for you in case you are actually looking for installation.

Subversion Installation References

Installing Subversion (svn) on Linux (Debian Stable) Setting up Subversion and websvn on Debian How To Configure Web Access To Subversion Repositories Using Apache Install SVN with Web Access on Ubuntu

Part 1 

How to get help with svn? 

If you are looking for svn reference in man pages, you have gone to the wrong place. To check the references of svn commands, simple do this:

svn help

This will make svn list all the available functions, to get the function reference, let say checkout

svn help checkout

The same thing goes to other svn related commands, such as svnadmin

svnadmin help

How to create a svn repository? 

First of all what is repository? It is a core file for svn, or you can call it a centralized svn backup database. After created it, it is just a directory with its files. IMPORTANT! Do NOT try to modify or add something into the repository, unless you know what are you doing.

To create a svn repo, let say I wanna create a repo to store all my programming codes, I do this

svnadmin create /home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo

Remember try to use absolute path for everything, sometimes the relative path is not going to work.

How to import my existing directories into the new repo? 

svn import /home/mysurface/programming file:///home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo -m "Initial import"

-m stand for log message, the first revision was created with log as "Initial import". You need to specified URL for the repo, URL is the standard argument for svn. Therefore for local file, you need to specified with file://

How to see what is inside the repo? 

svn list file:///home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo

Another way of listing all the files and folder in the tree view, I use svnlook

svnlook tree programming_repo

The difference between svn list and svnlook tree is one expect URL another one do not.

Part 2 

Part 2 will covers how to checkout, track changes, commit, add or delete files and message logs.

How to checkout files from svn repo? 

This is the most critical part of svn and also the most common part of svn command line. A lots of open source development projects provided the way for user to check out their latest code through the internet.

You need to check out in order to commit the changes to svn repo later. Refers back to the previous post, where I import entire directory /home/mysurface/programming to programming_repo. I am going to checkout to the same folder. If you are skeptical of doing this, you may want to backup the directory first.

mv programming programming-bk

Now checkout to programming, mkdir is not needed, as svn will create the directory for you if it is doesn't exist.

svn co file:///home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo programming

co is the shortform of checkout.

Okay, lets just compare both folder with diff and store the result into a file comp.diff

diff programming programming-bk > comp.diff

Diff will list the folder in common, and also the differences. Check comp.diff, as it tracks the additional folder .svn that only exist in programming/. Again, do NOT modified or delete this folder.

Are you convinced to remove your programming-bk/ ? Make sure you keep the repo safe and you can check out the same data anytime, at any place.

You can even checkout only a specific folder from your repo. e.g.

svn co file:///home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo/c/curses

This will only check out a folder at current directory.

Single file can't be checkout like directories, but you can extract them from repository by svn export

svn export file:///home/mysurface/repo/programming_repo/c/curses/

How to track the changes before commit to repo? 

First of all, you track what files had changed,

svn status

It will list files which have changed, with some attributes besides the filename. Common attributes are M, ?, A … M is modified, A is newly added (how to add refers later section), ? indicate the file is added into local directory but not added into repo.

Secondly, you want to track the differences between the previous revision and the working one. Lets assume color.c has changed,

svn diff color.c

I really don't like svn diff 's result. Fortunately, I found a simple bash script what makes vimdiff as the compare tool. The script was written by Erik C. Thauvin, you can get it from here.

I name it as svndiff and place it at /usr/bin, change the mode to executable.

chmod +x /usr/bin/svndiff

Now, I can simply do this,

svndiff color.c

To close the vimdiff, type :qa

How to commit the changes? 

You can commit with -m to place your log message if it is short. But if it is long, I suggest you to make use of your default editor. I am a vim user, therefore I add a line into my ~/.bashrc


Now I can commit with this:

svn ci

ci is the shortform of checkin as in "check in", or commit. Write the log message and close save vim :x , I am done. The same way as checkout, you can choose to commit one file or any folder.

How to add or delete file to or from repo? 

The file won't be committed if you don't add it into repo. Therefore you need to add it manually if you want it to goes into your repo. Let say you wanna add a new file

svn add

Delete does the same way, if you only delete file at your working directory, it won't reflects the changes to our repo.

How to check the logs for each revision? 

The simplest way is doing just,

svn log

It will list all logs, start from latest revision. That is really irritating! You can limit it to 3 latest revision log by doing this

svn log --limit 3

If you wanna check for specific revision, specified with -r,

svn log -r 3

I find something awkward, let say I have done svn delete at revision 3 (latest), and revision 2 is the changes of the deleted file at revision 3. When I do svn log, by right it should show all 3 logs, but It only shows for revision 1. It means the svn log will only shows the log if the file is exist, bear in mind.

How to update the working directory into the latest revision? 

svn update

Update to specific revision?

svn update -r 3

I think thats all for normal use of svn commands, further reading at

*Tags*: svn tutorial, subversion, svn howto, source version control

documented on: 2007-09-21