Concurrent Versions System

Concurrent Versions System
Developer(s) The CVS Team
Initial release November 19, 1990 (1990-11-19)
Stable release
1.11.23 / May 8, 2008 (2008-05-08)
Preview release
1.12.13 / July 26, 2006 (2006-07-26)
Repository [cvs://]
Written in C
Operating system Unix-like, Windows
Type Revision control
License GNU General Public License

The Concurrent Versions System (CVS), also known as the Concurrent Versioning System, is a client-server free software revision control system in the field of software development. A version control system keeps track of all work and all changes in a set of files, and allows several developers (potentially widely separated in space and time) to collaborate. Dick Grune developed CVS as a series of shell scripts in July 1986.[1]

In addition to commercial software developers, CVS became popular with the open source software world and was released under the GNU General Public License. While there was regular development to add features and fix bugs in the past,[2] including regular builds and test results,[3] there have been no new releases since 2008.[4]


CVS uses a client–server architecture: a server stores the current version(s) of a project and its history, and clients connect to the server in order to "check out" a complete copy of the project, work on this copy and then later "check in" their changes. Typically, the client and server connect over a LAN or over the Internet, but client and server may both run on the same machine if CVS has the task of keeping track of the version history of a project with only local developers. The server software normally runs on Unix (although at least the CVSNT server also supports various flavours of Microsoft Windows), while CVS clients may run on any major operating-system platform.

Several developers may work on the same project concurrently, each one editing files within their own "working copy" of the project, and sending (or checking in) their modifications to the server. To avoid conflicts, the server only accepts changes made to the most recent version of a file. Developers are therefore expected to keep their working copy up-to-date by incorporating other people's changes on a regular basis. This task is mostly handled automatically by the CVS client, requiring manual intervention only when an edit conflict arises between a checked-in modification and the yet-unchecked local version of a file.

If the check in operation succeeds, then the version numbers of all files involved automatically increment, and the CVS-server writes a user-supplied description line, the date and the author's name to its log files. CVS can also run external, user-specified log processing scripts following each commit. These scripts are installed by an entry in CVS's loginfo file, which can trigger email notification or convert the log data into a Web-based format.

Clients can also compare versions, request a complete history of changes, or check out a historical snapshot of the project as of a given date or as of a revision number.

CVS servers can allow "anonymous read access",[5] wherein clients may check out and compare versions with either a blank or simple published password (e.g., "anoncvs"); only the check-in of changes requires a personal account and password in these scenarios.

Clients can also use the "update" command to bring their local copies up-to-date with the newest version on the server. This eliminates the need for repeated downloading of the whole project.

CVS can also maintain different "branches" of a project. For instance, a released version of the software project may form one branch, used for bug fixes, while a version under current development, with major changes and new features, can form a separate branch.

CVS uses delta compression for efficient storage of different versions of the same file. This works well with large text files with few changes from one version to the next. This is usually the case for source code files. On the other hand, when CVS is told to store a file as binary, it will keep each individual version on the server. Storing files as binary is important in order to avoid corruption of binary files.

In the world of open source software, the Concurrent Version System (CVS) has long been the tool of choice for version control. And rightly so. CVS itself is free software, and its non-restrictive modus operandi and support for networked operation – which allow dozens of geographically dispersed programmers to share their work – fits the collaborative nature of the open-source world very well. CVS and its semi-chaotic development model have become cornerstones of open-source.
Collins-Sussman, Version Control with Subversion For Subversion 1.1, 2005


CVS labels a single project (set of related files) that it manages as a module. A CVS server stores the modules it manages in its repository. Programmers acquire copies of modules by checking out. The checked-out files serve as a working copy, sandbox or workspace. Changes to the working copy are reflected in the repository by committing them. To update is to acquire or merge the changes in the repository with the working copy.

History and status

Dick Grune developed CVS as a front end for the Revision Control System (RCS), an older version control system that manages individual files but not whole projects.

I created CVS to be able to cooperate with my students, Erik Baalbergen and Maarten Waage, on the ACK (Amsterdam Compiler Kit) C compiler. The three of us had vastly different schedules (one student was a steady 9-5 worker, the other was irregular, and I could work on the project only in the evenings). Their project ran from July 1984 to August 1985. CVS was initially called cmt, for the obvious reason that it allowed us to commit versions independently.

Grune publicly released the code on June 23, 1986.[6]

The code that eventually evolved into the current version of CVS started with Brian Berliner in April 1989, with later input from Jeff Polk and many other contributors. Brian Berliner wrote a paper introducing his improvements to the CVS program—which describes how the tool was extended and used internally by Prisma, a third-party developer working on the SunOS kernel, and was released for the benefit of the community under the GPL. On November 19, 1990, CVS version 1.0 was submitted to the Free Software Foundation for development and distribution.[7]

CVS supports distributed, multi-site and offline operations due to the unreliability of the few computer networks that existed at the time CVS evolved.

Development status

There have been no official recent announcements indicating the project status.

Development of the Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris, HPUX, I5os and Mac OS X port of CVS has split off into a separate project named CVSNT, which is under current, active development.[15]

Relationship with GNU

The relationship between CVS and the GNU project has long been somewhat ambiguous: the GNU web site distributed the program, labelling it "GNU package" on one page and "other GPL-licensed project" on another. In 2008, when development of CVS was transferred from the old website ( to the GNU Savannah hosting platform, it was placed in the "non-GNU" section.[16] Further, on GNU's FTP download server, CVS is distributed in the "non-gnu" directory.


Over time, developers have created new version control systems based on CVS in order to add features, alter the operational model, and improve developers' productivity. CVS replacement projects include CVSNT (first released 1998), Subversion[17][18] (initially released in 2004[19]) and EVS (first released 2008).


Several characteristics of CVS have been frequently criticized.[20] Defenders argue that many of these are the result of deliberate design decisions, some of which were made at a time when the software and hardware landscape were different than they are now. They also point to the existence of workarounds or approaches to the development process that can mitigate problems.

Criticism Response
Revisions created by a commit are per file, rather than spanning the collection of files that make up the project or spanning the entire repository. When a release is made, a tag can be created to associate the set of revisions with a meaningful release name.
CVS does not version the moving or renaming of files and directories. In 1984, when CVS originated, refactoring was less common in development processes; the first known paper to discuss refactoring was written in 1992. Hence, there was less of a requirement for moving and renaming files and directories. However, moving and renaming can still be accomplished with the help of a knowledgeable administrator by directly moving the RCS file in the repository.
No versioning of symbolic links. Symbolic links stored in a version control system can pose a security risk. For instance, a symbolic link to a sensitive file can be stored in the repository, making the sensitive file accessible even when it is not checked in. In place of symbolic links, scripts that require certain privileges and conscious intervention to execute may be checked into CVS.
Support for Unicode and non-ASCII filenames is limited. Use of native non-ASCII character sets was traditionally avoided due to the problems caused when multiple encodings were used. Now many Unix systems run in UTF-8,[21] and CVS on such systems handles UTF-8 filenames natively.
Commits are not atomic. Some networks and servers have insufficient resilience to complete a commit without crashing; this was even more common in the past. The lack of atomicity is mitigated by the fact that in many code management processes, development work is performed on branches and then merged into the trunk after code review. That final merge is atomic, and performed in the data center by QA. The term atomic is sometimes used in the transactional database sense, where a commit automatically rolls back if it fails for any reason, and sometimes in the sense that each commit can be uniquely identified. Tracking each commit can be accomplished by modifying the correct trigger.
Branch operations are expensive. CVS assumes that the majority of work takes place on the trunk, and that branches should generally be short-lived or historical. When used as designed, branches are easily managed and branch operations are efficient and fast.[22][23]
CVS treats files as text by default. Text files are expected to be the primary file type stored in the CVS repository. However, binary files are also supported, and files with a particular file extension can automatically be recognized as being binary.
No support for distributed revision control or unpublished changes. CVS developers favored an approach in which programmers frequently committed changes to the centrally checked-in copies of files in order to aid merging and foster rapid distribution of changes to all users.

See also

IDEs with support for CVS


  1. "CVS--Concurrent Versions System v1.12.12.1: Overview". - Per Cederqvist. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  2. "CVS Change Log". Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  3. "CVS Test Results". Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  4. 1 2 "Concurrent Versions System - News". Free Software Foundation, Inc. May 8, 2008. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  5. Charles D. Cranor; Theo de Raadt (1999). "Opening The Source Repository With Anonymous CVS, USENIX 1999" (PDF).
  6. Dick Grune (July 3, 1986). "CVS, an RCS front-end (cvs)". Newsgroup: mod.sources. Usenet: 122@mirror.UUCP. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  7. initial release of version 1.0; CVS NEWS file
  8. "CVS ChangeLog". Retrieved May 25, 2009.
  9. "Open requests for fixes/features". Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  10. "CVS Mailing List". Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  11. "Current Events". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  12. "CVS Wiki". Retrieved January 15, 2013. Companies offering commercial support for CVS are listed in the CVS Wiki.
  13. "Stable CVS Version 1.11.23 Released!". Cvs-Announce mailing list. GNU. Retrieved January 15, 2013. Stable CVS 1.11.23 has been released. Stable releases contain only bug fixes from previous versions of CVS.
  14. "Savannah CVS Surfing - Index of /cvs/ccvs/src". Retrieved January 15, 2013. gpg.c (parse_signature_subpacket): Correct spout->raw memory allocation. (Reported by David Taylor <>.)
  15. "About the CVSNT Project". History. March Hare Software. Retrieved January 15, 2013. CVS Suite 2009R2 was released in July 2011 with improved support for versioning PL/SQL triggers/procedures etc, and CVS Suite 2010 is currently being prepared for release. A major upgrade: CVS Suite 2012 is in final planning stages and is expected to be released in early 2012.
  16. Note: all pages in the non-gnu section automatically contain the notice "This project is not part of the GNU Project", so this is just an automatic consequence of being in the non-gnu section, not a comment specifically made by GNU about CVS. "Concurrent Versions System - Summary". Retrieved January 15, 2013. This project is not part of the GNU Project.
  17. "Subversion FAQ: Why does this project exist?". Subversion. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  18. "Dispelling Subversion FUD". Ben Collins-Sussman. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  19. Subversion released 26th February 2004: and the CHANGELOG proof can be found here
  20. Linus Torvalds (2007-05-03). [Google] Tech Talk: Linus Torvalds on git. Event occurs at 2:30. Retrieved 2014-07-10. Credit CVS in a very, very negative way, because I, in many ways, when I designed Git, it's the 'What would Jesus do?', except it's 'What would CVS never, ever do?' kind of approach to source control management.
  21. Kuhn, Markus (2009-05-11). "UTF-8 and Unicode FAQ". Retrieved 2010-07-07.
  22. Collins-Sussman, Ben; Greg Ward (September 2004). "Subversion Users: Re: Performance (Subversion vs. CVS)". subversion-users. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
  23. West, Adrian (July 2004). "cvs branchtag performance fix". Retrieved 2010-07-07.
  24. Barrett, Arthur (2010-06-25). "Anonymous or Developer checkout with TortoiseCVS". Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  25. Barrett, Arthur. "TortoiseCVS instructions – sourceforge". Retrieved 2010-07-10.


External links

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