Using the APIs

Developing applications against the Subversion library APIs is fairly straightforward. All of the public header files live in the subversion/include directory of the source tree. These headers are copied into your system locations when you build and install Subversion itself from source. These headers represent the entirety of the functions and types meant to be accessible by users of the Subversion libraries.

The first thing you might notice is that Subversion's datatypes and functions are namespace protected. Every public Subversion symbol name begins with svn_, followed by a short code for the library in which the symbol is defined (such as wc, client, fs, etc.), followed by a single underscore (_) and then the rest of the symbol name. Semi-public functions (used among source files of a given library but not by code outside that library, and found inside the library directories themselves) differ from this naming scheme in that instead of a single underscore after the library code, they use a double underscore (__). Functions that are private to a given source file have no special prefixing, and are declared static. Of course, a compiler isn't interested in these naming conventions, but they help to clarify the scope of a given function or datatype.

The Apache Portable Runtime Library

Along with Subversion's own datatypes, you will see many references to datatypes that begin with apr_—symbols from the Apache Portable Runtime (APR) library. APR is Apache's portability library, originally carved out of its server code as an attempt to separate the OS-specific bits from the OS-independent portions of the code. The result was a library that provides a generic API for performing operations that differ mildly—or wildly—from OS to OS. While the Apache HTTP Server was obviously the first user of the APR library, the Subversion developers immediately recognized the value of using APR as well. This means that there are practically no OS-specific code portions in Subversion itself. Also, it means that the Subversion client compiles and runs anywhere that the server does. Currently this list includes all flavors of Unix, Win32, BeOS, OS/2, and Mac OS X.

In addition to providing consistent implementations of system calls that differ across operating systems, [43] APR gives Subversion immediate access to many custom datatypes, such as dynamic arrays and hash tables. Subversion uses these types extensively throughout the codebase. But perhaps the most pervasive APR datatype, found in nearly every Subversion API prototype, is the apr_pool_t—the APR memory pool. Subversion uses pools internally for all its memory allocation needs (unless an external library requires a different memory management schema for data passed through its API), [44] and while a person coding against the Subversion APIs is not required to do the same, they are required to provide pools to the API functions that need them. This means that users of the Subversion API must also link against APR, must call apr_initialize() to initialize the APR subsystem, and then must acquire a pool for use with Subversion API calls. See the section called “Programming with Memory Pools” for more information.

URL and Path Requirements

With remote version control operation as the whole point of Subversion's existence, it makes sense that some attention has been paid to internationalization (i18n) support. After all, while “remote” might mean “across the office”, it could just as well mean “across the globe.” To facilitate this, all of Subversion's public interfaces that accept path arguments expect those paths to be canonicalized, and encoded in UTF-8. This means, for example, that any new client binary that drives the libsvn_client interface needs to first convert paths from the locale-specific encoding to UTF-8 before passing those paths to the Subversion libraries, and then re-convert any resultant output paths from Subversion back into the locale's encoding before using those paths for non-Subversion purposes. Fortunately, Subversion provides a suite of functions (see subversion/include/svn_utf.h) that can be used by any program to do these conversions.

Also, Subversion APIs require all URL parameters to be properly URI-encoded. So, instead of passing file:///home/username/My File.txt as the URL of a file named My File.txt, you need to pass file:///home/username/My%20File.txt. Again, Subversion supplies helper functions that your application can use—svn_path_uri_encode() and svn_path_uri_decode(), for URI encoding and decoding, respectively.

Using Languages Other than C and C++

If you are interested in using the Subversion libraries in conjunction with something other than a C program—say a Python or Perl script—Subversion has some support for this via the Simplified Wrapper and Interface Generator (SWIG). The SWIG bindings for Subversion are located in subversion/bindings/swig and whilst still maturing, they are in a usable state. These bindings allow you to call Subversion API functions indirectly, using wrappers that translate the datatypes native to your scripting language into the datatypes needed by Subversion's C libraries.

There is an obvious benefit to accessing the Subversion APIs via a language binding—simplicity. Generally speaking, languages such as Python and Perl are much more flexible and easy to use than C or C++. The sort of high-level datatypes and context-driven type checking provided by these languages are often better at handling information that comes from users. As you know, humans are proficient at botching up input to a program, and scripting languages tend to handle that misinformation more gracefully. Of course, often that flexibility comes at the cost of performance. That is why using a tightly-optimized, C-based interface and library suite, combined with a powerful, flexible binding language, is so appealing.

Let's look at a sample program that uses Subversion's Python SWIG bindings to recursively crawl the youngest repository revision, and print the various paths reached during the crawl.

Example 8.2. Using the Repository Layer with Python


"""Crawl a repository, printing versioned object path names."""

import sys
import os.path
import svn.fs, svn.core, svn.repos

def crawl_filesystem_dir(root, directory, pool):
    """Recursively crawl DIRECTORY under ROOT in the filesystem, and return
    a list of all the paths at or below DIRECTORY.  Use POOL for all 

    # Print the name of this path.
    print directory + "/"
    # Get the directory entries for DIRECTORY.
    entries = svn.fs.svn_fs_dir_entries(root, directory, pool)

    # Use an iteration subpool.
    subpool = svn.core.svn_pool_create(pool)

    # Loop over the entries.
    names = entries.keys()
    for name in names:
        # Clear the iteration subpool.

        # Calculate the entry's full path.
        full_path = directory + '/' + name

        # If the entry is a directory, recurse.  The recursion will return
        # a list with the entry and all its children, which we will add to
        # our running list of paths.
        if svn.fs.svn_fs_is_dir(root, full_path, subpool):
            crawl_filesystem_dir(root, full_path, subpool)
            # Else it's a file, so print its path here.
            print full_path

    # Destroy the iteration subpool.

def crawl_youngest(pool, repos_path):
    """Open the repository at REPOS_PATH, and recursively crawl its
    youngest revision."""
    # Open the repository at REPOS_PATH, and get a reference to its
    # versioning filesystem.
    repos_obj = svn.repos.svn_repos_open(repos_path, pool)
    fs_obj = svn.repos.svn_repos_fs(repos_obj)

    # Query the current youngest revision.
    youngest_rev = svn.fs.svn_fs_youngest_rev(fs_obj, pool)
    # Open a root object representing the youngest (HEAD) revision.
    root_obj = svn.fs.svn_fs_revision_root(fs_obj, youngest_rev, pool)

    # Do the recursive crawl.
    crawl_filesystem_dir(root_obj, "", pool)
if __name__ == "__main__":
    # Check for sane usage.
    if len(sys.argv) != 2:
        sys.stderr.write("Usage: %s REPOS_PATH\n"
                         % (os.path.basename(sys.argv[0])))

    # Canonicalize (enough for Subversion, at least) the repository path.
    repos_path = os.path.normpath(sys.argv[1])
    if repos_path == '.': 
        repos_path = ''

    # Call the app-wrapper, which takes care of APR initialization/shutdown
    # and the creation and cleanup of our top-level memory pool.
    svn.core.run_app(crawl_youngest, repos_path)

This same program in C would need to deal with custom datatypes (such as those provided by the APR library) for representing the hash of entries and the list of paths, but Python has hashes (called “dictionaries”) and lists as built-in datatypes, and provides a rich collection of functions for operating on those types. So SWIG (with the help of some customizations in Subversion's language bindings layer) takes care of mapping those custom datatypes into the native datatypes of the target language. This provides a more intuitive interface for users of that language.

The Subversion Python bindings can be used for working copy operations, too. In the previous section of this chapter, we mentioned the libsvn_client interface, and how it exists for the sole purpose of simplifying the process of writing a Subversion client. The following is a brief example of how that library can be accessed via the SWIG bindings to recreate a scaled-down version of the svn status command.

Example 8.3. A Python Status Crawler

#!/usr/bin/env python

"""Crawl a working copy directory, printing status information."""

import sys
import os.path
import getopt
import svn.core, svn.client, svn.wc

def generate_status_code(status):
    """Translate a status value into a single-character status code,
    using the same logic as the Subversion command-line client."""

    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_none:
        return ' '
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_normal:
        return ' '
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_added:
        return 'A'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_missing:
        return '!'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_incomplete:
        return '!'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_deleted:
        return 'D'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_replaced:
        return 'R'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_modified:
        return 'M'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_merged:
        return 'G'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_conflicted:
        return 'C'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_obstructed:
        return '~'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_ignored:
        return 'I'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_external:
        return 'X'
    if status == svn.wc.svn_wc_status_unversioned:
        return '?'
    return '?'

def do_status(pool, wc_path, verbose):
    # Calculate the length of the input working copy path.
    wc_path_len = len(wc_path)

    # Build a client context baton.
    ctx = svn.client.svn_client_ctx_t()

    def _status_callback(path, status, root_path_len=wc_path_len):
        """A callback function for svn_client_status."""

        # Print the path, minus the bit that overlaps with the root of
        # the status crawl
        text_status = generate_status_code(status.text_status)
        prop_status = generate_status_code(status.prop_status)
        print '%s%s  %s' % (text_status, prop_status, path[wc_path_len + 1:])
    # Do the status crawl, using _status_callback() as our callback function.
    svn.client.svn_client_status(wc_path, None, _status_callback,
                                 1, verbose, 0, 0, ctx, pool)

def usage_and_exit(errorcode):
    """Print usage message, and exit with ERRORCODE."""
    stream = errorcode and sys.stderr or sys.stdout
    stream.write("""Usage: %s OPTIONS WC-PATH
  --help, -h    : Show this usage message
  --verbose, -v : Show all statuses, even uninteresting ones
""" % (os.path.basename(sys.argv[0])))
if __name__ == '__main__':
    # Parse command-line options.
        opts, args = getopt.getopt(sys.argv[1:], "hv", ["help", "verbose"])
    except getopt.GetoptError:
    verbose = 0
    for opt, arg in opts:
        if opt in ("-h", "--help"):
        if opt in ("-v", "--verbose"):
            verbose = 1
    if len(args) != 1:
    # Canonicalize (enough for Subversion, at least) the working copy path.
    wc_path = os.path.normpath(args[0])
    if wc_path == '.': 
        wc_path = ''

    # Call the app-wrapper, which takes care of APR initialization/shutdown
    # and the creation and cleanup of our top-level memory pool.
    svn.core.run_app(do_status, wc_path, verbose)

Subversion's language bindings unfortunately tend to lack the level of attention given to the core Subversion modules. However, there have been significant efforts towards creating functional bindings for Python, Perl, and Ruby. To some extent, the work done preparing the SWIG interface files for these languages is reusable in efforts to generate bindings for other languages supported by SWIG (which includes versions of C#, Guile, Java, MzScheme, OCaml, PHP, Tcl, and others). However, some extra programming is required to compensate for complex APIs that SWIG needs some help interfacing with. For more information on SWIG itself, see the project's website at

[43] Subversion uses ANSI system calls and datatypes as much as possible.

[44] Neon and Berkeley DB are examples of such libraries.