Managing Web Site Content with Subversion

As I have previously mentioned, I am a big fan of managing code changes with Subversion. Here I’m going to describe the process of creating your own local repository for managing changes. Think of Subversion as you own personal time machine for your content.

My basic setup will be to have the repository (where subversion stores all of your changes) on a secondary partition on my laptop’s hard drive. While I had considered having it remotely on my server, I want to have it local so I can manage my content when I am off-line traveling. I will also use backup routines to have copies on external drives. While I prefer to work in Linux, I also work in windows, so I will describe the setup from a windows point-of-view. However, the files for the repository are on a shared partition of my hard drive so I can access the repository not matter which OS I’m using at the moment.

The basics steps are these:

  1. Install Subversion & optionally, TortoiseSVN for windows
  2. Create directory to store repository
  3. Create repository with svnadmin
  4. Import web project
  5. Checkout working copy of web project

Install Subversion & optionally, TortoiseSVN for windows

Subversion & TortoiseSVN are available from the Open Source projects at

Follow the link to the individual download pages and download the current version for your OS. Install in the usual manner! Note, TorotoiseSVN requires a reboot since it integrates with windows explorer.

Create directory to store repository

Hopefully, if you know dos, this will be familiar. Or maybe it won’t if you have never used the command line under WinXP. Since subversion itself is a command line program, creating the repository will be at the command line. so let’s start by using the command line to create the needed new directory. Click Start -> Run… (or Windows-R from keyboard) and type cmdand press Enter. A new window with white text on a black background will open with a prompt showing your current directory. Decide where on your drive, or drives, you would like to locate the repository. Then create the directory with md:

C:> md e:svn-repo

Substitute your own drive letter instead of e: and path of your choice instead of svn-repo.

Create repository with svnadmin

Now that you have a directory to use, we use svnadmin to turn it into a repository for use by subversion.

C:>svnadmin create e:svn-repo

Let’s see what it created for you:

Directory of e:svn-repo

04/01/2007  05:53 PM    <DIR>          .
04/01/2007  05:53 PM    <DIR>          ..
04/01/2007  06:20 PM    <DIR>          dav
04/01/2007  06:20 PM    <DIR>          locks
04/01/2007  06:20 PM    <DIR>          hooks
04/01/2007  06:20 PM    <DIR>          conf
04/01/2007  06:20 PM               234 README.txt
04/01/2007  06:20 PM    <DIR>          db
04/01/2007  06:20 PM                 2 format

Don’t worry anything about the details now, but I just wanted to show you that subversion is doing a lot of work for you behind the scenes.

Import web project

Next step is to import that web site you have been working so hard on! Since we have been working at the command line, I will continue here with that technique. Then I will show you the easy way with TortoiseSVN–a graphical tool to access the power of subversion from windows explorer.

First, locate the directory where you current web site files exist on your drive. If you have multiple sites, I will suggest that you import them as separate ‘projects’ in subversion. cd to the top-level directory you want to import–all subdirectories will be imported also. You should clean them up before importing, removing any test or temporary files you do not want in the repository.

C:>cd htmlcdchase-blog


Next, you will use svn import to pull in all of the content to the repository. Last chance to clean up the directory and sub-folders before importing! Notice the use of -m “Importing project” to supply a log comment. All changes to a subversion repository require a comment describing the change.

C:htmlcdChase-blog>svn import -m "Importing project" .  

You will see all of your files scroll by as they are imported. Eventually, you will get to the last line:

Committed revision 1.

Congratulations! You now have your first project in the subversion repository!

Before we move on, let me point out two items in the import command above. First, the ‘.’ (dot or period): it is how you refer to the current directory as a shortcut. If you were not already in the directory you wanted to import, you could explicitly provide it instead of using the dot. Secondly, the format of the destination: file:///e:/svn-repo/cdchase-blog/trunk. This is the URL format for referencing a local file location. The file:/// replaces the use of http://hostname/ as in a web browser. The remainder is the path to the repository, including the desired project name, cdchase-blog, in my case; and the branch you want to import it to, trunk. More on the use of ‘trunk’ in a future post. The ” at the end of the first line is just to indicated that this line is continued on the next line–don’t type this in windows! The entire command should be one line, without the ”. (Linux users may recognize this as the standard continuation character.)

Importing with TortoiseSVN

As promised, doing the same import function with TortoiseSVN is as simple as right-clicking on the folder you wish to import, and selecting TortoiseSVN -> Import…

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and supplying the destination path and log message:

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Once you click ‘OK’ your files will be submitted as in the command line version.

Checkout working copy of web project

Finally, in order to actually use the files from the repository, you must ‘check out’ the files. This must be done to a new directory, so if you want to use the same directory name you imported from, rename that directory first.

C:html>rename cdchase-blog cdchase-blog-old

To do the ‘checkout’ or co:

C:html>svn co file:///e:/svn-repo/cdchase-blog/trunk cdchase-blog

When it is complete, you will see:

Checked out revision 1.

Congratulations! Your files are now under version control!

Tomorrow, we will go deeper into how you use Subversion on a daily use basis.