Setting Up a Subversion Server

The last time I set up a Subversion server was 2005. Here are notes I jotted down while installing a new server. There are a few gotchas along the way. Hopefully these notes catch all of them.


The goal is to set up a dedicated virtual machine to act as a Subversion repository. It resides in-house, off of the Internet.


Subversion can be run in several different ways. Some of those ways create the potential for file ownership to become a problem, causing subversion to fail in various inconvenient manifestations. The method I chose is to use xinetd to launch the Subversion dæmon running as a user dedicated for this purpose.

Where to store the Subversion repository is a matter of personal philosophy. Here I’ll put it in /opt/subversion.

This opens up the Subversion server port 3690. If you’re running on a machine directly connected to the Internet, you can consider not opening up that port to the world, and securely tunneling port 3690 using ssh.


  • Set up the server as you wish. I used CentOS 5.
  • Create a user for Subversion. Note that RedHat (and thus CentOS) creates a corresponding group by default.
$ sudo /usr/sbin/useradd -c "Subversion" svn
  • Install Subversion, and xinetd if not installed. Open up port 3690 in the firewall.
$ sudo yum install subversion xinetd
$ sudo /sbin/chkconfig --level 35 xinetd on
$ sudo /sbin/iptables -A RH-Firewall-1-INPUT -m state --state NEW -m tcp -p tcp --dport 3690 -j ACCEPT
  • Create a Subversion configuration file for xinetd. Restart xinetd.
$ sudo vim /etc/xinetd.d/svn
$ sudo /etc/init.d/xinetd restart

The contents of the configuration file are along these lines:

service svn
    disable         = no
    socket_type     = stream
    wait            = no
    user            = svn
    server          = /usr/bin/svnserve
    server_args     = --inetd
    log_on_failure  += USERID
  • Prepare the directory for the subversion server.
$ sudo mkdir /opt/subversion
$ sudo chown svn.svn /opt/subversion
$ su svn -
$ svnadmin create --fs-type fsfs /opt/subversion/repository_name

Note that I’m not sure whether fsfs is default type for svnadmin nowadays, so I specified it explicitly. I don’t really see any reason to use Berkley DB and its associated risks for database corruption (a “wedged” database).

  • Edit the configuration files for your repository.
$ vim /opt/subversion/repository_name/conf/svnserve.conf
$ vim /opt/subversion/repository_name/conf/passwd

The passwd file is a plain text file with user names and passwords. The format should be obvious when you see the samples in the file. Note the security caveat here. This isn’t.

The server configuration file (svnserve.conf) values can be tailored to suit your needs. See the “Red Bean book” official documentation for details. (If you wish to support the project, you may consider buying the dead tree version from O’Reilley.) To allow only users with a password access to the repository, I used:

anon-access = none
auth-access = write
password-db = passwd
  • Test out the setup
$ su - fred
$ svn co svn://localhost/opt/subversion/repository_name

This should create a directory called repository_name. There should be nothing in it (except for the hidden .svn file).

  • It is common practice to create three subdirectories in a repository: branches, tags, and trunk.
$ cd repository_name
$ mkdir branches tags trunk
$ svn add branches tags trunk
$ svn commit -m "Create core directories for the repository"
  • If things have worked to this point, you should be able to use the repository from another computer using the URL svn://machine_name/opt/subversion/repository_name/trunk as you would normally.
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