Chapter 9. Subversion Complete Reference

Table of Contents

The Subversion Command Line Client: svn
svn Switches
svn Subcommands
svn add
svn blame
svn cat
svn checkout
svn cleanup
svn commit
svn copy
svn delete
svn diff
svn export
svn help
svn import
svn info
svn list
svn lock
svn log
svn merge
svn mkdir
svn move
svn propdel
svn propedit
svn propget
svn proplist
svn propset
svn resolved
svn revert
svn status
svn switch
svn unlock
svn update
svnadmin Switches
svnadmin Subcommands
svnadmin create
svnadmin deltify
svnadmin dump
svnadmin help
svnadmin hotcopy
svnadmin list-dblogs
svnadmin list-unused-dblogs
svnadmin load
svnadmin lslocks
svnadmin lstxns
svnadmin recover
svnadmin rmlocks
svnadmin rmtxns
svnadmin setlog
svnadmin verify
svnlook Switches
svnlook author
svnlook cat
svnlook changed
svnlook date
svnlook diff
svnlook dirs-changed
svnlook help
svnlook history
svnlook info
svnlook lock
svnlook log
svnlook propget
svnlook proplist
svnlook tree
svnlook uuid
svnlook youngest
svnserve Switches
mod_dav_svn Configuration Directives
Subversion properties
Subversion-defined properties

This chapter is intended to be a complete reference to using Subversion. This includes the command line client (svn) and all its subcommands, as well as the repository administration programs (svnadmin and svnlook) and their respective subcommands.

The Subversion Command Line Client: svn

To use the command line client, you type svn, the subcommand you wish to use [49], and any switches or targets that you wish to operate on—there is no specific order that the subcommand and the switches must appear in. For example, all of the following are valid ways to use svn status:

$ svn -v status
$ svn status -v 
$ svn status -v myfile

You can find many more examples of how to use most client commands in Chapter 3, Guided Tour and commands for managing properties in the section called “Properties”.

svn Switches

While Subversion has different switches for its subcommands, all switches are global—that is, each switch is guaranteed to mean the same thing regardless of the subcommand you use it with. For example, --verbose (-v) always means “verbose output”, regardless of the subcommand you use it with.


Enables auto-props, overriding the enable-auto-props directive in the config file.

--config-dir DIR

Instructs Subversion to read configuration information from the specified directory instead of the default location (.subversion in the user's home directory).

--diff-cmd CMD

Specifies an external program to use to show differences between files. When svn diff is invoked, it uses Subversion's internal diff engine, which provides unified diffs by default. If you want to use an external diff program, use --diff-cmd. You can pass switches to the diff program with the --extensions switch (more on that later in this section).

--diff3-cmd CMD

Specifies an external program to use to merge files.


Goes through all the motions of running a command, but makes no actual changes—either on disk or in the repository.

--editor-cmd CMD

Specifies an external program to use to edit a log message or a property value. See the editor-cmd section in the section called “Config” for ways to specify a default editor.

--encoding ENC

Tells Subversion that your commit message is encoded in the charset provided. The default is your operating system's native locale, and you should specify the encoding if your commit message is in any other encoding.

--extensions (-x) ARGS

Specifies an argument or arguments that Subversion should pass to an external diff command when providing differences between files. If you wish to pass multiple arguments, you must enclose all of them in quotes (for example, svn diff --diff-cmd /usr/bin/diff -x "-b -E"). This switch can only be used if you also pass the --diff-cmd switch.

--file (-F) FILENAME

Uses the contents of the file passed as an argument to this switch for the specified subcommand.


Forces a particular command or operation to run. There are some operations that Subversion will prevent you from doing in normal usage, but you can pass the force switch to tell Subversion “I know what I'm doing as well as the possible repercussions of doing it, so let me at 'em”. This switch is the programmatic equivalent of doing your own electrical work with the power on—if you don't know what you're doing, you're likely to get a nasty shock.


Forces a suspicious parameter passed to the --message (-m) or --file (-F) options to be accepted as valid. By default, Subversion will produce an error if parameters to these options look like they might instead be targets of the subcommand. For example, if you pass a versioned file's path to the --file (-F) option, Subversion will assume you've made a mistake, that the path was instead intended as the target of the operation, and that you simply failed to provide some other—unversioned—file as the source of your log message. To assert your intent and override these types of errors, pass the --force-log option to subcommands that accept log messages.

--help (-h or -?)

If used with one or more subcommands, shows the built-in help text for each subcommand. If used alone, it displays the general client help text.


Tells Subversion to ignore ancestry when calculating differences (rely on path contents alone).


Tells Subversion to ignore external definitions and the external working copies managed by them.


Prints output in a format suitable for concatenation.

--limit NUM

Show only the first NUM log messages.

--message (-m) MESSAGE

Indicates that you will specify a commit message on the command line, following this switch. For example:

$ svn commit -m "They don't make Sunday."
--new ARG

Uses ARG as the newer target.


Prevents caching of authentication information (e.g. username and password) in the Subversion administrative directories.


Disables auto-props, overriding the enable-auto-props directive in the config file.


Prevents Subversion from printing differences for added files. The default behavior when you add a file is for svn diff to print the same differences that you would see if you had added the entire contents of an existing (empty) file.


Prevents Subversion from printing differences for deleted files. The default behavior when you remove a file is for svn diff to print the same differences that you would see if you had left the file but removed all the content.


Shows files in the status listing that would normally be omitted since they match a pattern in the global-ignores configuration option or the svn:ignore property. See the section called “Config” and the section called “svn:ignore for more information.


Don't automatically unlock files (the default commit behavior is to unlock all files listed as part of the commit). See the section called “Locking” for more information.


In the case of an authentication failure, or insufficient credentials, prevents prompting for credentials (e.g. username or password). This is useful if you're running Subversion inside of an automated script and it's more appropriate to have Subversion fail than to prompt for more information.

--non-recursive (-N)

Stops a subcommand from recursing into subdirectories. Most subcommands recurse by default, but some subcommands—usually those that have the potential to remove or undo your local modifications—do not.


Pay attention to ancestry when calculating differences.

--old ARG

Uses ARG as the older target.

--password PASS

Indicates that you are providing your password for authentication on the command line—otherwise, if it is needed, Subversion will prompt you for it.

--quiet (-q)

Requests that the client print only essential information while performing an operation.

--recursive (-R)

Makes a subcommand recurse into subdirectories. Most subcommands recurse by default.

--relocate FROM TO [PATH...]

Used with the svn switch subcommand, changes the location of the repository that your working copy references. This is useful if the location of your repository changes and you have an existing working copy that you'd like to continue to use. See svn switch for an example.

--revision (-r) REV

Indicates that you're going to supply a revision (or range of revisions) for a particular operation. You can provide revision numbers, revision keywords or dates (in curly braces), as arguments to the revision switch. If you wish to provide a range of revisions, you can provide two revisions separated by a colon. For example:

$ svn log -r 1729
$ svn log -r 1729:HEAD
$ svn log -r 1729:1744
$ svn log -r {2001-12-04}:{2002-02-17}
$ svn log -r 1729:{2002-02-17}

See the section called “Revision Keywords” for more information.


Operates on a revision property instead of a Subversion property specific to a file or directory. This switch requires that you also pass a revision with the --revision (-r) switch. See the section called “Unversioned Properties” for more details on unversioned properties.

--show-updates (-u)

Causes the client to display information about which files in your working copy are out-of-date. This doesn't actually update any of your files—it just shows you which files will be updated if you run svn update.


Causes a Subversion subcommand which is traversing the history of a versioned resource to stop harvesting that historical information when a copy—that is, a location in history where that resource was copied from another location in the repository—is encountered.


Causes Subversion to use strict semantics, a notion which is rather vague unless talking about specific subcommands.

--targets FILENAME

Tells Subversion to get the list of files that you wish to operate on from the filename you provide instead of listing all the files on the command line.

--username NAME

Indicates that you are providing your username for authentication on the command line—otherwise, if it is needed, Subversion will prompt you for it.

--verbose (-v)

Requests that the client print out as much information as it can while running any subcommand. This may result in Subversion printing out additional fields, detailed information about every file, or additional information regarding its actions.


Prints the client version info. This information not only includes the version number of the client, but also a listing of all repository access modules that the client can use to access a Subversion repository.


Prints output in XML format.

svn Subcommands

[49] Yes, yes, you don't need a subcommand to use the --version switch, but we'll get to that in just a minute.