Git – Merging: Hg/Git vs. SVN


I often read that Hg (and Git and…) are better at merging than SVN but I have never seen practical examples of where Hg/Git can merge something where SVN fails (or where SVN needs manual intervention). Could you post a few step-by-step lists of branch/modify/commit/…-operations that show where SVN would fail while Hg/Git happily moves on? Practical, not highly exceptional cases please…

Some background: we have a few dozen developers working on projects using SVN, with each project (or group of similar projects) in its own repository. We know how to apply release- and feature-branches so we don't run into problems very often (i.e., we've been there, but we've learned to overcome Joel's problems of "one programmer causing trauma to the whole team" or "needing six developers for two weeks to reintegrate a branch"). We have release-branches that are very stable and only used to apply bugfixes. We have trunks that should be stable enough to be able to create a release within one week. And we have feature-branches that single developers or groups of developers can work on. Yes, they are deleted after reintegration so they don't clutter up the repository. 😉

So I'm still trying to find the advantages of Hg/Git over SVN. I'd love to get some hands-on experience, but there aren't any bigger projects we could move to Hg/Git yet, so I'm stuck with playing with small artificial projects that only contain a few made up files. And I'm looking for a few cases where you can feel the impressive power of Hg/Git, since so far I have often read about them but failed to find them myself.

Best Solution

I too have been looking for a case where, say, Subversion fails to merge a branch and Mercurial (and Git, Bazaar, ...) does the right thing.

The SVN Book describes how renamed files are merged incorrectly. This applies to Subversion 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, and 1.8! I have tried to recreate the situation below:

cd /tmp
rm -rf svn-repo svn-checkout
svnadmin create svn-repo
svn checkout file:///tmp/svn-repo svn-checkout
cd svn-checkout
mkdir trunk branches
echo 'Goodbye, World!' > trunk/hello.txt
svn add trunk branches
svn commit -m 'Initial import.'
svn copy '^/trunk' '^/branches/rename' -m 'Create branch.'
svn switch '^/trunk' .
echo 'Hello, World!' > hello.txt
svn commit -m 'Update on trunk.'
svn switch '^/branches/rename' .
svn rename hello.txt hello.en.txt
svn commit -m 'Rename on branch.'
svn switch '^/trunk' .
svn merge --reintegrate '^/branches/rename'

According to the book, the merge should finish cleanly, but with wrong data in the renamed file since the update on trunk is forgotten. Instead I get a tree conflict (this is with Subversion 1.6.17, the newest version in Debian at the time of writing):

--- Merging differences between repository URLs into '.':
A    hello.en.txt
   C hello.txt
Summary of conflicts:
  Tree conflicts: 1

There shouldn't be any conflict at all — the update should be merged into the new name of the file. While Subversion fails, Mercurial handles this correctly:

rm -rf /tmp/hg-repo
hg init /tmp/hg-repo
cd /tmp/hg-repo
echo 'Goodbye, World!' > hello.txt
hg add hello.txt
hg commit -m 'Initial import.'
echo 'Hello, World!' > hello.txt
hg commit -m 'Update.'
hg update 0
hg rename hello.txt hello.en.txt
hg commit -m 'Rename.'
hg merge

Before the merge, the repository looks like this (from hg glog):

@  changeset:   2:6502899164cc
|  tag:         tip
|  parent:      0:d08bcebadd9e
|  user:        Martin Geisler 
|  date:        Thu Apr 01 12:29:19 2010 +0200
|  summary:     Rename.
| o  changeset:   1:9d06fa155634
|/   user:        Martin Geisler 
|    date:        Thu Apr 01 12:29:18 2010 +0200
|    summary:     Update.
o  changeset:   0:d08bcebadd9e
   user:        Martin Geisler 
   date:        Thu Apr 01 12:29:18 2010 +0200
   summary:     Initial import.

The output of the merge is:

merging hello.en.txt and hello.txt to hello.en.txt
0 files updated, 1 files merged, 0 files removed, 0 files unresolved
(branch merge, don't forget to commit)

In other words: Mercurial took the change from revision 1 and merged it into the new file name from revision 2 (hello.en.txt). Handling this case is of course essential in order to support refactoring and refactoring is exactly the kind of thing you will want to do on a branch.