TortoiseSVN Tutorial

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This tutorial will review Subversion (SVN), and teach Mind Project staff how to use the popular Windows SVN client, TortoiseSVN.

For More Information

For more SVN info, see Version Control with Subversion.


Please Note:

There is often more than one way to perform an operation. I have written instructions for completing common tasks in the most basic way possible. Undoubtedly, as you grow familiar with TortoiseSVN, you will find better ways of doing things.


Subversion (abbreviated SVN) is an open source version control system that facilitates source code development by multiple software developers across time and location. SVN helps resolve a number of issues that multi-developer projects regularly encounter, such as restoring previous working versions of source code, and conflicting versions of the same source code (more on these problems below).

Why we use SVN

At the Mind Project, all of the source code we develop is stored in an SVN repository on our new server, Coruscant. SVN allows us to easily maintain backups of source code, keep copies of every single version of the code, and prevents developers from overwriting each other's work.

SVN: the Basics

SVN is an system that can be served on a variety of web servers, and implementations exist to setup an SVN server on home PCs. SVN clients can be installed on a variety of platforms; here, we will focus on a popular Windows client, TortoiseSVN. SVN stores files (binary and text) in categories called repositories. For example, we have a repository for all of the Mobile Robot software; this repository is named iris4. By accessing the iris4 repository, every version of all of the Iris.4 Mobile Robot software can be accessed, from the first version of the CCP, to the latest version of the Robix Controller Interface.

Access to Mind Project Repositories

If you wish to access a Mind Project SVN repository, you must first get an account from our system administrator (contact Dr. Anderson or Bob for more information). Once you have an account, you can access the specific SVN repositories you have been given authorization to with your UliD and UliD Password.


(What follows only applies to Windows users - if you want to access a Mind Project SVN repository via another operating system, you will have to figure out how to do that on your own, but the connection info on this page should still be valuable to you.)

In what follows, I will guide you through using TortoiseSVN to access a Mind Project Repository. Before we begin, please be sure to have a Mind Project repository name (e.g. iris4, pt, etc.), and make sure that you have authorization to access that specific repository. If you do not have a UliD, you should have been given an unique ID of some sort for accessing Mind Project resources; use this in place of a UliD.

TortoiseSVN is a Windows shell extension that allows you to access SVN repositories within Windows Explorer. Basically, any folder on your hard drive can be turned into an SVN folder and used to store a revision of an SVN repository with just a few mouse clicks and some connections info.

Checkouts and Commits

When a developer wishes to work with SVN version-controlled source code, he or she must first 'check out' the current version of the code (or possibly an older version, if necessary). 'Check out' describes the process of the TortoiseSVN client connecting to the SVN server, and downloading a version of the code in a repository. Once the code is checked out, it can be worked with just like un-versioned code. After some milestone has been reached (or the workday has ended), the updated code can then be 'committed' back to the SVN repository as a new version of the source code, and subsequent attempts to check out the latest version of the code will acquire this newer, updated version.

The Checkout Operation

In the following example, we will be 'checking out' the latest version of the iris4 source code (just replace the name iris4 with the repository you wish to access).

  1. Download and install the latest version of TortoiseSVN.

  2. Restart your computer.

  3. Now that TortoiseSVN is installed and ready to go, we'll use it to checkout the latest version of the Iris.4 Mobile Robot source code. Create a new folder called SVN somewhere on your system (e.g. in your My Documents folder, or on the Desktop). Within the SVN folder, create a second new folder, this one named iris4.

  4. Now, right-click on the iris4 folder. In the shell context menu that pops up, select SVN Checkout....

  5. A window should pop up that looks like this:

    Checkout Screen

    For the URL of repository: field, enter:

  6. For the Checkout directory: field, click on the ellipses button Elipses Field and surf to the iris4 folder you just right-clicked on, and select it.

    Your SVN client should now look something like this:

    Filled In Checkout Screen

  7. Click OK on the client GUI. If you have not previously saved your UliD and password for this repository with TortoiseSVN, you will be prompted for it now. Enter your UliD and password, check the Check box to save them, and click OK. You should see a new screen like this:

    Checkout Results

    Assuming that your credentials checked out, and you entered in all of the connection information correctly, a progress list of files being checked out will stream down the Checkout Results screen.

  8. Once TortoiseSVN is finished processing your request, the OK button will become active; click it.

    You now have a whole bunch of robot source code on your hard drive. Go to the SVN folder. The iris4 folder should now have a special SVN icon:

    Check Icon

    The green check means that the folder contains SVN files. Go into the folder and browse its contents; you should see a whole bunch of C++ and Java code in a variety of folders.

    Please note that you could have just check out a sub-folder of the repository, or even a single file. To do this, just modify the URL of repository... field, and run the checkout operation as usual. For example, to get just the Java source code from the iris4 repository, enter in the URL of repository... field and click OK. Go ahead, try it out yourself!

The Commit Operation

In the following example, we will be committing a change to the repository. Note: please don't actually make a commit to the repository for this tutorial - just read along! (We don't want the iris4 repo to get messed up with a bunch of 'SVN practice' commits.)

If you have modified any of the files you have checked out, added new files to the folder (or a sub-folder) where you have versioned files, or if you have deleted versioned files, you will have to commit these changes to the SVN repository to try and make them stick. I say try here because it is possible that the commit operation will fail if your changes conflict with someone else's changes (more on this below, under Conflicts.

  1. You may have made changes to just one file, or just a set of files within a subfolder of the local snapshot of the repository, or you may have made changes all over the place, added files, deleted folders, etc. You can commit these changes by right-clicking on the file, sub-folder, or repository folder (whichever will cover the entire set of files/folders you have changed), and select SVN Commit.... You should see a screen pop up like the following:


  2. The above screen will show you a list of all the modified files, and will include other information depending on whether you've been deleting files/folders, renamed them, or added them to the repository. In the upper text box, write a comment that is concise, yet fully describes the important changes you have made to the repository (for example, you might comment, "Adding interface.h and fixed the I/O bug in main() in file main.cpp"). Only use accurate, descriptive comments so others can understand how the new version of code you are creating differs from the previous version!

  3. You may need to interact with the commit interface further; more info on deleting, renaming, and adding files and folders is available below. Once you are done, (or, if you just updated a versioned file and did nothing else), click OK. Once the operation completes, you should see something like the following:

    Commit Changes

  4. Click OK, you have successfully committed a change to the repository. To see your change, go ahead and delete the entire iris4 folder. Create a new iris4 folder in the same location as the old one (the new folder will not be checked). Now, checkout the iris4 repository again. Go to the file(s) you updated, and you will be able to see your changes.

Other Operations

This section covers a variety of common operations you will need to perform when using SVN.

Renaming Files and Folders

To rename a file or a folder you must first checkout the file or folder to your machine. Once it's on your machine, right-click on the file or folder, and select the menu option SVN Rename.... Type in the new name, and the icon for the file or folder will change to:

Rename - New Icon

Now, just run a Commit and the repository will be updated with the new name, and any other changes you've made. If you just want to commit the name change (and not changes to other files/folders), right-click on the file you renamed and select the SVN Commit... menu option.

Please Note:

SVN handles renaming in a strange way; when you rename a file or folder, what actually happens is a new file/folder is created and added to the repository with the new name. However, the original file/folder remains in the repository. Thus if you renamed the file main_c.cpp to main.cpp, ran a Commit, then ran a Checkout of main_c.cpp and main.cpp's containing folder, both files would be downloaded from the repository. So... once you've renamed the file/folder, you should delete the original from the repository.

Deleting Files and Folders

To delete a file or folder, simply right-click on it, and select the Delete... option from the TortoiseSVN menu:

Delete Menu Option

Once the operation completes, the folder will be deleted from your hard drive. To make the delete stick, run a Commit, and make sure the check boxes are checked for deleting the items you want deleted:

Delete Commit

When the operation completes, the repository will be updated to a new version and the file(s) and folder(s) you deleted will not be contained in the new version.

Adding Files and Folders

To add a file or folder, check out the repo (if you haven't already done so). move the new file(s) and folder(s) to the location you want them in the repository (for e.g. to add the file newfile.cpp to the iris4/java/newclient/ folder, move newfile.cpp to that folder). Now, with everything in its place, right-click on the file(s) and folder(s) you want to add to the repository, and select the SVN Add... menu option. You will be prompted with a confirmation dialog box:

ADD Confirm

If everything is as you want it, click OK. You will then see the TortoiseSVN Add dialog box which shows the progress of the operation. When it is complete, hit OK to continue.

To make the change stick, run a Commit and make sure the check boxes are checked for adding the items you want to add:

Commit Dialog Box

When everything is as you want it, click OK. Once the Commit operation completes, the file(s) and folder(s) will have been added to the repository, and the version will have increased.


At any time you can update your local snapshot of the repository to the latest version available by running an Update Operation. To do this, just right-click on a folder containing versioned files and folders in it, and select the SVN Update... menu option.

Please Note:

When you run an update, only the files already checked out will be updated (or deleted, if they were deleted in the repository since you last updated) - if new files have been added to the repository, or you if you have deleted a file (or renamed a file), you will not get all of the files in the current version. Again, only the files already on your hard drive will be touched, and they can only be deleted or overwritten with the latest version of the file.


Be very careful when you update you local version of the repository - any changes you have made to versioned files being updated will be completely wiped out. If you want to update a folder with modified versioned files in it, first run a Commit to commit your changes, then run the update. Also note that entire files/folders can be deleted when running an update (if they were deleted in the repository since you last updated).


Conflicts primarily occur in a situation like the following. Suppose you have been working on a file, main.cpp, in the irsi4 repository using revision 31. While you are busily programming away, someone else commits a modified version main.cpp to the same repository (thus updating the code to revision 32). Now main.cpp v32 in the SVN repository is different from the version you have been working on (v31). When you try and commit your modified file, main.cpp, you will get an error like this:

Commit Error

You then run an Update operation, and you will see the following:

Update Conflict

After you click OK, the folder containing main.cpp would now have several new, non-versioned files in it:

  • main.cpp.mine

    This is what main.cpp v31 looked like after you changed it (no conflict markers).

  • main.cpp.r31

    This is what version 31 of main.cpp looked like (the file you checkout and then modified).

  • main.cpp.r32

    This is what the current version of main.cpp looks like (on the server).

  • main.cpp

    During the Update operation, conflict markers were inserted into this file.

New Conflict Files

You can now right-click on the file main.cpp, and under the TortoiseSVN option, select Edit Conflicts:

Edit Conflicts Menu Option

For details on using this Merge program, see the help file (just hit F1). Basically, you need to decide which parts of the file should go in the new 'merged' version of the file. Once you've done this, you can mark the file as merged (either from within the merge program, or from the TortoiseSVN context menu (right-click on the file in question)). You can now commit the changes to the repository; the conflict is resolved!

Please Notes:

The description of conflicts I've provided above is incomplete - there is actually quite a bit more to this issue than I've let on, but the basics I've outlined above should get you through most situations. For more info, see the online book, Version Control with Subversion.

Also, whenever you are resolving conflicts, make sure you know exactly what you are doing - if there is any doubt, contact the author(s) of the conflicting file(s)!!!