Fortunately for Subversion users who routinely find themselves on different computers with different operating systems, Subversion's command-line program behaves almost identically on all those systems. If you know how to wield svn on one platform, you know how to wield it everywhere.

However, the same is not always true of other general classes of software or of the actual files you keep in Subversion. For example, on a Windows machine, the definition of a text file would be similar to that used on a Linux box, but with a key difference—the character sequences used to mark the ends of the lines of those files. There are other differences, too. Unix platforms have (and Subversion supports) symbolic links; Windows does not. Unix platforms use filesystem permission to determine executability; Windows uses filename extensions.

Because Subversion is in no position to unite the whole world in common definitions and implementations of all of these things, the best it can do is to try to help make your life simpler when you need to work with your versioned files and directories on multiple computers and operating systems. This section describes some of the ways Subversion does this.

File Content Type

Subversion joins the ranks of the many applications that recognize and make use of Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) content types. Besides being a general-purpose storage location for a file's content type, the value of the svn:mime-type file property determines some behavioral characteristics of Subversion itself.

For example, one of the benefits that Subversion typically provides is contextual, line-based merging of changes received from the server during an update into your working file. But for files containing nontextual data, there is often no concept of a line. So, for versioned files whose svn:mime-type property is set to a nontextual MIME type (generally, something that doesn't begin with text/, though there are exceptions), Subversion does not attempt to perform contextual merges during updates. Instead, any time you have locally modified a binary working copy file that is also being updated, your file is left untouched and Subversion creates two new files. One file has a .oldrev extension and contains the BASE revision of the file. The other file has a .newrev extension and contains the contents of the updated revision of the file. This behavior is really for the protection of the user against failed attempts at performing contextual merges on files that simply cannot be contextually merged.


The svn:mime-type property, when set to a value that does not indicate textual file contents, can cause some unexpected behaviors with respect to other properties. For example, since the idea of line endings (and therefore, line-ending conversion) makes no sense when applied to nontextual files, Subversion will prevent you from setting the svn:eol-style property on such files. This is obvious when attempted on a single file target—svn propset will error out. But it might not be as clear if you perform a recursive property set, where Subversion will silently skip over files that it deems unsuitable for a given property.

Subversion provides a number of mechanisms by which to automatically set the svn:mime-type property on a versioned file. See the section called “Automatic Property Setting” for details.

Also, if the svn:mime-type property is set, then the Subversion Apache module will use its value to populate the Content-type: HTTP header when responding to GET requests. This gives your web browser a crucial clue about how to display a file when you use it to peruse your Subversion repository's contents.

File Executability

On many operating systems, the ability to execute a file as a command is governed by the presence of an execute permission bit. This bit usually defaults to being disabled, and must be explicitly enabled by the user for each file that needs it. But it would be a monumental hassle to have to remember exactly which files in a freshly checked-out working copy were supposed to have their executable bits toggled on, and then to have to do that toggling. So, Subversion provides the svn:executable property as a way to specify that the executable bit for the file on which that property is set should be enabled, and Subversion honors that request when populating working copies with such files.

This property has no effect on filesystems that have no concept of an executable permission bit, such as FAT32 and NTFS.[17] Also, although it has no defined values, Subversion will force its value to * when setting this property. Finally, this property is valid only on files, not on directories.

End-of-Line Character Sequences

Unless otherwise noted using a versioned file's svn:mime-type property, Subversion assumes the file contains human-readable data. Generally speaking, Subversion uses this knowledge only to determine whether contextual difference reports for that file are possible. Otherwise, to Subversion, bytes are bytes.

This means that by default, Subversion doesn't pay any attention to the type of end-of-line (EOL) markers used in your files. Unfortunately, different operating systems have different conventions about which character sequences represent the end of a line of text in a file. For example, the usual line-ending token used by software on the Windows platform is a pair of ASCII control characters—a carriage return (CR) followed by a line feed (LF). Unix software, however, just uses the LF character to denote the end of a line.

Not all of the various tools on these operating systems understand files that contain line endings in a format that differs from the native line-ending style of the operating system on which they are running. So, typically, Unix programs treat the CR character present in Windows files as a regular character (usually rendered as ^M), and Windows programs combine all of the lines of a Unix file into one giant line because no carriage return-linefeed (or CRLF) character combination was found to denote the ends of the lines.

This sensitivity to foreign EOL markers can be frustrating for folks who share a file across different operating systems. For example, consider a source code file, and developers who edit this file on both Windows and Unix systems. If all the developers always use tools that preserve the line-ending style of the file, no problems occur.

But in practice, many common tools either fail to properly read a file with foreign EOL markers, or convert the file's line endings to the native style when the file is saved. If the former is true for a developer, he has to use an external conversion utility (such as dos2unix or its companion, unix2dos) to prepare the file for editing. The latter case requires no extra preparation. But both cases result in a file that differs from the original quite literally on every line! Prior to committing his changes, the user has two choices. Either he can use a conversion utility to restore the modified file to the same line-ending style that it was in before his edits were made, or he can simply commit the file—new EOL markers and all.

The result of scenarios like these include wasted time and unnecessary modifications to committed files. Wasted time is painful enough. But when commits change every line in a file, this complicates the job of determining which of those lines were changed in a nontrivial way. Where was that bug really fixed? On what line was a syntax error introduced?

The solution to this problem is the svn:eol-style property. When this property is set to a valid value, Subversion uses it to determine what special processing to perform on the file so that the file's line-ending style isn't flip-flopping with every commit that comes from a different operating system. The valid values are:


This causes the file to contain the EOL markers that are native to the operating system on which Subversion was run. In other words, if a user on a Windows machine checks out a working copy that contains a file with an svn:eol-style property set to native, that file will contain CRLF EOL markers. A Unix user checking out a working copy that contains the same file will see LF EOL markers in his copy of the file.

Note that Subversion will actually store the file in the repository using normalized LF EOL markers regardless of the operating system. This is basically transparent to the user, though.


This causes the file to contain CRLF sequences for EOL markers, regardless of the operating system in use.


This causes the file to contain LF characters for EOL markers, regardless of the operating system in use.


This causes the file to contain CR characters for EOL markers, regardless of the operating system in use. This line-ending style is not very common.

[16] You think that was rough? During that same era, WordPerfect also used .DOC for their proprietary file format's preferred extension!

[17] The Windows filesystems use file extensions (such as .EXE, .BAT, and .COM) to denote executable files.