Manipulating Properties

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 that 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, hyphens (-), and periods (.). [9]

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 that 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 the following:

$ 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 property name and a path (or set of paths), 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 --verbose (-v) option.

$ 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 existing revision. [10] 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 “Commit Log Message Correction”). That's because the properties aren't versioned, so you run the risk of losing information if you aren't careful with your edits. The repository administrator can set up methods to protect against this loss, and by default, modification of unversioned properties is disabled.

Tip

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 that 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.



[9] If you're familiar with XML, this is pretty much the ASCII subset of the syntax for XML "Name".

[10] Fixing spelling errors, grammatical gotchas, and “just-plain-wrongness” in commit log messages is perhaps the most common use case for the --revprop option.