We copy, move, rename, and completely replace files and directories on our computers all the time. And your version control system shouldn't get in the way of your doing these things with your version-controlled files and directories, either. Subversion's file management support is quite liberating, affording almost as much flexibility for versioned files as you'd expect when manipulating your unversioned ones. But that flexibility means that across the lifetime of your repository, a given versioned object might have many paths, and a given path might represent several entirely different versioned objects. This introduces a certain level of complexity to your interactions with those paths and objects.
Subversion is pretty smart about noticing when an object's version history includes such “changes of address.” For example, if you ask for the revision history log of a particular file that was renamed last week, Subversion happily provides all those logs—the revision in which the rename itself happened, plus the logs of relevant revisions both before and after that rename. So, most of the time, you don't even have to think about such things. But occasionally, Subversion needs your help to clear up ambiguities.
The simplest example of this occurs when a directory or file
is deleted from version control, and then a new directory or
file is created with the same name and added to version control.
The thing you deleted and the thing you later added aren't the
same thing. They merely happen to have had the same
/trunk/object, for example.
What, then, does it mean to ask Subversion about the history of
/trunk/object? Are you asking about the
thing currently at that location, or the old thing you deleted
from that location? Are you asking about the operations that
have happened to all the objects that have
ever lived at that path? Subversion needs a hint about what you
And thanks to moves, versioned object history can get far
more twisted than even that. For example, you might have a
concept, containing some
nascent software project you've been toying with. Eventually,
though, that project matures to the point that the idea seems to
actually have some wings, so you do the unthinkable and decide
to give the project a name.
Let's say you called your software Frabnaggilywort. At this
point, it makes sense to rename the directory to reflect the
project's new name, so
concept is renamed
frabnaggilywort. Life goes on,
Frabnaggilywort releases a 1.0 version and is downloaded and
used daily by hordes of people aiming to improve their
It's a nice story, really, but it doesn't end there.
Entrepreneur that you are, you've already got another think in
the tank. So you make a new directory,
concept, and the cycle begins again. In
fact, the cycle begins again many times over the years, each
time starting with that old
directory, then sometimes seeing that directory renamed as the
idea cures, sometimes seeing it deleted when you scrap the idea.
Or, to get really sick, maybe you rename
concept to something else for a while, but
later rename the thing back to
In scenarios like these, attempting to instruct Subversion to work with these reused paths can be a little like instructing a motorist in Chicago's West Suburbs to drive east down Roosevelt Road and turn left onto Main Street. In a mere 20 minutes, you can cross “Main Street” in Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, and Lombard. And no, they aren't the same street. Our motorist—and our Subversion—need a little more detail to do the right thing.
Fortunately, Subversion allows you to tell it
exactly which Main Street you meant. The mechanism used is
called a peg revision, and you provide
these to Subversion for the sole purpose of identifying unique
lines of history. Because at most one versioned object may
occupy a path at any given time—or, more precisely, in any
one revision—the combination of a path and a peg revision
is all that is needed to unambiguously identify a specific line
of history. Peg revisions are specified to the Subversion
command-line client using at syntax, so
called because the syntax involves appending an “at
@) and the peg revision to the
end of the path with which the revision is associated.
But what of the
-r) of which we've spoken so much in this
book? That revision (or set of revisions) is called the
operative revision (or
operative revision range). Once a
particular line of history has been identified using a path and
peg revision, Subversion performs the requested operation using
the operative revision(s). To map this to our Chicagoland
streets analogy, if we are told to go to 606 N. Main Street in
Wheaton, we can think
of “Main Street” as our path and
“Wheaton” as our peg revision. These two pieces of
information identify a unique path that can be traveled (north or
south on Main Street), and they keep us from traveling up and
down the wrong Main Street in search of our destination. Now we
throw in “606 N.” as our operative revision of
sorts, and we know exactly where to
Say that long ago we created our repository, and in revision 1
we added our first
concept directory, plus an
IDEA file in that directory talking about
the concept. After several revisions in which real code was
added and tweaked, we, in revision 20, renamed this directory to
frabnaggilywort. By revision 27, we had a
new concept, a new
concept directory to
hold it, and a new
IDEA file to describe
it. And then five years and thousands of revisions flew by,
just like they would in any good romance story.
Now, years later, we wonder what the
IDEA file looked like back in revision 1.
But Subversion needs to know whether we are asking about how the
current file looked back in revision 1, or
whether we are asking for the contents of whatever file lived at
concept/IDEA in revision 1. Certainly
those questions have different answers, and because of peg
revisions, you can ask those questions. To find out how the
IDEA file looked in that old
revision, you run:
$ svn cat -r 1 concept/IDEA svn: E195012: Unable to find repository location for 'concept/IDEA' in revision 1
Of course, in this example, the current
IDEA file didn't exist yet in revision 1,
so Subversion gives an error. The previous command is shorthand
for a longer notation which explicitly lists a peg revision.
The expanded notation is:
$ svn cat -r 1 concept/IDEA@BASE svn: E195012: Unable to find repository location for 'concept/IDEA' in revision 1
And when executed, it has the expected results.
The perceptive reader is probably wondering at this point whether
the peg revision syntax causes problems for working copy paths
or URLs that actually have at signs in them. After
all, how does svn know whether
news@11 is the name of a directory in my
tree or just a syntax for “revision 11 of
news”? Thankfully, while
svn will always assume the latter, there is a
trivial workaround. You need only append an at sign to the
end of the path, such as
svn cares only about the last at sign in
the argument, and it is not considered illegal to omit a literal
peg revision specifier after that at sign. This workaround
even applies to paths that end in an at sign—you would
filename@@ to talk about a file named
Let's ask the other question, then—in revision 1, what
were the contents of whatever file occupied the address
concepts/IDEA at the time? We'll use an
explicit peg revision to help us out.
$ svn cat concept/IDEA@1 The idea behind this project is to come up with a piece of software that can frab a naggily wort. Frabbing naggily worts is tricky business, and doing it incorrectly can have serious ramifications, so we need to employ over-the-top input validation and data verification mechanisms.
Notice that we didn't provide an operative revision this time. That's because when no operative revision is specified, Subversion assumes a default operative revision that's the same as the peg revision.
As you can see, the output from our operation appears to be
correct. The text even mentions frabbing naggily worts, so this
is almost certainly the file that describes the software now
called Frabnaggilywort. In fact, we can verify this using the
combination of an explicit peg revision and explicit operative
revision. We know that in
Frabnaggilywort project is located in the
frabnaggilywort directory. So we specify
that we want to see how the line of history identified in
HEAD as the path
frabnaggilywort/IDEA looked in revision
$ svn cat -r 1 frabnaggilywort/IDEA@HEAD The idea behind this project is to come up with a piece of software that can frab a naggily wort. Frabbing naggily worts is tricky business, and doing it incorrectly can have serious ramifications, so we need to employ over-the-top input validation and data verification mechanisms.
And the peg and operative revisions need not be so trivial,
either. For example, say
had been deleted from
HEAD, but we know it
existed in revision 20, and we want to see the diffs for its
IDEA file between revisions 4 and 10. We
can use peg revision 20 in conjunction with the URL that
would have held Frabnaggilywort's
in revision 20, and then use 4 and 10 as our operative revision
$ svn diff -r 4:10 http://svn.red-bean.com/projects/frabnaggilywort/IDEA@20 Index: frabnaggilywort/IDEA =================================================================== --- frabnaggilywort/IDEA (revision 4) +++ frabnaggilywort/IDEA (revision 10) @@ -1,5 +1,5 @@ -The idea behind this project is to come up with a piece of software -that can frab a naggily wort. Frabbing naggily worts is tricky -business, and doing it incorrectly can have serious ramifications, so -we need to employ over-the-top input validation and data verification -mechanisms. +The idea behind this project is to come up with a piece of +client-server software that can remotely frab a naggily wort. +Frabbing naggily worts is tricky business, and doing it incorrectly +can have serious ramifications, so we need to employ over-the-top +input validation and data verification mechanisms.
Fortunately, most folks aren't faced with such complex situations. But when you are, remember that peg revisions are that extra hint Subversion needs to clear up ambiguity.