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Subversion is a version control tool designed to keep track of source changes made by groups of developers working on the same files, allowing them to stay in sync with each other as each individual chooses. A description of Subversion's main features (e.g. versioning of directories and binary files, properly atomic commits) can be found at the Subversion project's home page, along with other sources of documentation and help.
The University has introduced a new central Subversion service, and all new Subversion repositories should now be created using this service.
Full details of how to set up and access a new repository on this service can be found on the Version Control Service web page of the Edinburgh Compute and Data Facility. This service also supports access via iFriend accounts, and full details of how to set this up can be found in the FAQ section of the IS document.
There's a very helpful, and complete, free book available online, Version Control with Subversion by Ben Collins-Sussman, Brian W. Fitzpatrick & C. Michael Pilato.
October 2012: We no longer provide a hosting service for cvs repositories.
Note that the CVS repository that holds the School of Informatics' official web pages is an entirely separate service. To find out about that see Using CVS on the Informatics Web Server
If you're looking for help with CVS, the manual is installed on all DICE machines and can be viewed with the command info cvs (or via the Info button in xemacs). It's also available on the web at the CVS home site.
A particularly helpful book to read is Open Source Development with CVS by Karl Fogel and Moshe Bar. The complete book is available free online.