Chapter 4. Branching and Merging

Table of Contents

What's a Branch?
Using Branches
Creating a Branch
Working with Your Branch
The Key Concepts Behind Branches
Copying Changes Between Branches
Copying Specific Changes
The Key Concept Behind Merging
Best Practices for Merging
Tracking Merges Manually
Previewing Merges
Merge Conflicts
Noticing or Ignoring Ancestry
Common Use-Cases
Merging a Whole Branch to Another
Undoing Changes
Resurrecting Deleted Items
Common Branching Patterns
Release Branches
Feature Branches
Switching a Working Copy
Tags
Creating a Simple Tag
Creating a Complex Tag
Branch Maintenance
Repository Layout
Data Lifetimes
Summary

Branching, tagging, and merging are concepts common to almost all version control systems. If you're not familiar with these ideas, we provide a good introduction in this chapter. If you are familiar, then hopefully you'll find it interesting to see how SVK implements these ideas.

Branching is a fundamental part of version control. If you're going to allow SVK to manage your data, then this is a feature you'll eventually come to depend on. This chapter assumes that you're already familiar with SVK's basic concepts (Chapter 2, Basic Concepts).

What's a Branch?

Suppose it's your job to maintain a document for a division in your company, a handbook of some sort. One day a different division asks you for the same handbook, but with a few parts “tweaked” for them, since they do things slightly differently.

What do you do in this situation? You do the obvious thing: you make a second copy of your document, and begin maintaining the two copies separately. As each department asks you to make small changes, you incorporate them into one copy or the other.

You often want to make the same change to both copies. For example, if you discover a typo in the first copy, it's very likely that the same typo exists in the second copy. The two documents are almost the same, after all; they only differ in small, specific ways.

This is the basic concept of a branch—namely, a line of development that exists independently of another line, yet still shares a common history if you look far enough back in time. A branch always begins life as a copy of something, and moves on from there, generating its own history (see Figure 4.1, “Branches of development”).

Figure 4.1. Branches of development

Branches of development

SVK has commands to help you maintain parallel branches of your files and directories. It allows you to create branches by copying your data, and remembers that the copies are related to one another. It also helps you duplicate changes from one branch to another. Finally, it keep track of which changes are present on each branch so that you only need to resolve conflicting changes once.