Data Lifetimes

Another nice feature of Subversion's model is that branches and tags can have finite lifetimes, just like any other versioned item. For example, suppose you eventually finish all your work on your personal branch of the calc project. After merging all of your changes back into /calc/trunk, there's no need for your private branch directory to stick around anymore:

$ svn delete http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/branches/my-calc-branch \
             -m "Removing obsolete branch of calc project."

Committed revision 375.

And now your branch is gone. Of course it's not really gone: the directory is simply missing from the HEAD revision, no longer distracting anyone. If you use svn checkout, svn switch, or svn list to examine an earlier revision, you'll still be able to see your old branch.

If browsing your deleted directory isn't enough, you can always bring it back. Resurrecting data is very easy in Subversion. If there's a deleted directory (or file) that you'd like to bring back into HEAD, simply use svn copy to copy it from the old revision:

$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/branches/my-calc-branch@374 \
           http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/branches/my-calc-branch

Committed revision 376.

In our example, your personal branch had a relatively short lifetime: you may have created it to fix a bug or implement a new feature. When your task is done, so is the branch. In software development, though, it's also common to have two “main” branches running side by side for very long periods. For example, suppose it's time to release a stable version of the calc project to the public, and you know it's going to take a couple of months to shake bugs out of the software. You don't want people to add new features to the project, but you don't want to tell all developers to stop programming either. So instead, you create a “stable” branch of the software that won't change much:

$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/trunk \
         http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/branches/stable-1.0 \
         -m "Creating stable branch of calc project."

Committed revision 377.

And now developers are free to continue adding cutting-edge (or experimental) features to /calc/trunk, and you can declare a project policy that only bug fixes are to be committed to /calc/branches/stable-1.0. That is, as people continue to work on the trunk, a human selectively ports bug fixes over to the stable branch. Even after the stable branch has shipped, you'll probably continue to maintain the branch for a long time—that is, as long as you continue to support that release for customers. We'll discuss this more in the next section.