General Vendor Branch Management Procedure

Managing vendor branches generally works like this: first, you create a top-level directory (such as /vendor) to hold the vendor branches. Then you import the third-party code into a subdirectory of that top-level directory. You then copy that subdirectory into your main development branch (for example, /trunk) at the appropriate location. You always make your local changes in the main development branch. With each new release of the code you are tracking, you bring it into the vendor branch and merge the changes into /trunk, resolving whatever conflicts occur between your local changes and the upstream changes.

An example will help to clarify this algorithm. We'll use a scenario where your development team is creating a calculator program that links against a third-party complex number arithmetic library, libcomplex. We'll begin with the initial creation of the vendor branch and the import of the first vendor drop. We'll call our vendor branch directory libcomplex, and our code drops will go into a subdirectory of our vendor branch called current. And since svn import creates all the intermediate parent directories it needs, we can actually accomplish both of these steps with a single command:

$ svn import /path/to/libcomplex-1.0 \
             http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/current \
             -m 'importing initial 1.0 vendor drop'
…

We now have the current version of the libcomplex source code in /vendor/libcomplex/current. Now, we tag that version (see the section called “Tags”) and then copy it into the main development branch. Our copy will create a new directory called libcomplex in our existing calc project directory. It is in this copied version of the vendor data that we will make our customizations:

$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/current  \
           http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/1.0      \
           -m 'tagging libcomplex-1.0'
…
$ svn copy http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/1.0  \
           http://svn.example.com/repos/calc/libcomplex        \
           -m 'bringing libcomplex-1.0 into the main branch'
…

We check out our project's main branch—which now includes a copy of the first vendor drop—and we get to work customizing the libcomplex code. Before we know it, our modified version of libcomplex is now completely integrated into our calculator program. [24]

A few weeks later, the developers of libcomplex release a new version of their library—version 1.1—which contains some features and functionality that we really want. We'd like to upgrade to this new version, but without losing the customizations we made to the existing version. What we essentially would like to do is to replace our current baseline version of libcomplex 1.0 with a copy of libcomplex 1.1, and then re-apply the custom modifications we previously made to that library to the new version. But we actually approach the problem from the other direction, applying the changes made to libcomplex between versions 1.0 and 1.1 to our modified copy of it.

To perform this upgrade, we check out a copy of our vendor branch and replace the code in the current directory with the new libcomplex 1.1 source code. We quite literally copy new files on top of existing files, perhaps exploding the libcomplex 1.1 release tarball atop our existing files and directories. The goal here is to make our current directory contain only the libcomplex 1.1 code and to ensure that all that code is under version control. Oh, and we want to do this with as little version control history disturbance as possible.

After replacing the 1.0 code with 1.1 code, svn status will show files with local modifications as well as, perhaps, some unversioned files. If we did what we were supposed to do, the unversioned files are only those new files introduced in the 1.1 release of libcomplex—we run svn add on those to get them under version control. If the 1.1 code no longer has certain files that were in the 1.0 tree, it may be hard to notice them; you'd have to compare the two trees with some external tool and then svn delete any files present in 1.0 but not in 1.1. (Although it might also be just fine to let these same files live on in unused obscurity!) Finally, once our current working copy contains only the libcomplex 1.1 code, we commit the changes we made to get it looking that way.

Our current branch now contains the new vendor drop. We tag the new version as 1.1 (in the same way we previously tagged the version 1.0 vendor drop), and then merge the differences between the tag of the previous version and the new current version into our main development branch:

$ cd working-copies/calc
$ svn merge http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/1.0      \
            http://svn.example.com/repos/vendor/libcomplex/current  \
            libcomplex
… # resolve all the conflicts between their changes and our changes
$ svn commit -m 'merging libcomplex-1.1 into the main branch'
…

In the trivial use case, the new version of our third-party tool would look, from a files-and-directories point of view, just like the previous version. None of the libcomplex source files would have been deleted, renamed, or moved to different locations—the new version would contain only textual modifications against the previous one. In a perfect world, our modifications would apply cleanly to the new version of the library, with absolutely no complications or conflicts.

But things aren't always that simple, and in fact it is quite common for source files to get moved around between releases of software. This complicates the process of ensuring that our modifications are still valid for the new version of code, and things can quickly degrade into a situation where we have to manually recreate our customizations in the new version. Once Subversion knows about the history of a given source file—including all its previous locations—the process of merging in the new version of the library is pretty simple. But we are responsible for telling Subversion how the source file layout changed from vendor drop to vendor drop.



[24] And entirely bug-free, of course!