Setting up Subversion svnserve daemon on CentOS

Monday, November 28th, 2011

When you want to host a Subversion repository on your CentOS (or RHEL) server, its quite annoying that the only options available to serve your repository are SSH (using the svn+ssh:// schema in the Subversion URLs – it is basically set up out of the box, not tweaking necessary) and Apache’s mod_dav_svn (using the http:// or https:// schema in the Subversion URLs – this is somewhat complex to setup but good instructions are easy to find on the web).

The main advantage of either of these methods is security: both have easy transport security (SSH by default, Apache if you set it to server over SSL) and are easy to setup authentication for (SSH authenticate against the system’s accounts using PAM and Apache authenticate against basically anything with a simple setup).

The main disadvantage of these methods are that they are slow (SSH is apparently somewhat faster then HTTP) and when supporting multiple large projects of many developers I started running into all kinds of weird connection errors when you try to manipulate many files on many projects at the same time.

Subversion itself offers another alternative using their own network service called svnserve – this is a standard unix daemon that listens on a specific port(1) and uses a native protocol to communicate with Subversion clients (using the svn:// schema in Subversion URLs). It offers very good performance, but no transport security (encryption) by default. Another major problem with using svnserve as a network service is that while CentOS ships the binary itself (it is required as part of the way that the svn+ssh:// protocol is implemented) it doesn’t ship any support files to run it as a standalone service nor to help with its configuration. Also by default svnserve can only authenticate users using its own Apache-style password database file – which makes it unsuitable to integrate in large organizations.

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  1. port 3690 by default []

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