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Version Control with Subversion, 2nd Edition by Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman, C. Michael Pilato

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Subversion’s copy-modify-merge version control model lives and dies on its data merging algorithms—specifically, on how well those algorithms perform when trying to resolve conflicts caused by multiple users modifying the same file concurrently. Subversion itself provides only one such algorithm: a three-way differencing algorithm that is smart enough to handle data at a granularity of a single line of text. Subversion also allows you to supplement its content merge processing with external differencing utilities (as described in External diff3), some of which may do an even better job, perhaps providing granularity of a word or a single character of text. But common among those algorithms is that they generally work only on text files. The landscape starts to look pretty grim when you start talking about content merges of nontextual file formats. And when you can’t find a tool that can handle that type of merging, you begin to run into problems with the copy-modify-merge model.

Let’s look at a real-life example of where this model runs aground. Harry and Sally are both graphic designers working on the same project, a bit of marketing collateral for an automobile mechanic. Central to the design of a particular poster is an image of a car in need of some bodywork, stored in a file using the PNG image format. The poster’s layout is almost finished, and both Harry and Sally are pleased with the particular photo they chose for their damaged car—a baby blue 1967 Ford Mustang with ...

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