Rearranging files in SVN? Use git-svn instead.

From time to time I need to rearrange a set of files in a project, typically while revamping the file / directory layout of a set of source files. The most direct way to do so is by dragging the files around (using a Windows or Linux GUI), but this is quite tedious to do if the files are in a Subversion repo, because SVN does not understand the file moves and renames unless you use “svn mv” or (with TortoiseSVN) right-click-drag the files to new locations.

The answer to all this is simple: use git-svn for your SVN checkout, instead of the SVN command lines tools or Tortoise. You can readily Google for extensive git-svn information to get started.

The workflow with git-svn for file rearrangement is fairly simple, and very fast:

  • “git svn rebase” to get your local git repo up to date with your SVN repo.
  • make new directories, rearrange files, rename files, etc., using any tool you like. This is easy and painless because git (wisely) keeps all the metadata in a top-level .git directory. It is fast because you aren’t running any svn code (or any git code) while doing so.
  • use “git add”, or the git GUI, to add the newly moved / renamed files.
  • “git commit”
  • “git svn dcommit” to push the changes over to SVN.

git / git-svn looks at the content of files, notices (rather than you needing to tell it) that the content has been moved to different filenames in different directories, and generates SVN move/copy operations. It even notices nearly-identical (edited) files and handles them correctly.

One loose end is left hanging, which is that git-svn does not remove any now-empty or removed directories from SVN, a consequence of git not caring about directories. Therefore, if you need the empty directories removed from the SVN repo, use a normal SVN client (command line, Tortoise) to do so.

From the description of above, this does not initially sound like a big win; but with hundred of files to move around, the time for the git commands (instant, except for the first and last) is irrelevant, and the time/hassle saved is enormous.

Perhaps someday SVN itself will gain the ability to “just work” when you move or rename files / directories, rather than having to be told.