Importing legacy code from Subversion to Git

Atlassian has a very good tutorial on this. I suggest you read it first. Here is a simple example.

Install git-svn

A modern git installation may not include git-svn by default. On Ubuntu you can easily install it:

sudo apt-get install git-svn

Authors text file

To preserve the history readably, you’ll need to tell git svn the real names of the authors. There are tools to generate authors.txt, but for a small-ish team it might be easier to create it manually. Here’s a sample.

sarah = Sarah Woodall <>
otheruser = Other User <>

Subtree import recipe

This is how I imported a subdirectory of an old Subversion repo as a subtree of an existing Git repo, bringing in all relevant history with it. This assumes we want to import to the target repo’s default branch.

  1. Use git svn to create a temporary local git repo containing the data you want from Subversion
  2. Move the files into their own subdirectory
  3. Tag it: we’ll use this tag to define what gets exported
  4. Separately, clone the target Git repo, and move into it to do the rest
  5. Make a new subdirectory within it, as a home for the new subtree
  6. Export the files as they stand today (no history, just the files) from the temporary repo into the new subdirectory of the target repo
  7. Add and commit these new files to Git locally
  8. Bring in just the history, without affecting the files, by using git pull -s ours
  9. Finally, push the result
git svn clone --authors-file=authors.txt --trunk=mysubtree/ http://svnrepolocationURL/svn/mysvnrepo/
cd mysvnrepo
mkdir mysubtree
mv *.cpp *.hpp .cproject .project mysubtree
git commit -m"Moved mysubtree into own directory"
git tag -m"Tag current state of mysubtree ready for migration" MIGRATION_MYSUBTREE
cd ..
git clone https://myuser@myrepolocationURL/mytargetrepo.git
cd mytargetrepo
mkdir mysubtree
cd mysubtree
(cd ../../mysvnrepo && git archive MIGRATION_MYSUBTREE) | tar -xf -
cd ..
git add mysubtree
git commit -m"Initial commit of mysubtree, no history"
git pull -s ours ../mysvnrepo MIGRATION_MYSUBTREE
git push


My first go at the above (before I added Step 2) produced an error mesage from Git about unrelated history, at the “pull” stage. I attempted to force the issue by using “–allow-unrelated-histories”. This got the job done, but Git didn’t see the new files and the old ones as being the same, so the history, although present in the repo and browsable using Sourcetree, isn’t relatecd to the files (so “git log <filename>” doesn’t show what it should).

My talk at the Jenkins User Conference 2015

Sarah Jenkins talk
You can see the entire talk on the Cloudbees YouTube channel.

Some people do this kind of thing all the time, but it was quite an adventure for me. They put me on the big stage, too, with two giant screens! I counted the audience quickly before the lights went down, and there were about 100 of them. And they had lots of questions at the end. It went better than I’d expected. The only regret I have is that I didn’t realize my pointer wouldn’t show up in the video, so some of my explanations about where things are in the pictures are a bit puzzling.

The weird bit – the really startling bit – was the absence of women. Maybe there were some I didn’t notice, but my impression is that there were no women in my audience. At all. Was it because my subject involved hardware, and the women at the conference (there were women at the conference) had come to hear about more mainstream use-cases for Jenkins?

Dealing with errors

Unintended distractions impede communication

My work is about improving the flow of information. To communicate ideas successfully to other people you need to get rid of distractions because they will irritate your audience and divert attention from your message. Errors of fact, errors in grammar and punctuation, inconsistencies in style and infelicities in appearance can all distract your readers.

Strategies for minimising errors

There are three distinct approaches to the problem. They are not alternatives: you need to do them all.

  • Check finished work so as to find the errors in it
  • For each error that you know exists, decide what to do about it
  • Improve working methods so as to reduce the occurrence of errors

The process of finding errors

To find errors that might impede communication you have to think about how the recipient might misunderstand your meaning. You have to look with fresh eyes at the draft publication, examining it for errors, ambiguities and opacities that might cause a reader to waste time trying to fit incorrect but plausible possible meanings to it, or to start thinking about some other aspect of the material that doesn’t relate to the ideas you are trying to convey.

I am excited by the work of identifying errors and infelicities, whether they occur in text, in pictures or in computer source code. I enjoy the mental process involved: the imaginative effort that it takes to put oneself into the position of the reader (or the computer), lacking the background knowledge that would resolve ambiguities, and then to see whether the text still makes sense. I also enjoy the state of total immersion in the task, which is absolutely necessary for this work of polishing and improving – it can’t be done if you have any part of your mind on something else.

It happens that I am rather good at this. As a reader I am very easily distracted and misled by errors in text, even those that many other readers don’t see. They irritate me and make my mind wander away from what the author is trying to say. It can be a real annoyance when I’m reading for information, but this propensity is exactly what gives me the ability to do this sort of work successfully.

See my art pages to understand the connection between the way I think about making (or editing) pictures and the way I edit text or software. There are some surprising parallels here.

Deciding whether errors are worth correcting

To make a thoroughly professional job of preparing a publication you have to do something that is more difficult, and less satisfying, than simply finding the errors – but absolutely necessary. You have to decide, for each error you have found, whether it is worth fixing: whether the risk incurred by making the change is greater than the risk of harm being done by leaving the error in. The hardest thing about this work is having to make a decision to leave a known error uncorrected.

To a person inexperienced in the field it is very hard to see why this should ever be necessary. It is very difficult to persuade authors of text that a correction, although clearly desirable, simply can’t be done – even if the book hasn’t been printed yet. Similarly, restraining junior programmers, especially very able ones, from fixing bugs in software is very difficult. The most important task for the professional handler of errors is to make the right decision about each error and to persuade everyone else involved to accept it.

These are the things we have to weigh when deciding whether to correct an error:

  • How much will the correction cost? How much work will have to be re-done as a consequence of the change? How much delay will be caused? What is the cost of the delay?
  • How much harm would the uncorrected error cause? Can the user or reader, although perhaps annoyed by it, work around it without serious inconvenience? How much will the presence of the error harm our reputation or weaken the case we are trying to make?
  • What new errors do we risk introducing in our efforts to correct this one? Are we likely to notice them in the time we have left to re-check the final result? What is the risk that they turn out to be worse – more harmful – errors than this one?

In the software industry this decision process is commonly referred to by a term borrowed from the field of emergency medicine: triage. It is usually the responsibility of a release manager working in conjunction with a product manager. I have done a lot of work in this area.

Preventing errors from occurring

Dealing with errors in a publication is in some ways analogous to the job of testing and debugging a software system. To communicate successfully with a computer you need to avoid making errors of logic that will mislead it. This is not very different, conceptually, from the process of eliminating errors in the text and layout of publications to prevent them misleading human readers. As a software engineer I spent a lot of my time worrying about errors and devising ways of preventing them appearing, and I became an advocate for the use of configuration management systems, portable programming techniques and coding standards long before the need for these things was generally taken for granted. I learned some valuable lessons from this, many of which I believe are applicable in publishing also.

Since I began my career in the software industry in the early 1980s I have seen huge advances in the understanding of error prevention and in the general acceptance of systems and working practices that help with it. In the 1980s and early 1990s some respected software developers would argue passionately against the use of a source code control system on the grounds that it stifled their creativity, or object to running nightly builds and automated tests on the grounds that they wasted resources. This kind of thing is much less common today. I believe the same kind of change will eventually happen in the publishing industry also.