We've already covered in detail how Subversion stores and retrieves various versions of files and directories in its repository. Whole chapters have been devoted to this most fundamental piece of functionality provided by the tool. And if the versioning support stopped there, Subversion would still be complete from a version control perspective.
But it doesn't stop there.
In addition to versioning your directories and files, Subversion provides interfaces for adding, modifying, and removing versioned metadata on each of your versioned directories and files. We refer to this metadata as properties, and they can be thought of as two-column tables that map property names to arbitrary values attached to each item in your working copy. Generally speaking, the names and values of the properties can be whatever you want them to be, with the constraint that the names must be human-readable text. And the best part about these properties is that they, too, are versioned, just like the textual contents of your files. You can modify, commit, and revert property changes as easily as you can file content changes. And the sending and receiving of property changes occurs as part of your typical commit and update operations—you don't have to change your basic processes to accomodate them.
Properties show up elsewhere in Subversion, too. Just as files and directories may have arbitrary property names and values attached to them, each revision as a whole may have arbitrary properties attached to it. The same constraints apply—human-readable names and anything-you-want binary values. The main difference is that revision properties are not versioned. In other words, if you change the value of, or delete, a revision property, there's no way within the scope of Subversion's functionality to recover the previous value.
Subversion has no particular policy regarding the use of
properties. It asks only that you not use property names that
begin with the prefix
svn:. That's the
namespace that it sets aside for its own use. And Subversion
does, in fact, use properties, both the versioned and
unversioned variety. Certain versioned properties have special
meaning or effects when found on files and directories, or house
a particular bit of information about the revisions on which
they are found. Certain revision properties are automatically
attached to revisions by Subversion's commit process, and carry
information about the revision. Most of these properties are
mentioned elsewhere in this or other chapters as part of the
more general topics to which they are related. For an
exhaustive list of Subversion's pre-defined properties, see
the section called “Subversion properties”.
In this section, we will examine the utility—both to users of Subversion, and to Subversion itself—of property support. You'll learn about the property-related svn subcommands, and how property modifications affect your normal Subversion workflow. Hopefully, you'll be convinced that Subversion properties can enhance your version control experience.
Just as Subversion uses properties to store extra information about the files, directories, and revisions that it contains, you might also find properties to be of similar use. Some part of the processes around Subversion's usage to which you adhere, or maybe some additional tooling around Subversion that you use, might find utility in having a place close to your versioned data to hang custom metadata about that data.
Say you wish to design a website that houses many digital photos, and displays them with captions and a datestamp. Now, your set of photos is constantly changing, so you'd like to have as much of this site automated as possible. These photos can be quite large, so as is common with sites of this nature, you want to provide smaller thumbnail images to your site visitors.
Now, you can get this functionality using traditional
files. That is, you can have your
image123.jpg and an
image123-thumbnail.jpg side-by-side in a
directory. Or if you want to keep the filenames the same, you
might have your thumbnails in a different directory, like
thumbnails/image123.jpg. You can also
store your captions and datestamps in a similar fashion, again
separated from the original image file. But the problem here
is that your collection of files grows in multiples with each
new photo added to the site.
Now consider the same website deployed in a way that makes
use of Subversion's file properties. Imagine having a single
image123.jpg, and then
properties set on that file named
datestamp, and even
thumbnail. Now your working copy directory
looks much more manageable—in fact, it looks to the
casual browser like there are nothing but image files in it.
But your automation scripts know better. They know that they
can use svn (or better yet, they can use
the Subversion language bindings—see the section called “Using Languages Other than C and C++”) to dig out the
extra information that your site needs to display without
having to read an index file or play path manipulation
Custom revision properties are also frequently used. One
common such use is a property whose value contains an issue
tracker ID with which the revision is associated, perhaps
because the change made in that revision fixes a bug filed in
the tracker issue with that ID. Other uses include hanging
more friendly names on the revision—it might be hard to
remember that revision 1935 was a fully tested revision. But
if there's, say, a
test-results property on
that revision with a value
that's meaningful information to have.
The svn command affords a few ways to add or modify file and directory properties. For properties with short, human-readable values, perhaps the simplest way to add a new property is to specify the property name and value on the command-line of the propset subcommand.
$ svn propset copyright '(c) 2006 Red-Bean Software' calc/button.c property 'copyright' set on 'calc/button.c' $
But we've been touting the flexibility that Subversion
offers for your property values. And if you are planning to
have a multi-line textual, or even binary, property value, you
probably do not want to supply that value on the command-line.
So the propset subcommand takes a
--file (-F) option for specifying the name of
a file which contains the new property value.
$ svn propset license -F /path/to/LICENSE calc/button.c property 'license' set on 'calc/button.c' $
There are some restrictions on the names you can use for
properties. A property name must start with a letter, a colon
:), or an underscore
_); after that, you can also use digits,
-), and periods
In addition to the propset command, the svn program supplies the propedit command. This command uses the configured editor program (see the section called “Config”) to add or modify properties. When you run the command, svn invokes your editor program on a temporary file that contains the current value of the property (or which is empty, if you are adding a new property). Then, you just modify that value in your editor program until it represents the new value you wish to store for the property, save the temporary file, and then exit the editor program. If Subversion detects that you've actually changed the existing value of the property, it will accept that as the new property value. If you exit your editor without making any changes, no property modification will occur.
$ svn propedit copyright calc/button.c ### exit the editor without changes No changes to property 'copyright' on 'calc/button.c' $
We should note that, as with other svn subcommands, those related to properties can act on multiple paths at once. This enables you to modify properties on whole sets of files with a single command. For example, we could have done:
$ svn propset copyright '(c) 2006 Red-Bean Software' calc/* property 'copyright' set on 'calc/Makefile' property 'copyright' set on 'calc/button.c' property 'copyright' set on 'calc/integer.c' … $
All of this property adding and editing isn't really very useful if you can't easily get the stored property value. So the svn program supplies two subcommands for displaying the names and values of properties stored on files and directories. The svn proplist command will list the names of properties that exist on a path. Once you know the names of the properties on the node, you can request their values individually using svn propget. This command will, given a path (or set of paths) and a property name, print the value of the property to the standard output stream.
$ svn proplist calc/button.c Properties on 'calc/button.c': copyright license $ svn propget copyright calc/button.c (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software
There's even a variation of the
proplist command that will list both the
name and value of all of the properties. Simply supply the
$ svn proplist -v calc/button.c Properties on 'calc/button.c': copyright : (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software license : ================================================================ Copyright (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software. All rights reserved. Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met: 1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions, and the recipe for Fitz's famous red-beans-and-rice. …
The last property-related subcommand is propdel. Since Subversion allows you to store properties with empty values, you can't remove a property altogether using propedit or propset. For example, this command will not yield the desired effect:
$ svn propset license '' calc/button.c property 'license' set on 'calc/button.c' $ svn proplist -v calc/button.c Properties on 'calc/button.c': copyright : (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software license : $
You need to use the propdel subcommand to delete properties altogether. The syntax is similar to the other property commands:
$ svn propdel license calc/button.c property 'license' deleted from 'calc/button.c'. $ svn proplist -v calc/button.c Properties on 'calc/button.c': copyright : (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software $
Remember those unversioned revision properties? You can
modify those, too, using the same svn
subcommands that we just described. Simply add the
--revprop command-line parameter, and specify
the revision whose property you wish to modify. Since
revisions are global, you don't need to specify a target path
to these property-related commands so long as you are
positioned in a working copy of the repository whose
revision property you wish to modify. Otherwise, you can
simply provide the URL of any path in the repository of
interest (including the repository's root URL). For example,
you might want to replace the commit log message of an
If your current working directory is part of a working copy of
your repository, you can simply run the
svn propset command with no target path:
$ svn propset svn:log '* button.c: Fix a compiler warning.' -r11 --revprop property 'svn:log' set on repository revision '11' $
But even if you haven't checked out a working copy from that repository, you can still affect the property change by providing the repository's root URL:
$ svn propset svn:log '* button.c: Fix a compiler warning.' -r11 --revprop \ http://svn.example.com/repos/project property 'svn:log' set on repository revision '11' $
Note that the ability to modify these unversioned properties must be explicitly added by the repository administrator (see the section called “Implementing Repository Hooks”). Since the properties aren't versioned, you run the risk of losing information if you aren't careful with your edits. The repository administrator can setup methods to protect against this loss, and by default, modification of unversioned properties is disabled.
Users should, where possible, use svn propedit instead of svn propset. While the end result of the commands is identical, the former will allow them to see the current value of the property they are about to change, which helps them to verify that they are, in fact, making the change they think they are making. This is especially true when modifying unversioned revision properties. Also, it is significantly easier to modify multiline property values in a text editor than at the command line.
Now that you are familiar with all of the property-related svn subcommands, let's see how property modifications affect the usual Subversion workflow. As we mentioned earlier, file and directory properties are versioned, just like your file contents. As a result, Subversion provides the same opportunities for merging—in cleanly or conflicting fashions—someone else's modifications into your own.
And as with file contents, your property changes are local modifications, only made permanent when you commit them to the repository with svn commit. Your property changes can be easily unmade, too—the svn revert command will restore your files and directories to their un-edited states, contents, properties, and all. Also, you can receive interesting information about the state of your file and directory properties by using the svn status and svn diff commands.
$ svn status calc/button.c M calc/button.c $ svn diff calc/button.c Property changes on: calc/button.c ___________________________________________________________________ Name: copyright + (c) 2006 Red-Bean Software $
Notice how the status subcommand
M in the second column instead of
the first. That is because we have modified the properties on
calc/button.c, but not modified its
textual contents. Had we changed both, we would have seen
M in the first column, too (see the section called “See an overview of your changes”).
You might also have noticed the non-standard way that Subversion currently displays property differences. You can still run svn diff and redirect the output to create a usable patch file. The patch program will ignore property patches—as a rule, it ignores any noise it can't understand. This does unfortunately mean that to fully apply a patch generated by svn diff, any property modifications will need to be applied by hand.
Properties are a powerful feature of Subversion, acting as key components of many Subversion features discussed elsewhere in this and other chapters—textual diff and merge support, keyword substitution, newline translation, etc. But to get the full benefit of properties, they must be set on the right files and directories. Unfortunately, that can be a step easily forgotten in the routine of things, especially since failing to set a property doesn't usually result in an obvious error condition (at least compared to, say, failing to add a file to version control). To help your properties get applied to the places that need them, Subversion provides a couple of simple but useful features.
Whenever you introduce a file to version control using the
svn add or svn import
commands, Subversion tries to assist by setting some common
file properties automatically. First, on operating systems
whose filesystems support an execute permission bit,
Subversion will automatically set the
svn:executable property on newly added or
imported files whose execute bit is enabled. (See the section called “File Executability” for more
about this property.) Secondly, it runs a very basic
heuristic to determine if that file contains human-readable
content. If not, Subversion will automatically set the
svn:mime-type property on that file to
application/octet-stream (the generic
“this is a collection of bytes” MIME type). Of
course, if Subversion guesses incorrectly, or if you wish to
svn:mime-type property to something
always remove or edit that property. (For more on
Subversion's use of MIME types, see the section called “File Content Type”.)
Subversion also provides, via its runtime configuration
system (see the section called “Runtime Configuration Area”), a more
flexible automatic property setting feature which allows you
to create mappings of filename patterns to property names and
values. Once again, these mappings affect adds and imports,
and not only can override the default MIME type decision made
by Subversion during those operations, but can also set
additional Subversion or custom properties, too. For example,
you might create a mapping that says that any time you add
JPEG files—ones that match the pattern
*.jpg—Subversion should automatically
svn:mime-type property on those
image/jpeg. Or perhaps any files
*.cpp should have
svn:eol-style set to
Id. Automatic property support is
perhaps the handiest property related tool in the Subversion
toolbox. See the section called “Config” for more about
configuring that support.