In mid-2004, a second type of repository storage system—one which doesn't use a database at all—came into being. An FSFS repository stores the changes associated with a revision in a single file, and so all of a repository's revisions can be found in a single subdirectory full of numbered files. Transactions are created in separate subdirectories as individual files. When complete, the transaction file is renamed and moved into the revisions directory, thus guaranteeing that commits are atomic. And because a revision file is permanent and unchanging, the repository also can be backed up while “hot”, just like a BDB-backed repository.

The FSFS revision files describe a revision's directory structure, file contents, and deltas against files in other revision trees. Unlike a Berkeley DB database, this storage format is portable across different operating systems and isn't sensitive to CPU architecture. Because there's no journaling or shared-memory files being used, the repository can be safely accessed over a network filesystem and examined in a read-only environment. The lack of database overhead also means that the overall repository size is a bit smaller.

FSFS has different performance characteristics too. When committing a directory with a huge number of files, FSFS is able to more quickly append directory entries. On the other hand, FSFS writes the latest version of a file as a delta against an earlier version, which means that checking out the latest tree is a bit slower than fetching the fulltexts stored in a Berkeley DB HEAD revision. FSFS also has a longer delay when finalizing a commit, which could in extreme cases cause clients to time out while waiting for a response.

The most important distinction, however, is FSFS's imperviousness to “wedging” when something goes wrong. If a process using a Berkeley DB database runs into a permissions problem or suddenly crashes, the database can be left in an unusable state until an administrator recovers it. If the same scenarios happen to a process using an FSFS repository, the repository isn't affected at all. At worst, some transaction data is left behind.

The only real argument against FSFS is its relative immaturity compared to Berkeley DB. Unlike Berkeley DB, which has years of history, its own dedicated development team and, now, Oracle's mighty name attached to it, [30] FSFS is a much newer bit of engineering. Prior to Subversion 1.4, it was still shaking out some pretty serious data integrity bugs which, while only triggered in very rare cases, nonetheless did occur. That said, FSFS has quickly become the back-end of choice for some of the largest public and private Subversion repositories, and promises a lower barrier to entry for Subversion across the board.

[30] Oracle bought Sleepycat and its flagship software, Berkeley DB, on Valentine's Day in 2006.